Murder and Mayhem: Literature and the Law

Victims and villains, sleuths and scenarios, destruction and deduction… from the Victorian parlor to the modern-day movieplex, audiences have long been fascinated by stories of murder and mayhem. These stories, however, do a lot more than entertain.  Every mystery is an intellectual invitation to construct a narrative that makes order from chaos.

Every mystery is simply a problem of information. Solving a mystery is an exercise in multidisciplinary critical thinking. It is an exercise in research and pattern recognition, logic and deduction, and constructing a plausible narrative from the given text or clues. Furthermore, stories about crime solving provide useful models for the processes of researching and presenting an argument.

In this course, we will examine how the disciplines of the liberal arts have been used to solve some of recent history's foulest deeds. From literature to statistics, sociology, and philosophy, we will be investigating how the modes of critical thinking across various discipline have been used to solve crime. Paying particular attention to mystery and crime fiction as literary genres, we will consider the work of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Agatha Christie, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the makers of popular TV shows such as Dexter and Law & Order. We will let their narratives guide us in exploring how we—as individual writers and as a society—might best make sense of a world of uncertainty.