Double Indemnity

I just returned from being an instructor at a Roads Scholar workshop in Green Lake, WI, called Just in Crime with Theodore B. Hertel, Jr., Libby Fischer Hellman and Michael Black.  The six day experience includes lectures, workshops, film showings and various entertainments found at the Green Lake Conference Center that have nothing to do with people dying but still appeared to be fun for the participants.

I had the job of lecturing on the history of mystery and the legacy of film noir, talking about some of my favorite crime and mystery books (Thomas H. Cook, Minette Walters and Larry Watson) as well as creating a 1936 Bouchercon Mystery Convention in which I covered the best books written in 1936 and impersonated Dashiell Hammett. 

All 38 attendees were expected to read Double Indemnity by James M. Cain and when we had a show of hands, to our great surprise, we had a 100% positive response to completing the assignment, including some who read it twice!  In the first night of the workshop, we showed the great 1944 film directed by Billy Wilder with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. 

Now, with Libby Fischer Hellman, it became our responsibility to lead half of the group in a book/film discussion.  The experience I had with this group is very different from most book discussions that I lead.  For instance, I have decided that from now on I want about half the people in my discussion to be or have been teachers.  They complete the assignment and take notes even if they are retired from the job.  Very impressive.

Second, I want all my books from now on to work with both males and females.  This title obviously did as the group was about three-quarters women and the men fully participated in the reading, viewing and discussion.  Back at the library, I am lucky to ever have a man show up.

Third, I want all my books to be this discussable.  Double Indemnity proved to be a self-generating title with the group writing their own questions as we discussed.  I call these moments the “tennis judge” times when as the leader all I am doing is looking back and forth, back and forth, as the group leads itself. 

Lastly, if I am going to do a book into film discussion, I always want my movie to be as stellar as Double Indemnity.  It not only created a discussion based on how the book and film were different, it proved so unique and challenging to the audience as a film that they again had no problem being engaged in the discussion with little participation by me.

Plus, I got to re-read an old favorite, see a great film noir and get paid for doing it.  Sweet.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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