My favorite books from the golden age of American crime and noir

Why am I passionate about this?

In college, I studied Literature with a capital L: those timeless classics the professors worship and revere. Then a woman in a used book store in Seattle handed me a copy of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280 and said, "Read this." I was hooked. The pulp fiction of the 1950s is visceral and raw. Like Greek tragedy, it examines the darker drives of human nature--greed, lust, loneliness, anger--and their consequences. Pulp writers were paid by the word to crank out lurid thrills. But like Shakespeare writing for the groundlings, some of them just couldn't help going above and beyond. Their work remains in print because it hits on universal truths that still resonate today.

I wrote...

To Hell with Johnny Manic

By Andrew Diamond,

Book cover of To Hell with Johnny Manic

What is my book about?

John Manis, aka Johnny Manic, isn't who he says he is. He seems to get richer as the people close to him disappear, but he's beginning to learn that money can't ease the burden of his dark secret. Marilyn Dupree, passionate and volatile, wants out of a bad marriage to a wealthy man with secrets of his own. In Johnny, she recognizes what she's been looking for. They have a chemistry like nitrogen and glycerin.

Detective Lou Eisenfall just wants to keep the peace in his rich, idyllic town. He can't tell who's playing whom in this unlikely triangle, but his intuition tells him it isn't going to end well. This dark tale of deception and murder is "a feverishly readable psychological noir." Kirkus Reviews

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of In a Lonely Place

Andrew Diamond Why did I love this book?

Unlike contemporary thrillers that portray killers as inhuman two-dimensional monsters, Hughes portrays Dix Steele as a human being gone horribly wrong. We see how his actions arise from feelings that most people experience as difficult and uncomfortable but that he experiences as intolerable, torturing, and unresolvable.

The novels of Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith are obvious descendants of this one. All three writers have insight and descriptive power that allow you to see, feel and inhabit some disturbing forms of human psychopathology. Hughes' female characters are strong, clear-eyed, and wise. They're the drivers of the story, not the victims. All her characters are fully drawn, and the tension builds consistently throughout. It's a hard book to put down, and you continue to feel it even after you've finished it.

By Dorothy B. Hughes,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In a Lonely Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Puts Chandler to shame ... Hughes is the master we keep turning to'Sara Paretsky

After the war, cynical veteran Dix Steele has moved to L.A., a city terrified by a strangler preying on young women. Bumping into an old friend, now a detective working on the case, Dix is thrilled by closely following the progress of the police. And meeting his new neighbour, sultry and beautiful actress Laurel Gray, brings even more excitement into his life. But the strangler is still prowling the streets - and Laurel may be in more danger than she realises...

In a Lonely Place was…

Book cover of Black Wings Has My Angel

Andrew Diamond Why did I love this book?

In a tough prostitute named Virginia, escaped convict Timothy Sunblade finds the perfect partner to help execute the perfect crime. The extraordinary relationship between these two makes the book memorable. Sunblade is clear-eyed, thoughtful, disillusioned, sensitive, brutish, self-assured at times, and wavering at others. Virginia is wise, world-weary, sure of herself and what she wants, sometimes crazed like a caged animal, but always strong.

Chaze's atmospheric detail adds depth and presence to the story. The characters' arc is one of darkening fate and inevitable tragedy. Watching their slow descent is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The characters continue to deepen throughout the story, all the way to the final page, and they stay with you long after you've put the book down.

By Elliott Chaze,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Black Wings Has My Angel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Flawless ... beyond perfection." — New York Magazine
"An astonishingly well-written literary novel that just happened to be about (or roundabout) a crime." — Barry Gifford
"Black Wings Has My Angel is an indisputable noir classic … Elliott Chaze was a fine prose stylist, witty, insightful, nostalgic, and irreverent, and a first-class storyteller." — Bill Pronzini
An escaped convict encounters an enterprising prostitute at the start of this hard-boiled masterpiece. When Timothy Sunblade opens the door of his blue Packard to Virginia, their fates are forever intertwined. "Maybe if you saw her you'd understand," he reminisces. "Face by Michelangelo, clothes…

Book cover of The Big Clock

Andrew Diamond Why did I love this book?

When news editor Earl Janoth murders his mistress, there's only one witness who can tie him to the crime scene. Janoth doesn't know who the witness is, but he knows everywhere the man went in the 24 hours before the murder, because the murder victim told him before he killed her.

Janoth is determined to find and silence him. He assigns reporter George Stroud to track the man down, not knowing that Stroud himself is the man he's looking for. Stroud is forced to assemble a team to hunt himself, knowing that when he's found, he'll be killed.

This is the best-plotted book I've ever read, both in concept and execution. Little details sprinkled through early chapters of the book keep coming back to have major significance as the noose tightens around Stroud.

By Kenneth Fearing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Big Clock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Stroud, executive editor at Crimeways magazine, is involved with the wrong woman - his boss's. When Janoth, the boss, kills her in an argument, he tries to pin the crime on a man seen outside her home just before the murder. He assigns his best investigative reporter - Stroud - to find the man. Trouble is, the man was Stroud himself ...An audacious and ironic novel of terror and high tension.

Book cover of The Hot Spot

Andrew Diamond Why did I love this book?

Harry Madox drifts into a small Texas town with a plan to rob the local bank. He soon finds himself with two girlfriends. The young, sweet Gloria Harper brings out the best in him, while his boss’ jaded wife, Dolores Harshaw, brings out the worst. This a classic noir (and one of the best) in which a man's internal struggles spill out in the form of self-destructive loves and crimes.

Williams' characters ring true, and he provides good insight into their motivations and weaknesses. Dolores Harshaw may be the best femme fatale in all of crime fiction: seductive, conniving, compelling, manipulative, jealous, ruthless, intelligent, and unhinged. "The smart thing," Madox reflects after their first tryst, "was to get out of here and let her happen to somebody else." But you know he just can't resist.

By Charles Williams,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Hot Spot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dark, brooding masterpiece of guilt, greed, and lust in a town ripe for felony.

Madox wasn't all bad.  He was just half-bad.  But trap a man like Madox in a dead-end job in a stultifying small town, introduce him to a femme fatale like the Harshaw woman, and give him a shot at a fast fifteen thousand dollars--in a bank just begging to be knocked over--and his better nature doesn't stand a chance.

Merciless in its suspense, flawless in its grasp of the ways in which ordinary people hurtle over the edge, The Hot Spot is a superb example…

Book cover of Pop. 1280

Andrew Diamond Why did I love this book?

This violent, darkly comic novel describes the racism, injustice, hypocrisy, and meanness of small-town life in the mid-century American south. Narrator Nick Corey, a deranged homicidal sheriff, becomes increasingly unhinged as the story unfolds, spinning a tale that is bawdy, farcical, and harrowing all at the same time.

Thompson's psychopathic characters are always fascinating. His prose is lean and his fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down stories can be read in a single sitting. While the violence in Pop. 1280 can be disturbing, it's tempered with a good dose of humor. Rose's tirade about her lover, Lennie, has to be one of the funniest and raunchiest rants ever printed. How did Thompson get away with that in 1964?

By Jim Thompson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Pop. 1280 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic crime novel from 'the best suspense writer going, bar none' New York Times

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.

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Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

Book cover of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

DK Coutant Author Of Evil Alice and the Borzoi

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Cross Cultural Psychologist Dog Lover Traveler Reader

DK's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Cleo Cooper, a cross-cultural psychology professor, is living the dream on the Big Island of Hawaii. With ocean-dipping weekends, she enjoys her dog, her job, and her boyfriend Ben - until the day she’s on a research vessel and a dead body is caught in the dragline.

The police determine it is murder and set their sights on a gentle former student, Kai. It doesn’t take much urging from Kai’s auntie for Cleo to investigate. But Ben grows distant, and Cleo’s dog grows ill. A couple of accidental deaths later, and someone makes an attempt on her life.

What happened to Cleo’s life in paradise? Can she discover the true killer? Can she stop the killer before the killer stops her?

Evil Alice and the Borzoi

By DK Coutant,

What is this book about?

Paradise is shaken when the body of a young woman is dragged onto a university research vessel during a class outing in Hilo Bay. Cleo Cooper is shaken when she finds her favorite student is on the hook for the murder. Danger lurks on land and sea as Cleo and her friends are enticed to search for the true killer. In between paddling, swimming, and arguing with her boyfriend, Cleo discovers all is not what it seems on the Big Island of Hawaii. But will she figure out the truth before she becomes the next victim?

5 book lists we think you will like!

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