The best noir books that are great films

Lee Matthew Goldberg Author Of Stalker Stalked
By Lee Matthew Goldberg

The Books I Picked & Why

The Getaway

By Jim Thompson

Book cover of The Getaway

Why this book?

The Getaway by Jim Thompson and the film directed by Sam Peckinpah is a gritty slice of noir and the classic story of a bank heist gone wrong. It’s a beautifully pulpy showcase for the twisted marriage of Doc and Carol, played by Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw with perfection in the film. It plunges you into the very core of moral ambiguity and the ending of the book is unexpected, sublime, and a sledgehammer to the head. A great first book and film to introduce a reader to noir styles.


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L.A. Confidential

By James Ellroy

Book cover of L.A. Confidential

Why this book?

A classic, L.A. Confidential is set in 1951 where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. There are a huge amount of characters and subplots, but in the end, it all connects. The film with Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kim Basinger in her Oscar-winning performance, is pure noir bliss. It captures the vibe of post-war LA where Los Angeles is just as much as of a character in the book. Do yourself a favor and crack open the book and watch the film. 


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The Grifters

By Jim Thompson

Book cover of The Grifters

Why this book?

Another Jim Thompson classic, The Grifters is about a trio of con artists trying to move up from being small-time crooks. They add love and a mother/son relationship into the mix which only makes things worse. The film directed by Stephen Frears is a master-class in acting from Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, and John Cusak. The scene at the end couldn’t be more shocking as a way to wrap up a noir film. Money is paramount in the world of the grifters, everything else secondary. What could be more noir than that?


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Devil in a Blue Dress

By Walter Mosley

Book cover of Devil in a Blue Dress

Why this book?

Another book and film that takes place in LA after World War II, Devil in a Blue Dress focuses on a Black war veteran named Easy fired from his job and hired to locate a girl. Easy is the perfect definition of an anti-hero played by Denzel Washington in the film. He’s been put through the wringer in his life, so you understand his motivations for misbehaving when it’s called for. A love letter to jazz music while equally being a treaty on race, discrimination, sexism, and oppression. 


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The Long Goodbye

By Raymond Chandler

Book cover of The Long Goodbye

Why this book?

No noir list can be complete without including Raymond Chandler and his unsung hero detective Philip Marlowe. Tough-as-nails, the very definition of gritty, melancholic, and makes you want to pour a glass along with him. The film is also Robert Altman in peak form. This is later-stage Marlowe so he’s grown tougher and sadder, but more honorable as well. All of Chandler’s books are amazing, but this one is likely his best. 


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