Last updated
The cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask, September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr. BlackMaskFalcon2.jpg
The cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask , September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon , by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective fiction and noir fiction). The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who battles the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself. [1] Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are often antiheroes. Notable hardboiled detectives include Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Slam Bradley, and The Continental Op.


Genre pioneers

The style was pioneered by Carroll John Daly in the mid-1920s, [2] popularized by Dashiell Hammett over the course of the decade, and refined by James M. Cain and by Raymond Chandler beginning in the late 1930s. [3] Its heyday was in 1930s–50s America. [4]

Pulp fiction

From its earliest days, hardboiled fiction was published in and closely associated with so-called pulp magazines. Pulp historian Robert Sampson argues that Gordon Young's "Don Everhard" stories (which appeared in Adventure magazine from 1917 onwards), about an "extremely tough, unsentimental, and lethal" gun-toting urban gambler, anticipated the hardboiled detective stories. [5] In its earliest uses in the late 1920s, "hardboiled" did not refer to a type of crime fiction; it meant the tough (cynical) attitude towards emotions triggered by violence.[ citation needed ]

The hardboiled crime story became a staple of several pulp magazines in the 1930s; most famously Black Mask under the editorship of Joseph T. Shaw, [3] [6] but also in other pulps such as Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly. [7] [8] Consequently, "pulp fiction" is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction or gangster fiction; [9] some would distinguish within it the private-eye story from the crime novel itself. [10] In the United States, the original hardboiled style has been emulated by innumerable writers, including James Ellroy, Paul Cain, Sue Grafton, Chester Himes, Paul Levine, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane. Later, many hardboiled novels were published by houses specializing in paperback originals, most notably Gold Medal, and in later decades republished by houses such as Black Lizard.

Relation to noir fiction

Hardboiled writing is also associated with "noir fiction". Eddie Duggan discusses the similarities and differences between the two related forms in his 1999 article on pulp writer Cornell Woolrich. [11] In his full-length study of David Goodis, Jay Gertzman notes: "The best definition of hard boiled I know is that of critic Eddie Duggan. In noir, the primary focus is interior: psychic imbalance leading to self-hatred, aggression, sociopathy, or a compulsion to control those with whom one shares experiences. By contrast, hard boiled 'paints a backdrop of institutionalized social corruption'". [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

Raymond Chandler American novelist and screenwriter

Raymond Thornton Chandler was an American-British novelist and screenwriter. In 1932, at the age of forty-four, Chandler became a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Great Depression. His first short story, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot", was published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler published seven novels during his lifetime. All but Playback have been made into motion pictures, some more than once. In the year before his death, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America.

Dashiell Hammett American writer

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, the Continental Op and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9.

Black Lizard was an American book publisher. A division of the Creative Arts Book Company of Berkeley, California, Black Lizard specialized in reprinting forgotten crime fiction and noir fiction writers and novels originally released between the 1930s and the 1960s, many of which are now acknowledged as classics of their genres.

Cornell Woolrich

Cornell George Hopley Woolrich was an American novelist and short story writer. He sometimes used the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley.

<i>Black Mask</i> (magazine)

Black Mask was a pulp magazine first published in April 1920 by the journalist H. L. Mencken and the drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine was one of several money-making publishing ventures to support the prestigious literary magazine The Smart Set, which Mencken edited, and which had operated at a loss since at least 1917. Under their editorial hand, the magazine was not exclusively a publisher of crime fiction, offering, according to the magazine, "the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult." The magazine's first editor was Florence Osborne.

Joseph T. "Cap" Shaw (1874–1952) was the editor of Black Mask magazine from 1926 to 1936. Prior to becoming Black Mask editor, Shaw had worked as a newspaper reporter and as a soldier in World War I, attaining the rank of captain . Shaw was also a professional fencer, and even won an Olympic medal for his fencing ability. Under his editorship, Black Mask published many works of crime fiction now recognised as classics of the genre, by authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

<i>Red Harvest</i> 1929 novel by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest (1929) is a novel by Dashiell Hammett. The story is narrated by the Continental Op, a frequent character in Hammett's fiction, much of which is drawn from his own experiences as an operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The labor dispute in the novel was inspired by Butte's Anaconda Road massacre.

The Continental Op

The Continental Op is a fictional character created by Dashiell Hammett. He is a private investigator employed as an operative of the Continental Detective Agency's San Francisco office. The stories are all told in the first person and his name is never given.

Neo-noir is a revival of the genre of film noir. The term film noir was popularized in 1955 by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton. It was applied to crime films of the 1940s and 1950s, mostly produced in the United States, which adopted a 1920s/1930s Art Deco visual environment. The English translation is dark movie, indicating something sinister and shadowy, but also expressing a cinematographic style. The film noir genre includes stylish Hollywood crime dramas, often with a twisted dark wit. Neo-noir has a similar style but with updated themes, content, style, visual elements and media.

Ross Macdonald American writer

Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar. He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in Southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer. Since the 1970s, Macdonald's works have received attention in academic circles for their psychological depth, sense of place, use of language, sophisticated imagery and integration of philosophy into genre fiction.

Noir fiction

Noir fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction. In this subgenre, right and wrong are not clearly defined, while the protagonists are seriously and often tragically flawed.

David Goodis

David Loeb Goodis was an American writer of crime fiction noted for his output of short stories and novels in the noir fiction genre. Born in Philadelphia, Goodis alternately resided there and in New York City and Hollywood during his professional years. According to critic Dennis Drabelle, "Despite his [university] education, a combination of ethnicity (Jewish) and temperament allowed him to empathize with outsiders: the working poor, the unjustly accused, fugitives, criminals."

<i>The Glass Key</i> 1931 novel by Dashiell Hammett

The Glass Key is a novel by American writer Dashiell Hammett. It was first published as a serial in Black Mask magazine in 1930, then was collected in 1931. It tells the story of a gambler and racketeer, Ned Beaumont, whose devotion to Paul Madvig, a crooked political boss, leads him to investigate the murder of a local senator's son as a potential gang war brews. Hammett dedicated the novel to his onetime lover Nell Martin.

<i>True Detective</i> (magazine) American true crime magazine

True Detective was an American true crime magazine published from 1924 to 1995. It initiated the true crime magazine genre, and during its peak from the 1940s to the early 1960s it sold millions of copies and spawned numerous imitators.

Série noire

Série noire is a French publishing imprint, founded in 1945 by Marcel Duhamel. It has released a collection of crime fiction of the hardboiled detective thrillers variety published by Gallimard.

Vincent Calvino is a fictional Bangkok-based private eye created by Christopher G. Moore in the Vincent Calvino Private Eye series. Vincent Calvino first appeared in 1992 in Spirit House, the first novel in the series. His latest appearance is in Jumpers, the 16th novel in the series published in October 2016. "Hewn from the hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler model, Calvino is a tough, somewhat tarnished hero with a heart of gold."

Carroll John Daly was a writer of crime fiction.

Raoul Falconia Whitfield was an American writer of hardboiled crime fiction.

"The House in Turk Street" is an early short story by Dashiell Hammett, featuring the Continental Op. It was first published in Black Mask in April 1924. This story indicates Hammett was turning towards themes of increasing violence in his stories, and its savagery has been commented upon; particularly how it ends in a massacre.

Eddie Duggan

Eddie Duggan is a British photographer, film-maker, screenwriter, author and academic games historian.


  1. Porter, Dennis (2003). "Chapter 6: The Private Eye". In Priestman, Martin (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.  96–97. ISBN   978-0-521-00871-6.
  2. Ousby, I (1995). "Black Mask". The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. p. 89.
  3. 1 2 Collins, Max Allan (1994). "The Hard-Boiled Detective". In de Andrea, William L (ed.). Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp.  153–4. ISBN   978-0-02-861678-0.
  4. Abbott, Megan (2002). The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir . pp.  2–3..
  5. Sampson, Robert & Deandrea, William L. (Editor) (1994). "Pulps". Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp.  287–9. ISBN   978-0-02-861678-0.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link) "Extremely tough, unsentimental and lethal, Everhard foreshadowed the hard-boiled characters of the following decade".
  6. Budrys, Algis (October 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 142–150.
  7. Sampson, Robert & Deandrea, William L. (Editor) (1994). "Pulps". Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp.  287–9. ISBN   978-0-02-861678-0.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. "Mystery Time Line: Hard-Boiled Mysteries". MysteryNet. Archived from the original on 2006-10-21. A brief survey of the genre's early days, focusing on Black Mask.
  9. Hoggart, Richard (1957). The Uses of Literacy . p.  258.
  10. Abbott, Megan. "Toward a Hardboiled Genealogy" (PDF). pp. 10–11. Hardboiled/noir "family tree", by crime fiction author and scholar Megan Abbott.
  11. Duggan, Eddie (1999). "Writing in the darkness: The world of Cornell Woolrich". CrimeTime. 2 (6): 113–126.
  12. Gertzman, J. A. (2018). Pulp According to David Goodis. Lutz, FL: Down & Out Books. p. 53.

Further reading