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Top 25 Best Hard-Boiled Mystery Books

The Greatest 25 Hard Boiled Mysteries You Need to Read

“When she walked into my office, cigarette in hand, I knew she was going to be trouble…” an opening trope known by many, associated with the trench coated, gun-toting Private Eyes of the 1920’s and 30’s, the standard fare for a hard boiled mystery novel. 

Hard Boiled sometimes include the noir aesthetic and is sometimes used interchangeably with 'Noir Mystery Books' though it's technically not quite the same. Hard Boiled may include noir elements, but it may not as well as 'Noir' is a very specific literary / film aesthetic. 

You’ll encounter many such novels on this list, bringing together the best of these “classic” hard boiled mysteries, as well as some that are genre-challenging, but not necessarily shattering its boundaries. So sit back, put on some vinyl, pour a glass of whiskey, and let’s stroll - trilbies firmly on - into the tough-nut world of the hard-boiled dark and disturbing mysteries.

This one is really a no-brainer choice: The Big Sleep. It rules the roost of hardboiled mystery along with Hammetts The Maltese Falcon, and both are considered the greatest of the genre, but here is why Chandler just pipped Hammett to the post: It is impossible to talk about hardboiled mysteries without mentioning The Big Sleep, or its lead Phillip Marlowe, as I myself have done many times through the course of this list.

Raymond Chandlers novel is a fundamental in hardboiled history, the all-time iconic classic which defined the genre and without which our modern mystery fiction would not be what it is today. Philip Marlowe is the original bad-ass, throwing out cynicism and wit like a hardboiled Groucho Marx. Hes a wise guy, yet still cunning and always makes keen observations. He drinks, chain smokes and is full of world-weary wisdom and despondence.

Hes a tough manly guy, yet ever so slightly dandyish, and not just a hammer, but also an intellectual in his own right. Today there are many stories like The Big Sleep, many protagonists like Philip Marlowe, authors emulating Chandler, many of which Ive mentioned in this list. But none of them carry quite the same gravitas as the original, which changed the world of mystery novels forever. Its a true testament to how influential the character of Marlowe is. In this complex plot involving extortion, kidnapping, pornography and murder, The Big Sleep is the definitive hardboiled mystery, and one that fans of the genre would be criminal to not partake in.

Books in Philip Marlowe Series (8)

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Just missing out on the top spot is a top-notch novel by an indisputable superstar of the hardboiled mystery genre. Dashiell Hammetts The Maltese Falcon is a classic that brought us his most famous protagonist, Sam Spade, an archetypal tough San Francisco detective. We meet him after his partner is murdered on a stakeout, along with the guy he was tailing, and of course Sam is suspected.

Throw in a ravishing redhead with a sob story who appears and then just as swiftly disappears, vicious villains demanding a hefty payday that Sam cant provide, and a solid gold, jewel encrusted falcon statuette that everyone is just dying to get their hands on and for some reason thinks Sam Spade knows the location of, and this mystery takes a harsh turn into hardboiled territory. Our top drawer detective is tough and strong, knows his way around a fight, can scrutinise a scene without leaving a trace and enchants women with his slick charm.

The Maltese Falcon is a truly influential novel in the hardboiled style, spawning drones of imitators and facsimiles. Less poetic than Chandler but still a strongly styled and plot driven novel that will keep readers hooked until the very last page, it clocks in at second place on this list but only by a hairs breadth as it is nothing short of spectacular.

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Paul Cain is often called the unsung hero of the hardboiled mystery genre. Having only published one novel, under a pseudonym no less, hes like an enigma wrapped in a mystery, yadda, yadda. This one novel that Cain wrote was a fierce accomplishment; acknowledged as one of the most hardboiled ever written, its a dark and dirty tale with no quick-witted P.I.s in sight. Instead we follow Gerry Kells, who decides upon his arrival in the city of Angels that he wants to take over the criminal underworld (you know, the same thing we do every night, Pinky).

Kells plunges into a high-risk world of double-crossing, flirtatious femme fatales, dirty cops, bootleggers and bookies. Gerry is as much of a mystery as the author, little to nothing is known about him, there are stories, rumours, a reputation, but he is for the most part an unknown loner. The story is not bloody, but fierce, brutal and ruthless, moving at a constantly relentless pace whilst its plot for the most part actually makes sense, unlike a lot of other hardboiled mysteries. Reading a little like a Hammett novel, Fast One is a hectic whirl through the LA underworld that will leave you with an unquenchable thirst for more of the elusive Paul Cain.

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Next we launch into an alcohol soaked ride featuring a private investigator that spends his spare time working in a topless bar. Hired to track down an author on a self-destructive drinking binge, C.W. Sughrue stumbles into a second case and onto the trail of a girl whos been missing for 10 years after the author hes hunting takes a bullet in the ass. Saddled with the sozzled scribe, Sughrue sets about finding the girl on an intoxicated expedition across the darkest and most depraved parts of Western America.

This is real tough guy fiction, filled with huge quantities of drugs, alcohol and black humour tinged in melancholy. Sughrue is a flawed hero, but who amongst detective fiction isnt? The book is cynical and surprising, with a number of unexpected twists along the course of uncovering its mysteries, and its all masterfully crafted, this series also receiving high praise from Dennis Lehane. Crumley isnt as widely recognised as some of the other big-name hardboiled writers however, but he should be, The Last Good Kiss is a masterstroke of hardboiled mystery with a strong plot and a central character you cant help but sympathise with.

Books in C.W. Sughrue Series (4)

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Next we launch into an alcohol soaked ride featuring a private investigator that spends his spare time working in a topless bar. Hired to track down an author on a self-destructive drinking binge, C.W. Sughrue stumbles into a second case and onto the trail of a girl whos been missing for 10 years after the author hes hunting takes a bullet in the ass. Saddled with the sozzled scribe, Sughrue sets about finding the girl on an intoxicated expedition across the darkest and most depraved parts of Western America.

This is real tough guy fiction, filled with huge quantities of drugs, alcohol and black humour tinged in melancholy. Sughrue is a flawed hero, but who amongst detective fiction isnt? The book is cynical and surprising, with a number of unexpected twists along the course of uncovering its mysteries, and its all masterfully crafted, this series also receiving high praise from Dennis Lehane. Crumley isnt as widely recognised as some of the other big-name hardboiled writers however, but he should be, The Last Good Kiss is a masterstroke of hardboiled mystery with a strong plot and a central character you cant help but sympathise with.

Books in Kenzie & Gennaro Series (9)

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When hes hired by a university to recover a rare stolen manuscript, Spensers only clue is the body of a student with 4 bullet holes in his chest. The police have a prime suspect, a pretty blonde whose fingerprints are all over the gun but Spenser knows its not that simple, and sets about trying to prove her innocence, catch the killer and find the Godwulf Manuscript.

There is clear influence of Philip Marlowe, but hes not quite the carbon copy; Spenser is a wise cracking wise ass, he doesnt care for politics or the bigger picture, he just commits himself to helping those he can. Hes cocky and tough, with a humorous streak yet bitter and angry at times. Hes also a total womaniser, getting with the main chick and her MILF mother within hours of each other!

The Spenser novels have been cited by critics and bestselling authors such as Robert Crais, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane as not only influencing their own work but reviving and changing the detective genre, and its easy to see why. This first novel, whilst not as polished as some of the later entries, is tough, thrilling and a good mystery ride, and Spenser is a protagonist you can help but love, especially with such fantastically quotable lines as: If you say anything to me but yes sir I will hit you at least six times in the face. If thats not hardboiled, I dont know what is.

Books in Spencer Series (42)

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With the first book of his Berlin Noir trilogy a historical hardboiled mystery series Phillip Kerr brings us to the world of 1930s Germany for some private eye action with Nazis. Former cop turned private eye Bernhard Bernie Gunther specialises in finding missing things and missing people, so when the daughter and son-in-law of a wealthy German manufacturer are killed and the contents of their safe taken, Bernie is the one he enlists to find the missing treasures.

The central mystery of this novel is a fairly simple one, it has major plot twists, but theyre nothing revolutionary. This standard mystery plot is bolstered by its location and historical, social and political settings. Germany is a big change from the usual haunt of private eyes in the streets of the tough sides of L.A., Boston and Chicago, even more of a stark contrast under the iron fist of the Nazis. Bernie works his way through the various tiers of German society, even rubbing shoulders with the Gestapo and its higher members, including exchanges with Herman Goering.

Kerrs characters are deep and complex, and Bernie is hardboiled, tough and strong even making it through a stint in Dachau. How many other hardboiled protagonists can boast having survived a concentration camp? Nobody in this novel is entirely good or bad Herman Goering seems like a buffoon at times, and speaks with Bernie on the glamour of being a P.I. and even discusses Dashiell Hammetts Red Harvest with him. Even so, the sense of evil in these people in these people is ever-present, and at times interactions with the Nazis are, as they should be, chilling. March Violets is a prime example of history and hardboiled mystery blended well to create something truly dark and gripping.

Books in Bernie Gunther Series (11)

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Dont be fooled by the title, there are no postmen in The Postman Always Rings Twice, nor is there any ringing - unless you count the number of times someone has their bell rung, if you know what I mean 'nudge nudge wink wink'. Sex jokes aside, this is one of the most important crime novels of all time, a dark, dangerous, sultry tale of a drifter who stumbles around life; into a job, into the bed of a married woman, an obsession and a murder plot. This hardboiled mystery thriller follows Frank and Cora, a pair who meet when Frank is hired by Coras husband to help in their businesses.

There are sparks the second they meet, and soon they embark upon a sizzling affair which culminates in a plot to murder Coras husband. The relationship between Frank and Cora borders on the obsessive and creepy and yet is steamy and sensual. Despite the book being the subject of an obscenity trial in Boston, the sex is far from graphic; you can feel the heat and the lust in the sexual encounters without the need for over description of what goes where.

Unlike the sex, the story is a quickie, clocking in at just over 100 pages. Cain wastes no words and yet the story is packed with action and feeling, and with all this prime content in such short length theres no reason not to take the plunge (and dont even think of making a thats what he said joke). Whilst not quite Chandler, this short novel packs a punch and still retains the hardboiled detective feel.

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This next comes from a writer named Mickey Spillane, who sounds himself like a hardened 50s Mafioso or detective, we have an even tougher sounding protagonist Mike Hammer, hard as nails private detective. In this novel the hardy hero is taking on the Mafia, and having had his license and gun stripped in the early outset, hes doing it unarmed and hands on. Mike Hammer is one of the toughest private detectives to ever grace print, almost to the point of parody.

Hes brutal, humourless and a self-appointed angel of vengeance, making his way through a version of New York that is apparently awash with luscious ladies, each one he meets being hotter than the last. There is often talk of Mikes treatment of the dames, and yes - misogyny runs rampant in the series, but then again Mikes not picking on women in particular, hes a dick to everyone he meets. Fairs fair, right?

All of the Mike Hammer novels follow pretty much the same vein, with predictable mysteries that are improbable and a good dash of ultra-violence not bad from an author who recruited people for the Latter Day Saints in his spare time! Even so, its a merry joyride for hardboiled devotees who love the allure of private dicks, with Kiss Me, Deadly being among the better of Mikes vengeful rampages.

Books in Mike Hammer Series (26)

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Bringing us into the top 10 is an American hardboiled mystery icon. John D. Macdonalds Travis McGee series is an honest-to-dick piece of hardboiled history. The first book in the series, The Deep Blue Good-By, is a cruise into the sun-tinged world of Travis McGee, a casual detective and self-described bum living in houseboat in Florida.

Following the trail of conman Junior Allen, and helping the women whove suffered as a result of his conniving ways, Travis endeavours to confront him during the final stages of the con Juniors pulling with a crew. Its a dumb and risky move, but Travis is a tough guy; a womaniser who is honest but bends the law when it suits him, a straight talker, but not blunt. He lives off the grid, and by his own moral code misogynistic at times and constantly offering misplaced chivalry, but this book is an artefact of the time.

Put aside your modern sensibilities and stop yourself from saying thats fucking sexist! for one minute to appreciate that it reflects the common attitude of its time (no matter how wrong it seems to us now). Whilst the plot is nothing astounding, and certainly not a head scratching mystery thatll have you racking your brains, its an exciting sun-drenched ride through 1960s Florida, and a perfect introduction to the 21 book series that is a staple of American hardboiled mystery.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a book that in recent years has been built up beyond all reason, and you stubborn readers out there who are not-hipsters-but-certainly-do-not-bend-to-this-mainstream-hype may be loath to pick it up and actually read it - especially after the influx of Swedish and Hollywood movie versions which have cemented it firmly at the centre of modern culture. Nearly everyone is talking about it, and with good reason.

The tale of hardboiled hacker and private investigator Lisbeth Salander is a thrilling story of sex, murder and violence, swathed in mystery and political and social commentary. The central murder mystery is a complicated one, a much evolved form of a locked-room murder, and one that gives no hints as to the killer until the very end - the identity comes out of the blue, there is no breadcrumb trail, but it still makes sense. The main focus of this novel which in the original Swedish iteration is called Men Who Hate Women is to speak out against sexism, crimes against women, and the men who commit them.

There is an insane amount of violence in this book, all highly intense and graphic rape and assault of women is commonplace, sex is everywhere, and for the largest part its non-consensual. It is clear that Larssons views on this issue are strong, and he makes sure that each of the fuckers who rapes and assaults women in his book get exactly what they deserve. A critical darling, this book has had awards raining down on it like confetti, including prestigious awards from the Mystery Writers of America and Mystery Writers International.

Books in Millennium Series (4)

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The Lew Archer series is one of the cornerstones of private eye fiction, often named a spiritual successor to Chandler and Hammett for the 21 novel series that brought us more of the hardboiled mystery that we know and love. Reading The Moving Target is very much familiar territory, it treads the beaten path, never really venturing too far from whats already been laid out before it.

In this first case Archer is investigating the kidnap of millionaire Ralph Sampson, a mystery that somehow involves a piano player, an aging actress whos into astrology and S&M, and a holy man who was once given a mountain by Sampson. It sounds like the beginnings of a joke, but this is a decent mystery plot nothing new sure, but its still an entertaining story. Archer is your typical hardboiled private eye, hes tough talking, and he gets into a lot of deep shit hes hardy and often takes a beating, always picking himself right back up.

He does have an invariable tendency to get knocked out though, and its surprising he hasnt suffered some serious brain damage. As good as Archer is, hes still a stereotype though, a Marlowe, an homage to the greatness of Chandler and Hammett. He breaks out a little in later novels, though not much more than emulation here, The Moving Target is still a worthy read for lovers of the hardboiled mystery noir that dominated the 30s and 40s.

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Now to diverge from hardboiled private eyes for a moment, we come to a hardboiled (supposed) criminal playing detective. Mal Ourney, the central focus of Green Ice, has just been released from prison for a crime he didnt commit but took the rap for to protect his girlfriend. Now hes on the outside, wants nothing to do with her (and good thing, since she becomes one of at least a dozen corpses littering the pages of this book) and is out to get the big time crooks of the city to make way for the little guys he befriended on the inside.

Within hours of his release though hes being framed, people keep dying around Ourney in a complex plot surrounding some stolen emeralds. Unfortunately hes a bit of a blockhead and keeps walking directly into situations that are clearly set ups. Hes an idiot surrounded by idiots though, so hes not necessarily got the short end of the straw. They may be stupid, but Whitfields characters are tough and so is their dialogue, with sharp snappy patter and tough as nails slang the dialogue shines through the complex, far-fetched, twisty plot. This was Whitfields very first novel, and the one that received the most acclaim, even loved by hardboiled mystery master himself, Dashiell Hammett. If it has Hammetts seal of approval, who are we to argue?

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This next book is hardboiled right down to its toes this potent helping of detective noir covers some truly unsavoury ground, including robbing graves, religious cults, wild sex and violence in whorehouses. This is a true slice of classic hardboiled mystery noir and its hero, private eye Karl Craven, is one tough son of a bitch. Whilst on the trail of a religious cult, he drinks hard liquor, eats his steak bloody, meets with a number of femme fatales along the way, and unflinchingly downs his idea of a hangover cure: six raw eggs stirred into half a bottle of brandy.

As well as its tough characterisation, the other thing that makes this novel so noteworthy is its bravura this book was way ahead of its time, particularly in its depictions of sado-masochistic sex. There are scenes in which Kraven and one of his deadly dames slap each other about quite viciously, and have a lot of fun doing it.

Whilst not as shocking today as it was in 1941, these scenes along with the strong hints at necrophilia were enough to get this book banned in America, not to be released uncensored until 1988 47 years after its initial publication. Latimer writes hardboiled mystery with style, the violent scenes being some of the best among crime writers; this book was a revolution, and definitely one of the greatest hardboiled mysteries around.

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Next we come to something of a novelty for hardboiled mystery a female private investigator. Its not often women grace the spotlight as the solver of cases in hardboiled fiction, theyre usually reserved for the supporting roles as smokin hot eye candy for the macho private dick. So now meet Kinsey Millhone, Sue Graftons tough talking woman on the case. In her very first case in picturesque California Kinsey finds herself resurrecting a cold case of a divorce lawyer-slash- serial womaniser murdered 8 years previously.

Now his wife is out of jail, and she wants the truth. The case has its twists and collects a few extra bodies along the way overall its a little simplistic, but its an enjoyable read and for a first novel it does its job of introducing us to its interesting new protagonist. Ross Macdonald was one of Graftons biggest influences here, and its ever present in Kinsey Millhones voice, shes not a soft woman, and she sounds like the hardboiled private eyes of classic detective fiction.

Graftons works with Kinsey continue on in her alphabet series making her way through the alphabet with her titles, with the latest instalment being W is for Wasted. Her contributions to the mystery genre have seen her named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2009, and they have awarded 3 of the alphabet series with prestigious Anthony awards for Best Book. A is for Alibi is the book that started it all, and is both a classic and inventive example of hardboiled mystery fiction.

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Youve probably heard of Perry Mason, a character most recognised in modern culture from the TV adaptations of his stories. But before he was a TV star, before he was Raymond Burr, Perry was a pulp sensation. Hardboiled lawyer Perrys tough, never-give-up attitude towards each of the near-hopeless cases he takes on makes him a force to be reckoned with, seeing him through a whopping number of cases through an astounding 82 novel series.

In this very first case, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Perry is much more private investigator than lawyer. It all begins when Eva Griffin slinks into Perrys office asking for help keeping her dinner with a friend (read: married and very prominent congressman) out of the tabloids, and to try to release her from the grip of a blackmailer it seems simple enough until her husband is shot and Perry becomes a suspect.

In typical Perry Mason fashion the plot is twisty and complex, but this Perry is much more of a hardboiled hard-ass than his TV counterpart. Less sophisticated, and more down and dirty in his means, he investigates more than he practices law, and hes not averse to screwing with the evidence. Each subsequent Mason book follows pretty much the same exact structure as this first one, the seminary that introduces us to the legend that is Perry Mason; its a fool proof formula that kept Gardners books in publication for decades.

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Moving on swiftly to something decidedly less dark and much more classic, we come to George Harmon Coxe, one of the great hardboiled mystery writers from the 1920s. Coxe was acknowledged as a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1964, and across his spanning career he wrote 63 books and created 5 hardboiled protagonists of note, three of which were especially well received: Jack Flashgun Casey, Kent Murdock and Jack Fenner, P.I.

One of his greatest works though was the first Flashgun Casey novel. Casey was originally poured into the pages of American classic hardboiled mystery mag, Black Mask, and he was a smash-hit. This popularity continued in his debut full-length adventure, Silent Are The Dead, which finds Flashgun trying to unravel the circumstances behind the murder of a former Assistant DA a body he just happens to stumble upon whilst looking for a good photo for the newspaper he works for.

On the trail of the elusive murderer Casey encounters beautiful women, a shady P.I., a New York gangster, a disgraced reporter and ends up in the crosshairs of a pair of hired killers. In this complex plot filled blackmail, shootouts and murders, Jack is a true hardboiled hero. Coxes flair for strong storylines shines here and his prose is as blunt, straightforward and tough as his protagonist.

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James Ellroy is one of those authors people either love or hate, he writes complex plots in an odd literary style, and he exudes a public persona of a hardboiled man through and through. Hes made a living from his ego, calling himself the greatest crime writer to ever live, and playing to his reputation as the Demon Dog of Literature. Reading the Black Dahlia, one might be persuaded to believe that he actually is the dark side of literature.

The Black Dahlia is a hardboiled mystery noir with its roots in true crime, and is based upon the murder of real-life victim Elizabeth Short - dubbed the Black Dahlia by the media. In Ellroys novel two L.A. cops working the case become obsessed with the victim, her life, and her death to the point that it brings their own lives to the brink of destruction. Ellroys signature style is pervasive here, short, staccato sentences and emulation of American tabloids at times its damned hard to plough through, but this books atmosphere grips you by the throat and forces you to swallow its dark, gritty story.

1940s Los Angeles has never looked so sleazy; laced with sexism, racism, corruption and even necrophilia. This is one fucked up city, and murder is painted across this backdrop in vivid, grisly detail. In the words of Ellroy himself, this book was written not to entertain but to shock, and it succeeds, making this a standout novel. The Black Dahlia is hardboiled and seedy; an intense, involving mystery for lovers of the genre - but be warned, its not for those with a weak stomach.

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And now for something completely different and when it comes to different and interesting premises, it doesnt get better than this: Wizard Private Investigator. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (to give him his full name that is equal parts silly and magical) is the wise-cracking wizard at the centre of Jim Butchers Dresden Files series. This self-deprecating sorcerer takes on the cases that the Chicago PD just cant handle, those that fall outside the realms of normal means and understanding, those involving magic and supernatural creatures.

His case in this novel, a double homicide, is not a particularly new one only different to your typical hardboiled fiction in that it involves black magic, other than that though it pretty much follows your standard hardboiled mystery noir plot. Once again this is a novel made by its characters rather than its plot Harry Dresden is a private eye archetype, but with maaaaaagic. Hes a smart-ass, he never knows when to shut up, and he drops in Star Wars references when he can.

Hes a misogynist, old-fashioned and unnecessarily chivalrous towards women, but in spite of this hes a character you cant help but love for the humour he brings to the dark setting. Also, his assistant is a formerly-evil spirit called Bob who lives in a skull and is obsessed with porn, and he gets help from a pizza loving fairy called Toot Toot whats not to love about that? Admittedly, it sounds a bit like a YA novel, but with a fast paced story in a world that is violent, dark and gritty, Storm Front is most definitely a fantastic hardboiled noir for the adult with an appetite for magic and mystery with a huge side order of humour.

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In her debut novel, Vicki Hendricks brings us some sizzling hardboiled mystery noir set in Miami. Likened to hardboiled classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Miami Purity hones in on the life of Sherri Parlay a recently retired stripper with a foul mouth. She may be pretty, but shes no lady, and youll find no subtlety here. Sherri loves sex, a lot of it. And shes straight to the point, no witty double-entendres; Sherri says it as it is. When we meet her Sherri is trying to turn her life around, get out of the stripper life and into safer 9 to 5 territory. In this endeavour, she takes up a job in a mother-son run laundry/dry-cleaning business, and instantly pounces upon Payne, the son half of the business.

She thinks shes onto a catch with him, but hes not all that he seems. Sherri is dragged into a tale of sex, mystery, murder and more sex. If you hadnt figured it by now, the main selling point of this book is: sex. And it is everywhere in this book. Bear no illusions, this may be a female authored book about female perspectives of sex, but there is no romance or fluff here. This book is rough, raw and dirty, and graphic in its depictions of Sherris erotic exploits. This mystery is crude, no-holds-barred, and sleazy and the story is full of twists and turns and hardboiled right to its core.

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When three brutal murders and a disappearance shock a sleepy Georgia town that has seen no crime in decades, everyone is quick to point the finger at the obvious choice, the outsider drifting through town. That outsider is Jack Reacher, a super-macho ex-Military Policeman, and unable to convince anyone of his innocence, Jack goes on a relentless retaliatory rampage to clear his ultra-masculine name. Not only is his name snappy and manly, but Jack Reacher and his story is hardboiled beyond the point of sensible reach.

Its Schwarzenegger in print, a series on Stallone; macho name, military background, personal grudges, caricatured comic book style villains that include corrupt politicians and businessmen, betrayal and bagging the hottest babe. Its hardboiled Hollywood clich through and through, right down to a finale rife with earth-shattering explosions.

The story and its mystery are at times illogical, and Childs style of prose leaves a lot to be desired. A tip for the author here: Full stops. Are not. The only punctuation. Learn to use a comma, Lee! Stupidly staccato sentences aside, Jack Reachers first outing is a wild and fun one, not too taxing on the grey matter, but hardboiled mystery nonetheless that is perfect for fans of overblown action.

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For those of you wanting me to make with the classic hardboiled mysteries, youre in luck. Next is a novel by the creator of Brock The Rock Callahan, William Campbell Gault. As tough and manly as hard-nose The Rock sounds, the honour of being number 22 on our list actually goes to another of Gaults investigators Pete Worden, the protagonist of Gaults first novel, Dont Cry For Me. Worden lives fast and loose; born into money, he plays all day he likes cars, women and drugs.

He drinks, gambles, and falls in with gangsters. His carefree life takes a turn for the worse however, when he comes home to find a stiff rudely occupying his favourite chair. Under suspicion by the police, Worden begins investigating the murder himself with the help of his suspense junkie, pulp novelist neighbour. The plot itself is nothing particularly fresh; if youve read other hardboiled mysteries thisll all be old hat for you. What makes this novel stands out is its characters Worden is realistic, hes a vulnerable man, though tough when he needs to be, and this book reads like his confessions.

Then theres his girlfriend, Ellen shes beautiful and smart, but simultaneously a real and interesting woman. She is not just your typical red-hot broad who talks in innuendo and oozes sex from every pore, but a sensible young woman who works hard and reads a lot. This is a book filled with humanity, its about people, and that makes it one of the greats. This book won Gault the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1953, and was highly praised by two pillars of the genre, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald; Dont Cry For Me is a perfect example of hardboiled mystery with human heart.

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Next we come to another unconventional choice, not one well-known amongst most die-hard fans of hardboiled mysteries; Hardboiled Cthulhu is a relative wildcard. Nonetheless, this anthology of stories rooted in H.P. Lovecrafts Cthulhu mythos is a worthy contender, bringing together Lovecraftian horror and hardboiled mystery in 20 wicked tales of intrigue dripping with noir. Authored by both amateur and established hardboiled writers, these short, sharp tales are dark and horrific and call upon the toughest private investigators and gangsters in a mysterious universe filled with unimaginable monstrosities.

As with most anthologies, this one is hit-and-miss at times, some stories being deliciously terrifying and hardboiled in equal measure, whilst others just fall flat on their face not every story in this collection is strictly hardboiled fiction, but for the gems that are here that can be overlooked.

Keep an eye out for Dreams.biz by accomplished sci-fi/mystery novelist Richard A. Lupoff, and CJ Hendersons The Questioning of the Azathonthian Priest, these especially stand out amongst the weird tales, and Hendersons hardened PIs always make for great hardboiled fiction. This genre mash-up is definitely one that fans of H.P. Lovecraft will enjoy, and is a good port of call for hardboiled mystery fans looking for something a little out of the ordinary, crawling out of the darkness like the insane horrors that lurk within its pages.

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Now for some hardboiled, sci-fi, alternate universe, murder mystery (try saying that three times fast!) courtesy of literary darling Michael Chabon. The Yiddish Policemens Union takes place in a world in which after WWII the Jews did not settle in Israel and instead were ever-so-kindly, but temporarily loaned the panhandle of Alaska by the US government a lease that is on the brink of expiration at the outset of this novel.

It is in this setting that we meet Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic detective who comes across the body of a chess prodigy in the hotel which he is currently calling home a.k.a. a place to continue his affair with a shot glass and a bottle of slivovitz a murder that he feels obliged to investigate and does so across a world of conspiracies, cover-ups and pseudo-terrorism. This novel has strong political undercurrents, and can at times seem to be a bit overinflated, feasting on its own tough and chewy ego.

Even so, this is a great, if unusual example of hardboiled mystery fiction, and it has the critics sniffing at it hindquarters the whole way, winning a number of awards including: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2008), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2007), and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2008), as well as being nominated for the hardboiled favourite Hammett Prize (2007) and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2008). Critical acclaim aside, its by no means the greatest hardboiled novel around, but certainly a notable one worthy of a place among the top 25.

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Awards Won:2003 PKD

And for your science fiction hardboiled / noir fix, you can't do much better than Richard Morgan's darkly cyberpunk meets hardboiled noir novel, Altered Carbon. A future where death is not the end but the beginning for a new life -- if you have the money to buy a new body to upload your "self" to.

Take a dark and depressing future ruled by corrupt corporations, involve a beautiful and troubled femme fatale and throw in a murder mystery plot where things are not as they really seem, and involve a bad-assed, pissed-off ex-military special agent suffering from some serious PTS issues with a penchant for using harsh violence to solve problems as the detective. The result? A dark and disturbing journey of violence, sex, and mystery in a world that you are really really glad you don't actually live in.

If science fiction isn't your think, STILL give this novel a read. You'll thank me for it. It's probably one of the most adrenaline pumping, all out exciting, page turning books on this list.

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Colliding headfirst with this fantasy-mystery mash-up, Martin Scotts Thraxas is a hardboiled mix of Raymond Chandler and Terry Pratchett. This fast-paced novel follows the exploits of its titular character - a tubby private investigator - through a fantasy world filled with orcs, elves, and sorcerers and as expected for hardboiled mysteries super foxy ladies (clad in bikini chain mail, of course). Dont let his rotund figure fool you, Thraxas is no softie - he is upfront and brutally honest, a capable fighter and a more than competent investigator.

In true hardboiled P.I. fashion, Thraxas has a character flaw; hes a gambler and not a very good one at that, leading him to take on a number of cases to pay off his hefty gambling debts. The most important case though, starts as all good private eye novels do, with the appearance of a dame in distress (a princess, to be exact), with a case for the portly P.I. On what seems to be a simple case, Thraxas is lead all the way to the imperial palace, and a face-off with the Kings new dragon. It may be unknown to many hardboiled aficionados, but Thraxas is anything but underground, and it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2000. Whilst it may not be a first choice amongst the more established hardboiled mysteries, being more Technicolor than noir; if youre looking for one with a fantasy twist, Thraxas may be a good place to start.

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