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September 14, 2008 / C.T. Henry


Currently, I’m taking a hiatus from contemporary fiction in order to read some classics.  I’ve always loved hard-boiled detective novels: the one-liners, the gritty streets, the dark and brooding hero, and, of course, the tantalizing women.  So far, I’ve read some great hard-boiled fiction, but now it’s time for me to wade a bit deeper into the genre.

Based on what I’ve read so far, my Top 10 Hard-Boiled Detective Novels would be:

1.    The Last Good Kiss – James Crumley
2.    Gone, Baby, Gone – Dennis Lehane
3.    L.A. Requiem – Robert Crais
4.   Right As Rain – George Pelecanos
5.    The Last Coyote – Michael Connelly
6.    Eight Million Ways to Die – Lawrence Block
7.    Already Dead – Charlie Huston
8.    The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
9.    The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
10.    Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem

Do you have any more suggestions or comments?

Visit my latest hard-boiled posts:

20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics

Today’s Best Hard Boiled Writers

The Decade’s Best Hard-Boiled Writers


Leave a Comment
  1. David Thompson / Sep 22 2008 9:06 pm

    Definitely try Ross Macdonald, arguably the greatest P.I. writer ever. And George Pelecanos!! And don’t miss Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager novels, starting with WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE and REDEMPTION STREET. Yes, full disclosure: I’m reprinting them… but there’s a good reason Reed’s last two novels have been nominated for a combined 10 awards, including the Edgar twice. Check out his website here: . Have fun!!

  2. John Vigil / Mar 20 2009 5:51 pm

    Just read your post as I am searching for new books in this genre. I especially like the jesse stone novels by robert B parker.

  3. Hard Boiled / Jun 11 2009 6:28 pm

    Why isn’t Loren Estleman found more prominently in these mystery writers lists? I’m not singling you out, because I rarely see his name listed anywhere. Estleman has won FOUR Shamus Awards, and has plenty of nominations.
    Just the fact that he has also won a bucket full of western writing awards should indicate his talent and versatility.
    Top 10 perhaps not, but start at the beginning with MOTOR CITY BLUE and you wont be disappointed in his P.I. series.
    By the way I hope at some point you can find a Ross Macdonald book to put in your top ten because I think he’s the best.

  4. mathew / Dec 29 2010 4:33 am

    While not in the classic style of, say, Chandler, James Lee Burke is to my mind the greatest living writer of hard-boiled detective fiction. He is the only one to have done anything really new. By that I mean his stories don’t revolve around a mystery that unravels but the tension, thrill and drama of a cop stirring the pot to get the truth to come to the surface. Few authors, of hard-boiled fiction or otherwise, write as beautifully as Burke. The test for me is that only with Burke can I pick up a novel, open it to any page and savor the read. And his character and scene description are off the charts. I’m always shocked to my socks when Burke’s not mentioned, but I think it’s because most of these lists are about the more classic hard-boioed Dick.

    • henryct / Dec 29 2010 11:19 am

      James Lee Burke is an amazing writer. I’ve read Cimarron Rose, Neon Rain, Heaven’s Prisoners, and Black Cherry Blues. I liked Black Cherry Blues the best because it was dark and beautifully written. I can still visualize the scene when Dave wakes up knowing that something is wrong.

      Recently, I’ve been meaning to read some more of James Lee Burke’s novels, and I currently have Crusader’s Cross on my bookshelf. Is there another favorite Burke novel that you would recommend?

  5. Mathew / Mar 1 2011 6:33 am

    I recently read If The Dead Rise Not, by Philip Kerr. I loved the Berlin Noir trilogy. I felt in it he’d come as close to Chandler as anyone (Chandler being to my mind the real master of the loveable, gritty PI with the quick, wry wit). I wasn’t more impressed with The One From The Other or A Quiet Flame (though they were great books). However, this last one is really off the charts. Kerr has perfected the Chandleresque style, and his character, Bernie Gunther. Kerr is a metaaphorical genius. I can almost say in this book Kerr has surpassed The Big Sleep, which till now I’d thought was the best in the style. Lastly, Kerr’s aability to bring historic characters into the novel is flawless.

  6. leland / Apr 18 2011 11:21 am

    I’m pretty new to hard-boiled detective novels, I just finished the maltese falcon last week and have ordered red harvest and the thin man, but which other authors should I start with? I kinda want to read all of the classics before branching out, any suggestions would be awesome!

    • C.T. Henry / Apr 18 2011 11:32 am

      After the Maltese Falcon, you should read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Also try Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, James Cain’s Double Indemnity. You’ve given me a good idea for a new post. Check back and I’ll directly answer your question in my next post.

      • leland / Apr 19 2011 12:25 am

        I couldn’t help myself so I bought the big sleep to read while waiting for the hammet books, so far, it’s the tits

      • Jahful / May 15 2011 3:46 am

        Hammett’s Red Harvest is over the top, but really excellent nonetheless. Red Harvest and The Glass Key (also excellent) were the basis for the Cohen Bros. movie Miller’s Crossing. A great comparison to Red Harvest is The Valley of Fear(!), both have really similar subject matter. Wow, is Red Harvest grimy. You want to rake a shower after reading that one.

  7. Garrett Kenyon / May 12 2011 2:04 pm

    Glad you included Charlie Huston, who’s one of the most talented crime writers working today — but you might want to mention that “Already Dead” is a vampire novel. It’s the first installment of the Joe Pitt Casebook. For those who haven’t read it, it’s the most original take on vampires I’ve read in many, many years. Since Huston did it, now every other crime writer and their mama are blending the vampire legend w/the hardboiled noir tradition — but Huston does it best.

  8. mike / Feb 3 2013 7:56 pm

    I know this man will never make anyones top ten list of hardboiled writers for obvious reasons, you’ll know it when you see it, but CHESTER HIMES should be on that list. Starting with the novel The Crazy Kill

  9. Jane Blacksmith / Jul 12 2014 4:54 pm

    The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers


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