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April 30, 2011 / C.T. Henry

20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 2 of 4

In this second installment, we take a look at hard-boiled classics of the late 40s, 50s, and 60s.  While Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer continues the legacy of wise-ass gumshoes and beautiful damsels in distress, Dorothy Hughes and Patricia Highsmith’s noir tales were even more twisted and creepier than their predecessors.  Their psychological character studies are truly fascinating and frightening.  Nonetheless, Jim Thompson is the true master of suspense.  Director Stanley Kubrick once said that Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me was “probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.”  To say that Thompson’s noir tales are dark would be a terrible understatement.

I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane (1947)

Synopsis:

In the first mystery to feature hard-boiled private eye Mike Hammer, the tough detective investigates the brutal murder of his best friend.

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In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)

Synopsis:

Postwar Los Angeles is a lonely place where the American Dream is showing its seamy underside—and a stranger is preying on young women. The suggestively names Dix Steele, a cynical vet with a chip on his shoulder about the opposite sex, is the LAPD’s top suspect. Dix knows enough to watch his step, especially since his best friend is on the force, but when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray—a femme fatale with brains—something begins to crack.

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The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

Synopsis:

In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. The Talented Mr. Ripley is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

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The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (1952)

Synopsis:

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is a pillar of the community in his small Texas town, patient and thoughtful. Some people think he’s a little slow and boring but that’s the worst they say about him. But then nobody knows about what Lou calls his ‘sickness’. It nearly got him put away when he was younger, but his adopted brother took the rap for that. Now the sickness that has been lying dormant for a while is about to surface again – and the consequences are brutal and devastating.

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Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson (1964)

Synopsis:

Nick Corey likes being the high sheriff of Potts County. But Nick has a few problems that he needs to deal with: like his loveless marriage, the pimps who torment him, the honest man who is running against him in the upcoming elections and the women who adore him. And it turns out that Nick isn’t anything like as amiable, easy-going or as slow as he seems. He’s as sly, brutal and corrupt as they come.  Because when Nick is pushed, he begins to kill . . . or to make others do his killing for him!

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Next Post: 20 Must Read Hard-Boiled Classics – Part 3 of 4

Previous Post: 20 Must Read Hard-Boiled Classics – Part 1 of 4

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