Megan abbott on the difference between hardboiled and noir

Whatever kind of reading you like best in life, you can find your match in a good noir detective sầu novel. Great stories with complex plots? Noir. Hilarious humor, albeit of a generally dark variety? Noir. Unforgettable characters? Noir. Breathless action? Noir again. If you’ve sầu fallen behind the curve on noir fiction, now’s the time khổng lồ get on board that train, because some of the greatest novels ever written have fallen into lớn this beloved, chameleonic genre. Here are 50 noir books in no particular order that any bạn of detective sầu fiction should have sầu on their shelves—& if you’re not familiar with the label, any one of these would be the ikhuyễn mãi giảm giá introduction khổng lồ the genre.

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The Killer Inside Me, by Jlặng ThompsonThompson’s story of a small-town deputy sheriff is one of the most chilling depictions of a sociopath ever committed khổng lồ paper. As the plot twists itself inkhổng lồ an ever-tighter knot, you’re simultaneously fascinated và revolted by Lou Ford, a character that helped shape our modern conception of serial killers.


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The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell HammettThis is the novel that introduced the world to quintessential noir private eye Sam Spade, based in part on Hammett’s own experience working for the infamous Pinkertons. It contains much of the basic genetic material that has been mined ever since for that noir feel—from the world-weary private investigator willing khổng lồ get physical (in every sense of the word) khổng lồ the femme fatale to the seamy underside of dark secrets.


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The Postman Always Rings Twice

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The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. CainIf the setup—young drifter meets beautiful young woman unhappily married khổng lồ older man, whom they decide lớn murder for financial & lãng mạn gain—is a classic, it’s because this fast-paced, lushly written novel made it a classic. Based on a real-life case, the book was banned in several areas of the country for its frank depiction of lust và violence, with a bleak ending that helped define the genre.


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L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet #3)

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L.A. Confidential, by James EllroyThe third book in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet marks the point at which noir invaded the literary world and made a home page for itself. Ellroy’s 1950s Los Angeles is corrupt, violent, soaked in lust and addictions, and populated by crooked cops and criminals. With its intricate plot & flawed characters, it’s much more than a violent story about violent people, following the career of three cops—ambitious Ed Exley, brutal Bud White, and slichồng Jachồng Vicennes—as they spiral inlớn darkness.



The Ice Harvest

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The Ice Harvest, by Scott PhillipsA classic element of noir is the simple, perfect crime that is subverted ruinously by human nature. Phillips’ modern classic is the story of low-level crook & former attorney Charlie Argmenu, who has a simple plan khổng lồ make off with his mobster boss’s money in the middle of a Christmas Eve sầu blizzard in Wichita. Charlie’s own poor judgment slowly unravels the scheme, however, leading hyên ổn inexorably into lớn an evening of violence và desperation, told in one of the funniest narrative voices in noir history.


The Big Sleep, by Raymond ChandlerChandler’s iconic private investigator Philip Marlowe gets embroiled in a famously complex story involving blackmail, murder, pornography, và seduction—so complex that to this day no one knows who committed one of the murders described therein. Chandler’s rhythmic dialogue & sparse, gut-punch descriptions make this novel much more than the sum of its violent, cynical parts.


Winter"s Bone: A Novel

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Winter’s Bone, by Daniel WoodrellWoodrell’s modern classic at first might seem too cold and modern to lớn be noir, but Ree Dolly’s quest lớn save sầu her ramshackle house by either finding her good-for-nothing father or proving hlặng dead is set up in classic noir terms. In the Ozarks, presented as a frozen wastel& of ice and methamphetamine, Ree must navigate a culture whose rules feel alien và threatening, relying on her wits và courage—và desperation. In other words, it’s noir.


Fast One, by Paul CainNone other than Raymond Chandler had high praise for this “ultra-hardboiled” novel. George Kells is a rough-and-tumble gambler and gunman who just wants to lớn be left lớn his own devices. When rival criminal và political cartels try to recruit hlặng, he aims to stay out of it—but of course is sucked in after a series of double-crosses. And now Kells is angry và looking lớn take on all comers in this ferocious, bloody story that never lets up.


A Drink Before the War (Patriông chồng Kenzie và Angela Gennaro Series #1)

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A Drink before the War, by Dennis LehaneLehane’s brilliant debut introduces private investigators Patrichồng Kenzie & Angela Gennaro, hired by three politicians to lớn retrieve photos from a woman named Jenmãng cầu Angeline. While the đô thị slides into lớn one of its most explosive sầu periods of gang warfare, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves looking inkhổng lồ sickening child abuse, terrifying violence, và a series of twisting double-crosses culminating in a victory that feels more like a defeat.


Double Indemnity

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Double Indemnity, by James M. CainCain returns with another classic based on the real-life case of Ruth Snyder, telling the story of an insurance agent who conspires with a bored, beautiful woman khổng lồ murder her husbvà and collect the double indemnity payout on his life insurance. Filled with the sort of smart, world-weary dialogue & ink-blaông chồng morality that defined the genre, with an ending that might just be the bleakest ever committed to the page.


He Died with His Eyes Open (Factory Series #1)

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He Died with His Eyes Open, by Derek RaymondThe first in Raymond’s Factory series introduces an unnamed police sergeant working in the Department of Unexplained Deaths, out of a building dubbed “The Factory” because of the efficient way the cops bring in, tune up, and turn out suspects. The narrator is a misanthrope knee-deep in the worst of humanity at all times, & it’s his determination khổng lồ somehow bring the dignity of investigation to the “nobodies” at the core of his cases that makes Raymond’s brutal universe sing.


Kiss Me, Deadly (Mike Hammer Series #6)

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Kiss Me, Deadly, by Mickey SpillaneSpillane’s Mike Hammer is another icon of the genre, a wrecking crew of a man whose “own rules” attitude toward legalities & social niceties predates Dirty Harry by decades. Kiss Me, Deadly is perhaps the ikhuyến mãi Hammer story, as a chance encounter leads Hammer to lớn turn his furious vengeance on the mafia—an organization that has become so entrenched và political it’s basically the establishment, và is thus vulnerable lớn the disruption of a violent, determined man.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Series #1)

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg LarssonLarsson’s first novel is a brilliant locked-room mystery, a study of an entire society, & a classic noir premise. Disgraced journacác mục Mikael Blomkvist is lured into lớn investigating a decades-old cold case, & his efforts bring hyên face khổng lồ face with what can only be called the banality of evil. Larsson gives the noir ingredients a 21st-century makeover—the femme fatale part is taken over by Lisbeth Salander, no pinup dame—and the result is a pitch-black noir story exposing the grimy underside of Swedish society.


The Glass Key, by Dashiell HammettThis novel served as inspiration for the film Miller’s Crossing, and represents one of the greathử nghiệm triumphs of noir writing, combining a corrupt society ruled by violence with the shifting sands of male friendship. Ned Beaumont, a gambler closely connected khổng lồ a gangster, finds himself dancing a line between warring gangs và politicians, with an ending that’s noirishly bleak without being expected or particularly brutal.


The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl SundAn example of a modern take on the noir genre, The Crow Girl is a violent story with an unreliable narrator. Detective Jeanette Kihlberg has the requisite messy personal life and cynical worldview for noir stories, và the crimes she finds herself investigating, involving mutilated, mummified children, explode inkhổng lồ a horrifying & exhilarating exploration of generational violence, another classic noir theme.


Midnight Sun, by Jo NesbøNesbø has established himself as a modern master of noir—specifically the Nordic Noir that has invigorated the genre in recent years. Midnight Sun isn’t as hardboiled as Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, but the story of a low-màn chơi & unenthusiastic criminal on the run from his vengeful boss offers a flipped-script view of the traditional story that’s deeper and richer than most.


I, the Jury (Mike Hammer Series #1)

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I, the Jury, by Mickey SpillaneThe debut Mike Hammer novel could serve sầu as a template for writing the perfect hardboiled detective sầu novel. In a story involving a renowned psychiatrist simultaneously coercing her clients inlớn drug addiction và assisting a crime syndicate with their prostitution & drug-dealing businesses, it takes that dark view of humanity and throws the wrecking ball known as Mike Hammer inkhổng lồ it, ending with a typically extralegal and extra-violent conclusion.


Farewell, My Lovely

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Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond ChandlerThe second Philip Marlowe novel begins with Marlowe witnessing a murder—but since it’s a murder of a black man in 1940s Los Angeles, the police are nội dung to leave sầu the investigating lớn Marlowe himself. Typically for Chandler, the plot—constructed from previously published short stories—was less important than the style, resulting in the classic Chandler-esque dreamlượt thích prose that makes the dark, violent storytelling almost beautiful.


Night và the City

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Night & the City, by Gerald KershHarry Fabian is one of the least sympathetic narrators in literary history, a morally blank criminal desperate lớn elevate himself inlớn a position of power, wealth, & influence. Although he’s smart & his schemes tkết thúc lớn succeed, nothing Harry does coalesces into anything tangible, and his desperation grows over the course of the novel, as does the sense of amoral chaos in the world Kersh describes.


Payback, by Russell JamesDrawing inspiration from the classics of the genre with dialogue that crackles with Hammett’s rhythmic style & dreamy prose that echoes Chandler, James tells the story of a Floyd Carter returning to lớn London lớn bury his brother Albie, only lớn find himself dragged inlớn his brother’s criminal world. A gangster pins Albie’s debts on Floyd, another urges him khổng lồ consider a career in drug trafficking. Shot through with dark humor and a rising toàn thân count, James explores the consequences of living in a noir world.


Brighton Rock: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

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Brighton Roông xã, by Graham GreenePinkie is one of the most dreadful and fascinating characters ever created, a fervent Catholic who possesses zero compassion or empathy, a violent criminal & sociopath who manipulates everyone around hyên ổn. He finds himself squaring off with Idomain authority Arnold, a woman who decides to lớn expose Pinkie’s crimes solely out of a sense of rightness. Greene deftly explores the conflict between the noir protagonist’s bleak worldview & a more moral & upright approach, resulting in a rich, complex story that transcends classification.


Killing Floor (Jaông xã Reacher Series #1)

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Killing Floor, by Lee ChildChild’s first Jack Reacher novel remains a searing modern noir that builds from an inciting mystery lớn a bloody, violent ending. Upon arriving in a small town in Georgia, Reacher is promptly arrested for a murder he couldn’t have sầu committed, leading the former military policeman down a rabbit hole of local corruption & inkhổng lồ the classic noir thiết lập of one man against a broken society.


A Rage in Harlem

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A Rage in Harlem, by Chester HimesHimes’ straightforward depiction of violence, criminal activity, & racial attitudes isn’t for the shy or squeamish. In this story of a luckless man swindled out of borrowed money và reaching out khổng lồ Harlem cops Grave Digger Jones và Coffin Ed Johnson khổng lồ help hlặng get it bachồng, the police are depicted almost as a criminal gang themselves—a concept shocking in the 1950s, though less so in the modern age.


The Blue Hammer, by Ross MacDonaldThe final Lew Archer novel is considered by many to be MacDonald’s triumph, a story involving a long-dead artist, a priceless work, and the violence, deception, and mounting moral costs involved in plumbing the mystery surrounding it. It’s easy lớn see the whole story as an investigation of noir itself, a metafictional exercise that wonders out loud whether Archer, a prototypical noir antinhân vật who helped define the genre, is the nhân vật or the villain, và whether it matters.

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Dope, by Sara GranJosephine Flannigan is a former junkie và prostitute in Hell’s Kitchen in this subversion of noir tropes. When a rich girl gets sucked inlớn the junkie life and goes missing, who better to lớn look for her than Joe, who could use the money and certainly knows the neighborhood. The mystery leads Joe khổng lồ explore dark nooks of her world even she had somehow avoided, and leads to noir-typical betrayals, violence, & revelations that confirm everyone’s dark view of humanity.


Red Harvest, by Dashiell HammettNarrated by another of Hammett’s iconic characters, the Continental Op (based again on Hammett’s own experiences in the Pinkertons), this is a violent story from the title down. Finding himself in the corrupt, barren town of Personville (called Poisonville by the residents), the Op is backed into lớn a corner by rival gangs, friendless và framed. He has lớn use his wits to lớn phối his enemies against each other—và his talent for violence as well.


Dark Passage: A Library of America eBook Classic

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Dark Passage, by David GoodisEmploying the rare completely innocent protagonist, Goodis tells the story of Vincent Parry, wrongly convicted of killing his wife và imprisoned based on the false testimony of a woman with a personal grudge. He escapes, undergoes plastic surgery lớn evade the police, and dives into the underworld to find the true killer, spiraling downward inkhổng lồ desperation.


Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins Series #1)

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Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter MosleyMosley’s debut introduces Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a down-on-his-luông xã laborer in desperate need of money in 1948 Los Angeles. He’s hired lớn find a White woman who has gone missing, và as he becomes embroiled in a complex web of crime và duplicity—and is framed for murder along the way—Rawlins undergoes a transformation, evolving into the classic noir detective right before readers’ eyes in a story that puts the race issues of the time—và our time—boldly front và center.


"A" Is for Alibi (Kinsey Millhone Series #1)

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A is for Alibi, by Sue GraftonA modern example of a lighter, more mystery- than violence-centric noir, Grafton’s debut Kinsey Millhone novel has all the classic noir elements, from the unfaithful spouse to lớn the false accusations, the frame-ups, betrayals, và smart dialogue. Grafton has written twenty-four more Millhone mysteries since, making this one of the most deeply explored fictional universes in literature.


Miamày Purity, by Vicki HendricksHendricks’ story of low expectations và murderous lovers comes very, very close lớn going too far, và then nimbly steps baông chồng each time. Sherri Parlay has just violently rid herself of an unwanted husb& and decided lớn give up exotic nhảy đầm for a Day Job, applying at Miami Purity dry cleaners. There she meets mama’s boy Payne Mahoney và his domineering mother, who doesn’t like Sherri much. Payne likes Sherri a lot, however, & soon Mom is dead—và that’s when the story gets weird and violent.


The Deep Blue Good-By (Travis McGee Series #1)

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The Deep Blue Good-by, by John D. MacdonaldThe first Travis McGee novel (all of them color-coded for your convenience) introduces a young McGee, a character who will age naturally over the course of twenty-one novels & two decades. McGee represents an evolution of the noir detective sầu, shedding much of the dark, gryên loneliness in favor of a more hedonistic enjoyment of his bachelorhood, even as he finds himself constantly enmeshed in the plots of psychopaths like Junior Allen, the superficially charming thief, murderer, and rapist seeking a buried treasure in this first adventure.


The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes RavatnAn outlier in the world of noir, this dense, foreboding story of a television personality, Allis Hagtorn, who flees scandal for a job as a caretaker in a remote village, includes a heavy dose of psychological thrills. She discovers her employer isn’t a sickly old man, but a middle-aged, taciturn, và somewhat disturbingly intense man named Sigurd. While his wife is away, Allis is khổng lồ tover khổng lồ the garden & his needs—but from their first meeting an uneasy relationship threatens lớn explode into lớn something terrible.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. HigginsHiggins’ story, noted for its realism, is a brutal depiction of the midcentury Irish underworld in Boston. Eddie Coyle is an aging criminal caught between dying in prison và ratting out a connected associate. As he struggles lớn navigate a middle route between these two dangerous options, events outside of his control và knowledge slowly constrict into lớn doom, proving there really is no honor among mỏi thieves.


Die a Little, by Megan AbbottAbbott’s modern noir takes a different approach lớn an old setup: when spinsterish teacher Lora King meets her brother’s new wife, the gorgeous and mysterious Alice, you might expect her to lớn be suspicious và hostile. Instead, she’s falls under Alice’s glamorous spell, too, và only slowly—& somewhat reluctantly—comes lớn worry about Alice’s missing pieces, ominous friends, & reluctance to answer questions. Abbott captures the hopelessly grlặng tone of noir without giving into clichés, reinventing as she goes.


The Bride Wore Blaông xã

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The Bride Wore Blaông chồng, by Cornell WoolrichInverting the usual noir paradigm, Woolrich puts us in the head of the titular bride, a woman who methodically & clinically assumes various identities specifically to lớn murder a man, leaving behind mystified police. In other words, it’s a noir with the femme fatale at its center instead of the gumshoe, and it has got one hechồng of a twist that still resonates after all these years.


Altered Carbon

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Altered Carbon, by Richard K. MorganScience fiction often crossbreeds with other genres, but rarely as perfectly as in this cyberpunk story of a future where sleeving in and out of bodies is common—and complicated. Takashi Kovacs is as pure an antianh hùng as you’ll find, & for all the mind-bending giải pháp công nghệ and sci-fi concepts, at its heart this is a bloody, moody noir story.


Savages, by Don WinslowWinslow’s story of two guys trying khổng lồ reinvent the drug trade và falling into lớn the familiar grinding vices of violence & betrayal that always thundering away in the background of a noir story is propulsively written (the first two words of the book are a profane insult) & filled with crazy twists that somehow work. It’s a bold reestablishment of noir’s fleshy, funky power in the modern day.


Faceless Killers (Kurt Wallander Series #1)

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Faceless Killers, by Henning MankellAnother character who has aged with each successive book, Kurt Wallander lives in a secret- and violence-laden Sweden that predates & somehow predicts Stieg Larsson’s version of the country. The morally exhausted Wallander & his team investigate the savage murders of a couple; the wife’s last word was “foreign,” which, when leaked to lớn the press, sparks a series of attacks on foreigners. Mankell uses this thiết đặt to explore the seamy underbelly of modern society và the way everyone is complicit in it.


White Jazz (L.A. Quartet #4)

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White Jazz, by James EllroyThe final volume in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet is as cynical & bloody as the first three, introducing LAPD lieutenant Dave Klein, who paid for law school by doing work for the mob. It’s work he continues khổng lồ bởi as a police officer, và includes the occasional murder for hire. As is typical in classic noir stories, Klein is smart & capable, but finds himself dragged inlớn a conflict out of his control, because when no one plays it straight, how can you trust anyone?


In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. HughesShortly after World War II, Dix Steele roams the streets of Los Angeles. Claiming to be a writer in order khổng lồ have an excuse to lớn not have sầu a job, Dix offers to help a detective friend named Brub hunt down a serial killer. But Brub’s wife và another woman begin lớn have their own suspicions about Dix’s intentions—and connections. The taut story offers a reversal of the noir template with a study of a misogynist & sociopath who isn’t always aware of the trap tightening around hyên.


The Thin Man, by Dashiell HammettHammett’s final published novel is a bit more lighthearted than his other work, and other noir detective novels in general. Niông xã and Nora Charles set the standard for the wisecracking, witty romantic team solving crimes almost as a hobby, và while the people the couple encounter are grotesque và violent, the seaminess never seems to lớn touch their perfectly tailored, hard-drinking selves.


The Grifters, by Jim ThompsonThompson once again presents a version of reality in which nothing is truly good và love sầu is not really real in this classic story of bé artists who never even aspire khổng lồ any sort of big score—rather, they’re intent on mere survival. That survival might cost them the most fundamental bonds people can have sầu with each other, và Thompson once again implies that this is us—all of us—at our core.


A Simple Plan, by Scott B. SmithOne of the key elements of noir is the erosion of trust and affection when money—or survival—is introduced. In Smith’s brilliantly efficient novel, both come between three men who find millions of dollars at the site of a small plane crash, money they decide to keep. The plan is indeed simple, but fails to take into lớn tài khoản the chance & randomness of the universe.


Strangers On a Train, by Patricia HighsmithPatricia Highsmith is perhaps the only author on this menu who could challenge Jim Thompson for sheer bleakness when it comes to lớn her view of human nature. The premise—two strangers giới thiệu their troubles và consider how they could commit the perfect crime by killing the people troubling each other, people they have sầu no connection khổng lồ, & the cascading events that follow after one of the men takes the idea far more seriously than the other—once again dives inkhổng lồ the fundamental noir concept of the illusion of control, that the idea that you can guide events is laughable, and even deadly.


Pop. 1280, by Jim ThompsonSome regard Pop. 1280 as Thompson’s masterpiece, and it’s a gloriously disturbing book. Niông chồng Corey is a lazy small-town sheriff with no greater goal than khổng lồ indulge his appetites và stay the course, cheating on his shrewish wife & ignoring her mentally slow brother. But Niông chồng Corey isn’t just a liar—he’s a man with such a profound laông chồng of self-awareness he doesn’t even realize how evil he is. As the depth of his depravity slowly dawns on the reader, everything that has come before is recast in a new, more awful light, and the betrayals và violence that come later suddenly seem perfectly in tune with the grimy universe Thompson has created.


Galveston, by Nic PizzolattoPizzolatto lớn, creator of HBO’s True Detective, wasn’t so famous when his debut novel was published, but it’s still a gorgeously mean-spirited noir, following low-cấp độ enforcer Roy Cady—recently diagnosed with a terminal illness—who flees New Orleans when his trùm puts a hit on him. Taking a young girl along for the ride, Cady heads into lớn Texas, trying lớn hide out in Galveston’s fleabag bars. But Cady comes lớn realize that his decision khổng lồ bring the girl along has doomed them both.


Savage Season (Hap Collins và Leonard Pine Series #1)

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Savage Season, by Joe R. LansdaleLansdale introduces his characters Hap Collins & Leonard Pine, two middle-aged nobodies who work bottom-feeder jobs. Hap’s ex-wife recruits them to help her and a radical leftist group locate money lost in a wilderness no one knows better than Hap. At first Hap is impressed by the politics và wonders if he’s wasted his life, but as the betrayals và toàn thân count mount it becomes a story of survival, pure and simple.


Eight Million Ways to Die (Matthew Scudder Series #5)

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Eight Million Ways to Die, by Lawrence BlockBlock’s Matthew Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, ex NYPD detective sầu making ends meet by working as an unlicensed private detective. He agrees to lớn help a high-class hooker get out of the life, & is surprised when her pimp seems resigned to her retirement. Then the girl is found dead, và Scudder’s physical decline due lớn his drinking problem is paralleled with Thủ đô New York City’s decline, forming the ikhuyến mãi noir backdrop.


Donnybrook, by Frank BillThe universe of Donnybrook is a barren, economically anemic Indiamãng cầu và Kentucky, where men and women scratch out their lives in a swamp of crime, drugs, và violence—exemplified by the title event, a bare-knuckle fighting competition with a $100,000 prize. The brutality is endless and unforgiving, và rendered in painful detail.

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Drive sầu, by James SallisSallis’ novel has all the noir elements, including a skilled protagonist (called only Driver) who isn’t worried about breaking the law (in this case, by using his stunt-driving skills khổng lồ help criminals commit crimes) and who quickly finds himself in over his head and struggling not khổng lồ underst&, or to find justice, but merely to survive sầu. With violence around every corner, the story is as gut-spinning as a oto chase, and soaked in Driver’s existential malaise.


Chuyên mục: literature