American Crime Fiction - ENGL6580

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


This module explores the history and practice of crime fiction in the United States from Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840s through to the present day. Crime fiction will be understood broadly to encompass a range of generic categories such as detective, hardboiled and police procedural novels and stories. Attention will also be paid to developments in cinema and television which parallel those in fiction, such as film noir and the contemporary cop series. Strong emphasis will be placed on historically informed reading and students will be encouraged to relate the close analysis of texts to shifts in narrative form as well as the establishment and transgression of generic conventions.

The study of American crime fiction reaches directly into the heart of many of the key concerns of undergraduate English. Questions about the distinctions between high and low culture, the seductiveness of particular narrative forms, and dialectic relations between literary and social history will all be addressed. Students will have the opportunity to read crime fiction alongside elements of Marxist, narrative and genre theory. Eventually they will be able to consider how crime fiction has evolved in its engagement with questions of race, gender and sexuality in the United States, from the construction of white masculinity in the hardboiled genre to the policing of black communities in the neoliberal city.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 30 hours
Total private study hours: 270 hours
Total module study hours: 300 hours

Method of assessment

100% Coursework: 2 equally weighted essays of 3000 words each (90%) and seminar performance (10%)

Indicative reading

Primary Reading

Poe, Edgar Allen, (2000). Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: Wordsworth)
Greene, Anna Katharine, (2010). The Leavenworth Case (London: Penguin)
Pronzini, Bill and Adrian, J. ed., (1997). Hardboiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories
(Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Chandler, Raymond, (2010). The Little Sister (London: Penguin)
Himes, Chester, (2011). The Real Cool Killers (London: Penguin)
Highsmith,Patricia, (1999). The Talented Mr Ripley (London: Vintage)
Ellroy, James, (2011). The Black Dahlia (London: Windmill)
Locke, Attica, (2010). Black Water Rising (London: Serpent's Tale)

Secondary Reading:

Kennedy, Liam, and Shapiro, Steven, eds. (2012). The Wire: Race, Class and Genre (Michigan: University of Michigan Press)
McCann, Sean. (2001). Gumshoe America: Hard Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press).
Moretti, Franco. (2005). Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms (London: Verso)
Naremore, James. (2008). More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Smith, Erin. (2000). Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press).
Todorov, Tzvetan, (2013). "The Typology of Detective Fiction," Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, ed. Lodge, David and Wood, Nigel, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge), 225-232.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 read and respond critically to a range of American crime fiction
2 relate their reading to developments in social and political history
3 explore a range of theoretical approaches to literary texts
4 think critically about the interrelationship of cultural trends in literature, film and television
5 sharpen their ability to understand and evaluate narrative form in fiction, film and television
6 interrogate distinctions between high and low culture
7 develop an ability to interrogate and understand contemporary culture in the twenty-first century

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 develop their abilities to analyse texts critically and make comparisons across a range of reading
2 develop their command of written and spoken English and their abilities to articulate coherent critical arguments
3 understand and interrogate various critical approaches and the theoretical assumptions that underpin these approaches
4 develop their abilities to carry out independent research
5 develop their presentational skills


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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