Crime Novels - An Academic Perspective
with Dr. Melissa Pennell,
Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 7 p.m.

Dr. Melissa Pennell, acting associate dean, Division of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, UMass Lowell, will discuss the genre of crime novels and how they reflect social ills. She will cover the tradition of the hard-boiled detective novel and the police procedural and how Lehane makes use of and adds innovations to both traditions.

Melissa M. Pennell is a Professor of English and currently serves as Acting Associate Dean of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at UMass Lowell. She earned her graduate degrees in English at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Her field of expertise is 19th and early 20th century American literature, and in graduate school she developed a particular interest in New England authors. In 2006, she published Masterpieces of American Romantic Literature (Greenwood), an introductory critical text for students and general readers. She is also author of the Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (Greenwood, 1999) and the Student Companion to Edith Wharton (Greenwood, 2003), as well as co-editor of American Literary Mentors (UP Florida, 1999). For the last several years she has been a contributor and content developer for the Hawthorne in Salem website ( and served on the editorial board for production of “The Literary Map of Massachusetts” through the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

In addition to her enjoyment of New England writers, Pennell has been a fan of mystery and detective fiction since her grade school days, beginning with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries, but soon followed by the stories and novels of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. At UMass Lowell, she periodically offers a class, Crime in Literature, in which she introduces students to classic and contemporary works of detective fiction. She has written on the work of Charlotte MacLeod and Phoebe Atwood Taylor and has enjoyed delivering talks and leading book discussions on topics ranging from women in detective fiction to the hard-boiled tradition to humor in detective fiction. She especially enjoys the work of Elizabeth George, Donna Leon, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Dibdin, but is always adding new authors to her “must read” list.