The best hard boiled books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about hard boiled and why they recommend each book.

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Pop. 1280

By Jim Thompson,

Book cover of Pop. 1280

I was introduced to this book through Tavernier’s brilliant adaptation, Clean Slate (Coup de Torchon, 1981). Set in Texas, Thompson’s novel was published in 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement, and it offers a portrait of petty-minded racism in the continuing aftermath of slavery. Tavernier’s adaptation transposes the story to 1930s French colonial West Africa. I remain haunted by the ways the two settings illuminate each other. Tavernier’s blending of a deadly serious historical crisis with touches of comedy—slapstick even—brings both eras and the novel itself to life in enjoyable and instructive ways.


Who am I?

I'm a recently retired Professor of French literature and cinema studies at Dartmouth College. Because I love both books and movies, I developed a course on adaptation, which I taught with pleasure for many years. I wanted to give students the opportunity to learn how to analyze literary texts and films, separately and in juxtaposition, and they especially enjoyed discovering how the “same” story works quite differently in different media. In addition to the two volumes on Tavernier, my published books include New Novel, New Wave, New Politics: Fiction and the Representation of History in Postwar France; Parables of Theory: Jean Ricardou’s Metafiction; and Rape and Representation (co-edited with Brenda Silver).


I wrote...

Bertrand Tavernier

By Lynn A. Higgins,

Book cover of Bertrand Tavernier

What is my book about?

Bertrand Tavernier is one of the most important French film directors in the generation that followed the New Wave. His oeuvre spans many historical periods and genres, including historical dramas, documentaries, science fiction, melodramas, intimate portraits of (fictional) artists, and even comedy. In the United States, he is best known for A Sunday in the Country [Un Dimanche à la campagne, 1984] about an aging post-impressionist painter in the period just before World War I, and Round Midnight [Autour de minuit, 1986], about an American jazz musician in 1950s Paris. Some of his most interesting and memorable films (including A Sunday in the Country) are adaptations.

Note: Readers who enjoy his films and/or my book about him might also want to delve deeper into his reflections about his individual films in my co-edited Bertrand Tavernier Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, pb 2022).

The Getaway

By Jim Thompson,

Book cover of The Getaway

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.

Who am I?

As a writer of thrillers whose debut novel was considered Noir, I’ve always been fascinated by tales of characters that are not always the most likeable. Noir fiction is characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. Similar to its successful films, I love when you feel for an anti-hero. That despite their questionable motives, the author or director manages to make you root for them in the end.


I wrote...

Stalker Stalked

By Lee Matthew Goldberg,

Book cover of Stalker Stalked

What is my book about?

Lexi Mazur is a depressed, alcoholic, pill-popper whose only joy has become her reality TV shows, often fantasizing that the people on TV are a part of her world. After her boyfriend Steve leaves her, she fixates on the show Socialites and its star Magnolia Artois, following every facet of the girl’s life on social media in the hopes of befriending and becoming more like her. 

But stalking isn’t new to Lexi. She ultimately won over her ex Steve by following and manipulating every minute detail about him so he’d fall for her. In fact, she landed her other ex-boyfriend Jeremy in the same way. Being a pharma rep, she’s used to manipulation to get doctors to buy her drugs, along with the perk of saving pills for herself. But what happens when the stalker gets stalked? 

Duet for the Devil

By T. Winter-Damon, Randy Chandler, Edward Lee

Book cover of Duet for the Devil

Two of the top voices in extreme horror fiction unite to create a surreal road trip to hell. Loosely based on the crimes of the Zodiac Killer, as well as several other serial killers, Duet for the Devil pushes all possible boundaries and stands as a monumental achievement in Extreme Horror. Featuring hundreds of pages of brutality and disturbing criminal behavior, the book is not one to be forgotten.


Who am I?

My experience and expertise – I am not only a reader of horror, in particular extreme horror, but I am a published writer with several hundred writing credits. I have had hundreds of stories and articles published on many websites, magazines, and anthologies including a story in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5. For eleven years I wrote articles on the bizarre and morbid for Girls and Corpses magazine. I have been consistently writing for 20 years, and have also helped write several independent horror films. I have written many reviews and interviews as well, most recently in Phantasmagoria Magazine.


I wrote...

Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

By David L. Tamarin,

Book cover of Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

What is my book about?

Hurting My Toys is an extreme horror tale about a schizophrenic drug-addicted serial killer who cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. In his deluded mind, he can become a God who controls the universe provided that he kills enough people. Warning - may be traumatic to some.

Like Flies from Afar

By K. Ferrari, Adrian Nathan West (translator),

Book cover of Like Flies from Afar

This is a concise noir with clear and simple prose. There is no metafiction, magical realism, or non-linear narrative to contend with. The protagonist, Mr. Machi, is a terrible person, almost psychopathic, a symbol of everything that is wrong in Argentina. The book is a critique of unbridled capitalism and its status symbols. To kick things off, Machi finds a dead body inside the boot of his beloved BMW and from there the action and the hilarity don’t stop. Told from the point of view of Machi, we have an uncomplicated antihero, a person completely without redeeming features. According to legend, the author still works as a subway station cleaner.


Who am I?

At twenty-six I was living in Wuhan. I had been in China for a couple of years and was looking for a change. Not ready to go back home to New Zealand, I made my way across Europe, through the USA, and on to Argentina. Since that visit, I’ve followed Argentina's economic crises and scoured its newspapers for quirky crime stories. I started to send out true crime articles to various magazines. Eventually, I had enough material to write a novel. For years I’ve wanted to find a literary yet straightforward crime novel set in Argentina. The search goes on, but below are the best I’ve come across so far.


I wrote...

Buenos Aires Triad

By F.E. Beyer,

Book cover of Buenos Aires Triad

What is my book about?

A searing portrait of small-time crooks and immigrant gangs. When an armed robber shoots a British tourist in Buenos Aires, Lucas's life changes forever. A humble watch-seller moonlighting for the gang behind the robbery, Lucas picked the British woman as a target. He wants out of the gang but instead becomes more entangled and joins gang leader Gustavo in extortion work for the triads. In the Argentina of this well-researched noir, an enterprising type can store their loot with crooked nuns, or bet it on scorpion fights at illegal casinos.

Pictures from an Institution

By Randall Jarrell,

Book cover of Pictures from an Institution

Pictures from an Institution, to my mind, is the best novel written by a poet. It’s comical, biting, engrossing, moving, and flat-out entertaining. Once again, we are back in academia, at a woman’s college based loosely on Sarah Lawrence, and never has academia been skewered more amusingly. Regarding the college, one character muses, “You Americans do not rear children, you incite them; you give them food and shelter and applause.” The novel’s jokes—aphorisms, wisecracks, putdowns—come so fast and furious one could lose track of the story, if the story itself were not so interesting…and jovial. It’s funnier than throwing a hardboiled egg into an electric fan. Pictures from an Institution is also learned and wise and, underneath the drollery, there is a basic humanism that does not allow you to dismiss the book as mere satire.


Who am I?

Corey Mesler has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and New Stories from the South. He has published over 25 books of fiction and poetry. His newest novel, The Diminishment of Charlie Cain, is from Livingston Press. He also wrote the screenplay for We Go On, which won The Memphis Film Prize in 2017. With his wife he runs Burke’s Book Store (est. 1875) in Memphis. I have a fondness for novels written by writers who are primarily poets. These five books are my favorites in that contracted genre.


I wrote...

Memphis Movie

By Corey Mesler,

Book cover of Memphis Movie

What is my book about?

Memphis Movie concerns a middle-aged filmmaker named Eric Warberg, an ex-Memphian who went to Hollywood and made it big. For many years he was a success out there until, after directing a few box office bombs, he found himself essentially out of work. Then the opportunity presents itself for a return to his hometown of Memphis to direct an independent film, a return to his roots in more than one way. With mixed feelings he returns home where he is greeted like a returning star.

Overall, the novel reads like a Robert Altman film, with many story strands making up the tapestry. One of the questions the novel asks is, Will Eric lose or find his soul, in his hometown, where soul has many meanings?

The Dain Curse

By Dashiell Hammett,

Book cover of The Dain Curse

What, more Hammett? Sure. My apologies to those expecting Raymond Chandler, but it’s hard to beat the master. Even in this sometimes almost incoherent thrill ride through the occult, drugs, the misdeeds of the rich, and amoral 1920s America. It ain’t called the Roaring 20s for nothing. This is the second in the Continental Op series and maybe Hammett’s most ambitious PI work, which follows a sharp-witted insurance investigator in Hammett’s trademark snappy prose. Sam Spade-like? Uh, no. The Op is short, fat, forty, and nameless, very far from a tough guy. He gets beaten up all the time in this, I admit it, quite convoluted novel. Fortunately for the mystery-challenged, the backstory is presented at the end of each of three parts, along with the Op’s wry takes on the case.

Is Curse a satire? A literary work? Some kind of skewed horror story? Yes to all the above.


Who am I?

I’m the author of the Peter Pike private eye series. Detective, PI, and mystery fiction have come a long way since Poe’s Dupin and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The genre allows you to explore almost any theme you want. What is Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment if not crime/detective fiction? My passion is history and the evolution of societies, and writing in this genre lets me explore the huge, sophisticated ancient Indian civilizations that were here before the white invasion. The ugly history of the Mormons, not taught in school. Lincoln’s murky sexuality. The Russian Revolution, Lenin and Stalin, the downfall of the Romanovs. Nazis and war dogs. The U.S.-Soviet space race. The -- well, you get the idea. 


I wrote...

Peter Pike and the Lincoln Love Letters: (Ah, Love)

By Neal W. Fandek,

Book cover of Peter Pike and the Lincoln Love Letters: (Ah, Love)

What is my book about?

Scandal! Explosive Lincoln love letters have disappeared from the University of Illinois Library – and with them, the last person to see the letters, erratic adjunct poetry instructor Danny Ejderhan. His fiancé Dani hires once-homeless private eye Peter Pike (he sleeps in his office now) to find Dan. To find Dan, Pike must navigate a world of fluid sexuality, political correctness, race riots, musty archives, and inconvenient truths. On top of that, Pike is falling in love with Greta, a librarian with some secrets herself. 

Why all the excitement? Because these documents will upend history. The letters to and from Lincoln are not correspondence with Mary Todd or even a woman at all. His crush is on ... John Wilkes Booth. The book asks the eternal question: What price love?

Werewolf Cop

By Andrew Klavan,

Book cover of Werewolf Cop

Werewolf Cop is a hard-boiled noir quite unlike the other books on my list, but Klavan’s powerful voice drew me in and never let go. The book wasn’t entirely hard and gritty like I assumed at first. I especially like the way Klavan portrays the relationship between the main character and his wife. My favorite quote from the book is: “Bloody hard to know who the good guys are, isn’t it?” “It is,” said Zach. “I’m not even sure that’s how it works... It’s more like—messed-up guys, some fighting for the good, some for the bad, and the rest just wandering around bumping into the furniture.”  


Who am I?

While the werewolf curse isn’t real (as far as we know/thank goodness!), I do know what it’s like to have my life turned upside down by a painful illness that seems like a curse. When I was 23, I almost died from a rare autoimmune disease that tried to devour my lungs. More than a decade later, I’m still here and fighting, and my escapist love of reading fantasy books turned into a passion to write them. I also love metaphors and werewolves, and it all combined nicely with my BA in English! Aside from writing, I help other “underdog” authors as COO for indie publisher Thinklings Books.


I wrote...

Hunter's Moon

By Sarah M. Awa,

Book cover of Hunter's Moon

What is my book about?

College was hard enough before Melanie got bitten by a werewolf. Now she has to deal with painful transformations, a secret organization stalking her, and hunters looming on the horizon.

The Death of Sweet Mister

By Daniel Woodrell,

Book cover of The Death of Sweet Mister

The people in Sweet Mister are broken and derelict, strong and resilient, funny and terrifying. The book opens with overweight thirteen-year-old Shuggie (Sweet Mister) being forced to climb up a drain pipe to break into a building to steal drugs for Red, his mother’s treacherous, drug-addicted boyfriend. We follow through the eyes of Sweet Mister, who doesn’t know who his father is. It’s rumored to be the town’s wealthiest citizen. That rumor, more like fabrication, is told to him in the aftermath of Red’s rage, after he’s torn through the house like a tornado destroying everything in his wake, almost like a fairytale, spinning evermore intricately by Glenda, his adored mother, the most beautiful girl in Missouri. Shug is willing to believe it. Anyone besides Red.  

Shug is in love with his mother, and he wants a better life for her. Better than a life of stealing from other people,…


Who am I?

I'm an ‘expert’ when it comes to books because I've been ‘reading’ books since before I could talk – even at two years old, holding the books upside down, but somehow still immersed. I presume all of you are experts, too. Your love of books has brought you to this site. Books became my escape when the world seemed too large and too cruel to cope with. But what makes me even more of an expert, was my dedication to books….that two-year-old loved books so much he would tear out pages and eat them, he would stuff pieces in his nose….Grossed out?  Well, what can I tell ya’, I was dedicated lol.



I wrote...

Unlawful DISorder

By David Jackson Ambrose,

Book cover of Unlawful DISorder

What is my book about?

Bowie Long has been in treatment for his mental health disorder since he was eighteen years old. But experts can’t give him a diagnosis. Is it bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Maybe it’s schizoaffective disorder. He also has a gambling compulsion. But when he encounters the police, his fate moves beyond the control of treatment facilities and into the hands of the prison industrial complex, which eats the Black and the mentally ill, overcrowding American prison cells with bodies they're ill-equipped to handle. 

Along the way, Bowie explores a relationship with another Black man who encourages him to question a system that refuses to listen when he claims his medical regimen is causing adverse effects and who encourages him to find his own voice, free from the stigma of mental illness. 

The Silence of the Wave

By Gianrico Carofiglio, Howard Curtis (translator),

Book cover of The Silence of the Wave

Arguably, this is not a book about surfing. The Silence of the Wave is about an Italian undercover police officer dealing with trauma and guilt. But within this hardboiled story of crisis and the dark and ugly undercurrents of our modern world, Carofiglio beautifully illustrates the lasting impact surfing can have on a person’s life. Like first love, surfing may be in your past, but it is never forgotten and often takes on a mythic quality that at once can feel like a dream and also lead you back to your true self.


Who am I?

The moment I rode my first wave 25 years ago, I fell in love with the raw energy of that swell that traveled all the way across the ocean to share the last bit of its journey with me. My love of surfing became an all-consuming passion. I abandoned graduate school and reorganized my life to spend every possible minute in the water. Hours a day, I sit on my board, watching the horizon for the next wave, anticipating that sublime connection, when wind and water unite with my breath and blood. Out of the water, I seek a similar kind of transcendence in the stories I write. 


I wrote...

The Song of All: The Legacy of the Heavens Book 1

By Tina LeCount Myers,

Book cover of The Song of All: The Legacy of the Heavens Book 1

What is my book about?

On the forbidding fringes of the tundra, where years are marked by seasons of snow, humans war with immortals in the name of their shared gods. Irjan, a ruthless human warrior, is a legend among the Brethren of Hunters. But even legends grow tired and disillusioned. Scarred and weary of bloodshed, Irjan turns his back on his oath and his calling to seek a peaceful life as a farmer, husband, and father. When his bloody past is revealed, Irjan’s present unravels as he faces an ultimatum: return to hunt the immortals or lose his child.

With his son’s life hanging in the balance, Irjan enters the world of the immortals, seeking not death, but the magic of life.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

By Edgar Allan Poe,

Book cover of The Murders in the Rue Morgue

I know, this is a short story and hence cheating, but how can you make lists of detective stories without including the granddaddy of them all? Poe’s short story preceded Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes by four decades and has all the main ingredients. You have an ice-cold supremely rational detective, C. Auguste Dupin. You have a loyal sidekick. You have a bumbling cop. You have two extremely gory murders. You have a locked room. You have conflicting witnesses. You have a bizarre conclusion. You know what? Don’t read my No. 1. Read the Master first.


Who am I?

I’m the author of the Peter Pike private eye series. Detective, PI, and mystery fiction have come a long way since Poe’s Dupin and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The genre allows you to explore almost any theme you want. What is Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment if not crime/detective fiction? My passion is history and the evolution of societies, and writing in this genre lets me explore the huge, sophisticated ancient Indian civilizations that were here before the white invasion. The ugly history of the Mormons, not taught in school. Lincoln’s murky sexuality. The Russian Revolution, Lenin and Stalin, the downfall of the Romanovs. Nazis and war dogs. The U.S.-Soviet space race. The -- well, you get the idea. 


I wrote...

Peter Pike and the Lincoln Love Letters: (Ah, Love)

By Neal W. Fandek,

Book cover of Peter Pike and the Lincoln Love Letters: (Ah, Love)

What is my book about?

Scandal! Explosive Lincoln love letters have disappeared from the University of Illinois Library – and with them, the last person to see the letters, erratic adjunct poetry instructor Danny Ejderhan. His fiancé Dani hires once-homeless private eye Peter Pike (he sleeps in his office now) to find Dan. To find Dan, Pike must navigate a world of fluid sexuality, political correctness, race riots, musty archives, and inconvenient truths. On top of that, Pike is falling in love with Greta, a librarian with some secrets herself. 

Why all the excitement? Because these documents will upend history. The letters to and from Lincoln are not correspondence with Mary Todd or even a woman at all. His crush is on ... John Wilkes Booth. The book asks the eternal question: What price love?

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