Modern Hard Boiled Crime Fiction: Explorations of conscience, morality and culture

This is a 10-week seminar, starting on September 28th, 2017 through December 7th, 2017. No class on Thanksgiving.

Moderator:                Neil Novik
Day and Time:         Thursday 10:00AM-Noon
Format:                       Seminar
Location:                   Lathrop Easthampton, Mt. Tom Room
                                        (free parking on site)


Through discussion of a number of modern crime novels, participants will explore ways in which the hard-boiled genre has evolved since the early 20th century, and how far-reaching its impact and significance is today.

From the 1920’s-40’s, writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler invented the “hard-boiled” crime fiction genre. Taking crime out of the parlor room and putting it into the “mean streets” of American life, they explored societal issues such as greed and political/corporate corruption while experimenting with language, character and plot.

After declining somewhat in the 50’s and 60’s the hard-boiled genre had a re-birth in the late 70’s, using a reinvigorated, powerful prose style to take on a more complex and violent world with murkier moral and ethical boundaries. Women P.I.’s entered the field; the lone private eye was no longer the only kind of hero; Sidekicks, not envisioned decades earlier, became major characters in the stories.

In this seminar, we will read six modern hard-boiled crime novels. Our discussions will include, but not be limited to, considerations of how the genre has evolved, how well it is suited to explore the important cultural, political and moral/ethical issues of modern life, and how the authors’ prose style support the stories themselves.

Role of participants:
This will be a discussion-based seminar, focusing not only on each book as a whole, but also on passages that participants find particularly significant. Short essays may also be distributed to augment the discussions. The success of the seminar will depend on participants bringing to the seminar their own thoughts and insights on the books we read and the issues that they deal with, as well as their enthusiasm for this kind of storytelling.

Six modern hard-boiled crime fiction books will be chosen by the moderator. Authors will include Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosely and others. A complete list of books will be available at the preview. All books will be of moderate length and will be widely available. In addition, the moderator may distribute short critical essays relevant to the subsequent week’s discussion. These would be optional readings, which would serve to enhance the discussions.

About the Moderator:
Neil was the “Crime Fiction Guy” at the Odyssey Bookshop, where he was also co-owner for 16 years. He also led the Crime Club book group at the Odyssey for 19 years. He has moderated several LIR seminars, including one on the invention of the hard-boiled genre.

Maximum number of participants: 14

Emeritus/a accepted: yes, up to 2