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In the Spring 2024 issue of PostScript Magazine, as part of our continuing exploration of the dark alleys of crime fiction, Karen Cooper asked the question “Who Hardboiled the Good Eggs?” To provide yet another serving of tasty morsels to those hungry for all things hardboiled, in this special PostScript Extra web post we have compiled some background material that could not fit into the regular article. Karen has added helpful comments and summaries throughout. A lot of the books, TV shows and films are now available online, many of them for free.

  1. What is “Noir”?
  2. Characteristics of “Hardboiled”
  3. Hardboiled Fiction, Film, and TV Lists
  4. Hardboiled goes International
  5. Other resources 


Those making what we now call early “noir” fiction or “noir” film would have had no idea what was meant that name. They would have simply said they were producing, e.g. a crime film, or a detective novel. In a time when ‘American culture, banned during the German occupation, was feverishly sought as offering new departures in film, literature, and music’ (Gorrara), the French instantaneously bonded with and promoted the hardboiled work coming out of the USA, first in text and then in film forms, so much so that the first few hardboiled novels published in France came out under American pennames. Marcel Duhamel began bringing out translations of American hardboiled novels in 1945, under, naturally enough, the imprint Serie Noire. Noir thereafter described the growing body of French romans noire, and soon the emerging French film noir movement as well. In contemporary usage, noir describes a wider variety of literature and film, referring to the milieux, stylistic sensibilities, and cynicism we find in hardboiled, but not necessarily requiring detection, detectives, or even crime. 


–a sharp, aggressive attitude to life 

–hardboiled ‘paints a backdrop of institutionalized social corruption’ (Gertzman). Most politicians and police are overtly corrupt, and if a business isn’t outright corrupt, it is still only in existence to profit the owners and shareholders, not ordinary people. 

–a particular dialogue style which is direct and deliberately non-literary. “We each cut down to a minimum the he-saids and she-replied-laughinglys” (W. R. Burnett) 

–usually urban 

–we are thrown into the middle of the action—events move and shift and overlap in ways more realistic to real crime scenes in their chaotic, confused milieux 

–there is past or present conflict between the detective’s professional and personal lives as he tries to earn a living and stay true to his code, an action that almost always involves the detective’s attempt to become and stay his own boss, even if it leaves him relatively poor—living in a one-room apartment, in Philip Marlowe’s case. This includes the conflict between professional and love relationships. 

–in contrast to British and American “analytical” fiction: real crime milieux (not drawing rooms but alleyways and cheap motels), real characters from those milieux (working or lower-middle class, not professionals and aristocrats), and real murders (usually brutal and simple, not elegant and exotic and plotted in complex ways) 

–a general cynicism about getting ahead in life. A pervasive bleakness of spirit, of being trapped by circumstances, a dog-eat-dog quality that mirrored the feelings of many American men in the depths of the Great Depression 

–The detectives are often, or usually, returned veterans of WWI, and later WWII or Korea 

–acceptance or even embrace of ambiguity. In Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, the “treasure” at the root of all the violence and betrayals turns out to be a fake, and the criminal mastermind is allowed to head off to keep searching for the real one. Chandler leaves the question of the chauffeur’s death, suicide versus murder, undecided for the reader in The Big Sleep 

–deep pessimism about romantic love. Marlowe sends a woman he may be in love with to jail and likely to hang. Chandler believes that “the hardboiled story and the romantic love story cannot exist, not only in the same book—but one might almost say, in the same culture.” 

–“tragedy with a happy ending” (Chandler) Solving, or mostly solving, the crime puzzle does nothing to resolve the deeper tragic situations, personal or societal, from which the crimes arise 


In this very limited and somewhat annotated list I’ve included not just hardboiled detective but hardboiled crime as well, as the line between the two is very porous. Important: Some of these films hew very closely to the source novels, others stray wildly. (* indicates that a well-regarded film or TV series was also made). 

Edgar Allan Poe: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) 

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868) 

Damon Runyon: Guys and Dolls* and Other Writings (1932) 

Pulp Fiction. The Crime Fighters: Edited by Otto Penzler. Short stories from prominent pulp magazines. Or find other collections with stories featuring Daly’s Race Williams and Chandler’s Continental Op. 

R. Burnett: Little Caesar* (1929), See also the film High Sierra* (1941), for which he wrote the screenplay. This film saw Humphrey Bogart finally become a leading man and establish the character which he played with some variations, as he moved into Hammett and Chandler films.

Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (1929) (The Continental Op), The Maltese Falcon* (1930), The Thin Man* (1934). See also Miller’s Crossing*, a Joel and Ethan Coen film which merges aspects of Hammett’s Red Harvest and Glass Key.  During the 30’s and 40’s, the studios usually demanded changes to films to fit their formulae for what they believed would “build box office”. But such was John Huston’s track record after making High Sierra, that he got permission to stay as close as possible to the novel for his film of The Maltese Falcon, with the result that as much of the story as possible, and virtually all the dialogue, are lifted directly from the book. That choice established the extreme economic viability of the hardboiled story, in all its confusions and ambiguities, as a template for the films that would come. 

Alfred Hitchcock: Hitchcock believed the classical analytical detective story made for very poor tension in films. He was instead attracted to hardboiled fiction, making real art from mediocre pulp stories early in his career, and finding in crime his lifelong métier for expressing human frailty and obsession. Virtually every Hitchcock film from Murder! (1930), can be described as hardboiled or noir crime. But he played very poorly with others, especially authors who were themselves strong writers. Raymond Chandler already had two screenwriting Oscar nominations under his belt and had made brilliant adaptations of others’ works (see Cain), when he was hired to write a screen adaptation for Hitchcock. As usual, he cared about character and motivation, and Hitchcock, equally characteristically, cared only about building suspense. Chandler wound up calling Hitchcock a “fat bastard” before being fired from a Hitchcock adaptation. Most of Hitchcock’s films were made from short stories, or increasingly as time went on, from original screenplays, rather than from books by well-known hardboiled authors. Nevertheless, he must be included with John Huston and Billy Wilder in the Big Three of early hardboiled film directors, since his films embody the essence of the hardboiled sensibility. 

Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep* (1939), Farewell, My Lovely* (1940), The Long Goodbye* (1953) 

James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice* (1934), Double Indemnity* (1943) 

Cain’s fiction is as hardboiled as that of Hammett and Chandler, but he turns the focus inward, becoming psychological, as compared to the resolutely unexamined inner lives of the first two. Albert Camus stated that he was inspired to write The Stranger by Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. 

Ross MacDonald: The Underground Man* (1971) a decent TV movie, with some strong acting), The Galton Case (1959) 

MacDonald is by far the best stylist of the earlier writers. He allows his prose room to stretch out, to become almost poetic in its descriptions of people and of settings. The books themselves, and his detective, Lew Archer, are far kinder to women, and grant them real agency and individuality, especially as the series goes on. His work “attains a standard which places him first among those who raised the genre from pulp fiction to serious literature.” (P. D. James) 

Chester b. Himes: A Rage in Harlem* (1957), Real Cool Killers (1959), Cotton Comes to Harlem* (1965) 

Himes was intimately acquainted with crime and with racism. He served time for an armed bank robbery, and while in prison began writing. After getting out, he was hired as a scriptwriter for Warner Brothers, but fired when Jack Warner said, “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.” While not the first black writer of hardboiled fiction, he was the first to be viewed as the literary equal of Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald. His Harlem Cycle books, with protagonists Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, make graphic the struggles of two black police officers juggling competing demands and commitments within their community. 

Mario Puzo: The Godfather* (1969) 

Robert Towne (screenplay) Chinatown* (1974) 

Sara Paretsky: Indemnity Only (1982) and the remainder of the V. I. Warshawsky series 

Paretsky created her female detective, V. I. Warshawsky, in conscious imitation of the solitary private eyes of early hardboiled in her single-minded, solitary work against the injustices and corruption in her native Chicago. Warshawsky, however, is humble, not proud, and both seeks and nurtures deep connections and relationships. P. D. James names Paretsky as her favourite of contemporary detective novelists. (See P. D. James note). 

D. James: A Taste for Death (1986) and other Adam Dalgleish books* captured in the TV series, Dalgleish.

James represents a strong current of more-recent detective fiction. Characters, including her detective Adam Dalgleish, are human and flawed, and the settings and crimes are often grim, but not every person or every institution is fatally corrupt. Hope and nobility exist, as indeed they do in real life, even in dire circumstances. (See Connelly, Paretsky) 

James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia* (1987), L.A. Confidential* (1990) 

Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty* (1990) and many others. Ellmore is the master of the comic, hardboiled novel. 

Walter Mosley: Devil in a Blue Dress* (1990) and the rest of the Easy Rawlins series. 

Michael Connelly: The Black Echo (1992) and 38 other novels. Bosch* (TV Series) follows his Vietnam War veteran detective Harry Bosch. The Lincoln Lawyer* (2005). Connelly is a war vet and served in the LAPD prior to becoming a writer. (See note about James, above.) 

Jonathan Lethem: Motherless Brooklyn* (1999). Some people found the film too long, and it does stray from the original in some ways, but the acting is very fine, and I think it well worth watching. 

Jules Feiffer: Kill My Mother (2014), Cousin Joseph (2018), Ghost Script (2019). In his 80’s, the lauded cartoonist Jules Feiffer moved to Long Island and began working in an entirely new genre. In a category all their own, his graphic novels, set during and just after the Great Depression, pay visual and tonal homage to the spirits of “Hammett, Chandler, and Cain” (from the dedication), while charting an entirely new course in terms of, especially, women. As with all of Feiffer’s work, these novels demand extreme attention to visual detail and character—the clues are as much in the drawings as in the text–especially in Kill My Mother, which intentionally includes three very similar women (watch the hats, and the noses). But they repay that attention with insight and genuinely moving conclusions. If you are having trouble following Kill My Mother, start with Cousin Joseph, which is actually set before Kill My Mother. 


Miami Vice (1984-1990) 

The Sopranos (1999-2007) 

Happy Valley (2014-2023) 


This truly American genre has spawned imitators across the globe. You can search the web on almost any location, e.g., “Turkish Noir”, and find authors whose works have been translated into English. It’s fun to note the flavours in each sub-version of noir crime fiction. In Nordic and Dutch noir, for example, the simmering of dark forces beneath an apparently smooth, vanilla cultural surface is often built in as part of the tension. I have read many, but not all, of these books. 

The Netherlands: Janwillem van der Wetering–Outsider in Amsterdam 

Nordic Noir: Jo Nesbø from Norway. Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Camilla Läckberg from Sweden. Jussi Adler-Olsen from Denmark. Arnaldur Indridason from Iceland.  

Scotland (Tartan Noir): Val MacDermid, Peter May, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin 

England and Ireland: Ted Lewis (especially Get Carter). Tana French. Brian MacGilloway.  

French: Jean-Claude Izzo.  

Italy: Massimo Carlotto. Dominique Manotti. Maurizzio de Giovanni. Andrea Camilleri. 

Japan: Seishi Yokomizo. Soji Shimada. Masako Togawa. Natsuo Kirino. 

India: Ashok Banker. His Kali Rising is a contemporary radical feminist thriller series featuring only women protagonists.  

Singapore: Shamini Flint. 

Australia (Outback Noir): Chris Hammer. Aoife Clifford. Julie Janson.  


Critical Insights: Crime and Detective Fiction: This outstanding set of resources compiled by the Vancouver Public Library includes thoughtful essays and articles, and bibliographies for all sorts of topics and subgenres of detective fiction. 

Hardboiled slang: 

Evolution of the modern rating system: