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May 12, 2011 / C.T. Henry

20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 4 of 4

I tried not to include any living authors in this hard-boiled retrospective, and yet these novels truly are classics.  Written over 20 years ago, these novels epitomize the legacy of Chandler, Hammett, and Cain.  Undoubtedly, they are the finest examples of the mystery genre.

Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block (1982)

Synopsis:

Nobody knows better than Matthew Scudder how far down a person can sink in the city of New York. Except a young prostitute named Kim—and she wanted out. Maybe Kim didn’t deserve the life fate had dealt her. She surely didn’t deserve her death.  The alcoholic ex-cop turned P.I. was supposed to protect her, but someone slashed her to ribbons in a seedy hotel room. Now, finding Kim’s killer will be Scudder’s penance. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the slain hooker’s past that are far dirtier than her trade. And there are many ways of dying in this cruel and dangerous town—some quick and brutal . . . and some agonizingly slow.

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When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block (1986)

Synopsis:

Downing a bourbon or two with a couple of cronies, Scudder witnesses a heist. The Morrisey brothers who run the joint are strangely submissive during the raid, but eager to see Scudder track down the thieves without involving the regular forces of law and order.

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Miami Blues by Charles Willeford (1984)

Synopsis:

Freddy “Junior” Frenger, psycho fresh out of San Quentin flies into Miami airport with a pocketful of stolen credit cards and disappears leaving behind the corpse of a Hare Krishna. Soon homicide detective Hoke Moseley is pursuing the chameleonlike Frenger and his airheaded hooker girlfriend through the smart hotels, Cuban ghettoes and seedy surburban malls of Miami in a deadly game of hide and seek.

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Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke (1989)

Synopsis:

Personal tragedy has left Dave Robicheaux close to the edge. Battling against his old addiction to alcohol and haunted nightly by vivid dreams and visitations, Dave finds his only tranquility at home with his young ward Alafair. But even this fragile peace is shattered by the arrival of Dixie Lee Pugh who brings with him a brutal trail of murder and violence. Robicheaux reluctantly agrees to help out his old friend but becomes more involved than he bargained for when he finds himself suspect Number One in the series of bloody killings. Forced to leave his home, Robicheaux’s precarious existence reaches breaking point when Alafair’s life is threatened.

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L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy (1990)

Synopsis:

L.A. Confidential is an epic crime novel that stands as a steel-edged time capsule–Los Angeles in the 1950s, a remarkable era defined in dark shadings. A horrific mass murder invades the lives of victims and victimizers on both sides of the law–three cops treading quicksand in the middle. Detective Ed Exley wants glory.  Haunted by his father’s success as a policeman, he will pay any price, break any law to eclipse him. Detective Bud White watched his own father murder his mother–he is now bent on random vengeance, a time bomb with a badge. Celebrity cop Jack Vincennes shakes down movie stars for a scandal magazine.  An old secret possesses him–he’ll do anything to keep it buried. Three cops in a spiral, a nightmare that tests loyalty and courage, a nightmare that offers no mercy, allows for no survivors.

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

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Steve Anderson / May 14 2011 5:46 pm

    Thanks for reminding me about Black Cherry Blues. Hard to beat James Lee Burke.

  2. The Book Haven / Aug 11 2013 4:49 pm

    I recently read Otto Penzler’s The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories and have become interested in noir. Your awesome list is a great guide for a newbie.

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