Hardboiled and Noir List

devil may care 1A few posts ago I mentioned my friend Chris Hocking had provided me with an amazing list of hardboiled and noir fiction. Hocking gave me the titles of the books he thought I’d most enjoy, the crème de la crème of the hardboiled and noir books he’s read over the last three and a half decades. It’s an extremely generous gift. Think of it this way: I’d have had to read for more than thirty years in the genre to find these on my own! With his permission, I’m now sharing it with you.

Before you dig in, understand that this list is idiosyncratic: it’s like a mix tape made for me by someone who not only understood my own preferences in literature but happened to have extremely similar tastes.

It’s not going to be ideal for every reader out there. For instance, Chris had recommended The Killer Inside Me and while I couldn’t put it down I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to read anything quite like it again, so he added a lesser-known Jim Thompson novel that’s not as unsettling to the list. It turns out I’m more a fan of hardboiled fiction than straight up noir, possibly because there are actual heroes in hardboiled fiction, even if they’re flawed and world-weary.

girls numberOne last thing. I don’t want to devote a whole lot of discussion to what’s not on the list, but I do want to say a little because inevitably someone will drop by and ask why so-and-so isn’t here.

As I grew more familiar with the genre, I’d ask Hocking about authors who didn’t make the list. In the case of one writer who’s well-regarded in some quarters, he said: “I read one by him, then one by Talmage Powell. Then I tried another by him, and then three by Talmage Powell. Powell kicked his butt.” Talmage Powell is equally obscure, you see, but appealed more to Hocking. Certainly Powell’s books work for me.

If you’re already well-read in these genres you’ll notice some famous writers who didn’t make the list, possibly because they’re a little too groovy, or not as hard-edged, or possibly because Hocking himself hasn’t gotten to their best work and didn’t think their early stuff good enough to make this cut. Anyway, I hope to keep discussion to what’s ON it and why it’s good.

Over the coming months Chris and I will tell you what we thought of these books, and where to find them. Some were meant as introductions to the author’s body of work; others are their only work in the genre, and some are simply their best books. As we work through the books/authors, dragging your cursor over entries in the list below and clicking will take you to the essay about each.


Megan Abbott: Queenpin

Lawrence Block: Such Men Are Dangerous

Howard Browne: Halo in Blood, Halo for Satan, Halo in Brass, A Taste of Ashes, Thin Air

Paul Cain: Fast One

Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely, The Long Goodbye, etc.

Max Allan Collins: Quarry, etc.

James Crumley: The Last Good Kiss

Norbert Davis: The Mouse in the Mountain

Barry Fantoni: Mike Dime, Stick Man

Richard Hallas: You Play the Black & the Red Comes Up

Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest, the Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, etc.

Richard Latimer: The Lady in the Morgue, Solomon’s Vineyard

Dan J. Marlowe: The Name of the Game is Death

Thomas Maxwell: Kiss Me Once, The Saberdene Variations

Wade Miller: Devil May Care, Guilty Bystander, etc.

Frederick Nebel: The Complete Casebook of Cardigan

Talmage Powell: With a Madman Behind Me, The Girls’ Number Doesn’t Answer, The Killer is Mine

Mickey Spillane: One Lonely Night, I, the Jury

Richard Stark (Donald Westlake): The Parker Series (The Hunter, etc.)

Jim Thompson: After Dark, My Sweet

Charles Williams: Man on the Run

Harry Whittington: Forgive Me, Killer (aka Brute in Brass)


Anthologies and Non-Fiction

Geoffrey O’Brien: Hardboiled America (non-fiction)

Bill Pronzini (ed): The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, 1001 Midnights (non-fiction), Hard-Boiled

Herbert Ruhm (ed): The Hard-Boiled Detective

Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Martin Greenberg (ed): Hard-Boiled Detectives, Tough Guys, & Dangerous Dames



9 Comments on “Hardboiled and Noir List

  1. Boy, this is one heck of a list. Very good stuff. Of course, one could argue for this or that to be added but that’s missing the point. The only additional thing I’d seriously vouch for is the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald. MacDonald was the best of the best and McGee was his masterpiece.

  2. “I don’t want to devote a whole lot of discussion to what’s not on the list”

    But, but, but…what about…(goes off and mumbles)

    This is a great list, Howard. While I don’t have Hocking’s experience in reading in this field, I have read quite a few other authors listed here, although not necessarily the titles listed. Thanks for posting it and thanks to John for granting you permission to do so. It gives me some titles to look for.

    I may do a post in response on my noir/hardboiled/crime fiction blog (Gumshoes, Gats, and Gams) sometime in the next few days.

    • Glad you like it, Keith. I’ll look forward to seeing what you say on your site!

  3. Geoffrey O’Brien’s HARDBOILED AMERICA is an inspirational book. It’s only fault is it is too short. Some other great introductory anthologies- AMERICAN PULP (Carroll & Graf, 1997) edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, and MArtin H. Greenberg; THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF PULP FICTION (Carroll & Graf, 1996) edited by Maxim Jakubowski; HARD-BOILED (Oxford Press, 1995) edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian. Weinberg, Dziemanowicz, and Greenberg also edited THE HARD BOILED DETECTIVES in the early 90s. Contents are from DIME DETECTIVE magazine. AMERICAN PULP and MAMMOTH BOOK are both excellent introductions to the fiction form where you can see what authors appeal to you.

  4. This prompted me to peruse about half of The Drowning Pool – 133 pages or so – to see how many similes I could count. (I’m using the Vintage Crime Black Lizard edition from May 1996). I counted thirty four and no doubt missed a few. I haven’t done the legwork, but I think some of the later books might have a slightly higher ratio. That’s a lot, but in any case I would argue that many of Macdonald’s similes are so strong that they infinitely enrich the work. Not only that – they are so strong that they put many “serious” writers of fiction to shame.

  5. Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.

  6. In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list. They are simply some things I’ve noticed in more than one of the novels. Some of these appear in quite a few of the Archers. In time I hope to post the results of reading through each of the books individually while searching for these ‘repeaters’.

  7. As we might expect, the Travis McGee novels indulge in a fair amount of superhero, bubblegum, cartoon or comic strip stuff, and that’s fine. Certainly one of their primary purposes is to entertain. But Macdonald also has other aspirations that go far beyond divertissement. McGee is a kind of philosopher of his time – that is, he makes philosophical statements about the society he finds himself in and, periodically, about the cosmos in general.

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