Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hardboiled/Noir Writers Part 8

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven

--More Who Carried the Torch--

Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties, hardboiled fiction held on, despite the industry's best attempts to make it soft and easy. It's because of the few writers who held tight to the hardboiled vision that we're now enjoying a new resurgence of interest in noir.

Here are some more essential talents who carried the torch:

Walter Mosley started his writing career with a terrific run of books about Easy Rawlins, a black P.I. in the L.A. of the 1950’s. Very noir, with writing as rich and evocative as Chandler or Ross MacDonald.

A Red Death
White Butterfly
Black Betty
Little Yellow Dog
Devil in a Blue Dress

James Ellroy is the mad dog of modern crime fiction. He doesn't write thrillers so much as crime-ridden historical epics, examining the darkest corners of the 20th century. His books are benchmarks in the genre—humorless, bleak, violent and cynical. Also, amazingly well written.

L.A. Confidential
The Big Nowhere
Killer on the Road
Brown’s Requiem
The Black Dahlia
Blood's a Rover

Andrew Vachss wrote what was perhaps the most brutal ongoing series in the genre these last few years, the novels about the obsessed Burke. Stark and focused. Vachss is an outspoken advocate for abused children. His non-Burke novel “The Getaway Man” is one of the purest modern noirs you’ll ever read.

Blue Belle
Hard Candy
The Getaway Man

I don’t need to tell you about Elmore Leonard, do I? Amazingly prolific and one of the finest writers working today. Much has already been said about his dead-on dialogue and seedy characters. To list all his great books would take pages, but here's just a few that I can heartily recommend.

The Hot Kid
Riding The Rap
Out of Sight
Pagan Babies
Toshimingo Blues
Maximum Bob

Joe R. Lansdale is, quite simply, the man. His style is distinctly Texas Noir, wry and funny and dark. He writes wonderfully in multiple genres, but when he ventures into noir territory, he’s especially awesome. Lansdale is a good reason not to kill yourself. Here are a few gems:

Savage Season
Cold in July
Mucho Mojo
The Two-Bear Mambo
The Bottoms
Sunset And Sawdust
Vanilla Ride
Devil Red

Surprisingly, one of the best writers of tough-minded noir these days is seldom if ever marketed as such. Cormac McCarthy isn’t the first name you think of when you think of the genre, but his books are tight, spare, and punctuated with sharp and unexpected doses of violence. Amazing stuff.

No Country for Old Men
Blood Meridian
The Road
The Crossing

--Door-Stop Thrillers--

The end of the 20th Century saw the beginning of the Age of the Door-stop Thriller-- that is, crime or mystery novels that are very long and very dense. Until then, the thriller by it's very nature was short and tight-- a quick read for a sleepless night-- but the market had opened up finally to longer works, written by authors with clearly literary concerns... sometimes.

Other times, they were just looong books.

Regardless, these writers appear consistently on best-seller charts, have massive readerships, and are practically cottage industries-- crime fiction straight enough to appeal to the masses but just noir-tinged enough to have appeal to readers with darker tastes.

One of the most popular and influential of these door-stop thriller writers was, and still is, James Lee Burke. His novels about Dave Robiecheux are densely plotted and the language is lush and Faulknerian. They may suffer from 'sprawl', but Robiecheux is a great example of a deeply flawed hero, trying to deal with his inner demons while tracking down the bad guys.

Black Cherry Blues
A Morning for Flamingoes
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead
A Stained White Radiance
Crusader’s Cross

John Connolly made a big splash with his first novels about Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, an ex-cop haunted by the brutal slayings of his wife and daughter. Like James Lee Burke, Connolly's books are often well-padded with extemporaneous filler, but his voice as an author is layered and colorful, and the crime thriller backdrop is sometimes shot through with a strange dose of the supernatural.

Every Dead Thing
Dark Hollow
The Killing Kind
The White Road

Lee Child is most notable for his series featuring tough hero and force of nature, Jack Reacher. Like many other modern suspense writers, Child has a tendency to go longer than the story can maintain, but his books are more violent and intense than most series characters these days. Very hardboiled.

The Killing Floor
The Enemy
One Shot
The Hard Way

Ian Rankin has been called the master of ‘Tartan Noir’—which goes to show you that the media loves a silly label. Like some of the other modern writers I just mentioned, Rankin's work is sometimes puffed up with filler. Regardless, his novels about Inspector Rebus are very well-written and relentlessly bleak.

Knots & Crosses
Hide & Seek
Tooth & Nail
Strip Jack
The Black Book
Mortal Causes

Next Wednesday: Part Nine: The New Noir.


  1. A great read as always. These later thrillers don't touch me anywhere close to as much as the old boys. I think there's somethingabout the economy of language that suits the genre much better. Or possibly I'm just too lazy to slog through the endless verbiage.


  2. Kudos for including James Ellroy, Heath. AMERICAN TABLOID is one of my favorite novels of all time. It's part of his UNDERWORLD USA trilogy, but stands alone, IMHO, as a great work of literature.

  3. Mike, Ellroy is in a class by himself.
    And William, Lansdale is, was and always will be the Man. He had a huge impact on me as a young writer.

  4. Mood, the Door-Stop Thriller is a bane on the genre, in my opinion. But, as far as the ones I listed here, I tried to be fair about their redeeming qualities. With these writers in particular I'd actually like them if their books were HALF as long.

  5. Thanks for the list and the snapshots, Heath. I picked up a couple of your recommendations from the library today including the Lansdale you've pictured, it kinda jumped into my hands. Great first line, I'm looking forward to reading.

  6. Still have not read any Vachss. The others I have read at least one or two.

  7. Loved your choices. Vachss, Lansdale, and Ellroy are my favorites, and I think Vachss has been coming closer and closer to perfect noir with his last few (non-Burke) novels.

  8. "I understand I am too 'pulp' for the literati, and too 'literate' for the pulpsters. Lost a lot of sleep over that. I’d rather burn a bridge than crawl over it, and genre-worship isn’t one of my disabilities." -Andrew Vachss, from

  9. I cracked up out loud at work when you called Ellroy "humorless". I think it's the perfect adjective for his work and the very reason why I love his books so goddamned much. I got Vachss in the TBR pile also and I'm quite excited about it.