Friday, June 7, 2013

Multitude of Favorites 7: Classic Hard-boiled Writers

It only took six posts to tell you about my favorite writers in genres other than hard-boiled and/or noir. That's not too bad, is it? But now I come to the genre that's closest to my black and twisted little heart. I've split this one in two, the first part here focusing on classic hard-boiled and the next part focusing on classic noir. Yeah, I know, I'm that guy who bitches when people spend a lot of time trying to define what separates those sub-genres, and here I am doing it myself. But as Walt Whitman said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself, fuck you."

Long-time readers of hard-boiled lit won't find any surprises here. Sorry 'bout that. But if you're new to the genre, these are the four toughest, meanest, most visionary hard-boiled writers of all time:

Dashiell Hammett. If you haven't read Hammett before, you need to get on that. It would probably be no lie to say he more-or-less invented the form, or at least perfected it. His style was so lean and unsentimental and just barrelled along so forcefully that reading him is always a visceral experience. THE MALTESE FALCON is, of course, an amazing novel, but my favorite stuff of his involves the implacable Continental Op-- try THE BIG KNOCKOVER, THE DAIN CURSE, and the brilliant RED HARVEST.

Donald Westlake, using the name Richard Stark, wrote my favorite on-going series, about professional thief Parker. Parker is the distillation of the classic hard-case, a man who exists solely for the job. He's ruthless, amoral, and completely engaging, and Stark's economy of writing reflects the psyche of his protagonist perfectly. THE HUNTER, THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE, THE OUTFIT, and SLAYGROUND are among my favorites.

Paul Cain didn't write much, but what he did produce was stunning. Raymond Chandler called Cain's first and only novel 'some kind of high-water mark in hard-boiled', and that's about right. That novel is FAST ONE. There's also a collection of short tales from Cain available called SEVEN SLAYERS. Great stuff.

Dan J. Marlowe wrote what I would consider the hardest of all hard-boiled novels, featuring a protagonist so mean and focused it's almost scary. THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH was a real wake-up call for me as to how brutal a main character can be and still have the reader in his corner. Other good ones by Marlowe are THE VENGEANCE MAN, ONE ENDLESS HOUR, STRONGARM, and NEVER LIVE TWICE.

Come back next week for my picks of classic noir writers.


  1. I see that you have not listed Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and Ross Macdonald. All 3 I would consider necessary to any list of hard-boiled literature. Perhaps they will be on your second list of classic noir?

    1. Walker, it's an entirely subjective list, of course, but the other guys edge Chandler out for me. MacDonald would be a good choice, though. And I consider James Cain more a noir writer, really.

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  2. I've always preferred Hammett over Chandler too.

  3. Dan J Marlowe, very good pick amongst all the other great ones. Thanks for the post Heath.


  4. One word: Hammett. Adore the man.