Top Five: Today’s American hardboiled authors

Fourth of July Special — From Edgar Allan Poe to the present day, crime fiction has flourished in America. While mysteries arguably existed prior to the United States becoming a nation, America has given birth to several forms of crime fiction. One such innovation was hardboiled crime fiction. Along with its offshoot, noir, hardboiled brought literary depth to the tough, unsentimental pulp stories that were a source of popular entertainment in the early 20th century. Hardboiled and noir authors also brought grim realism to their work, expanding the mystery genre beyond the cosies and locked-room stories popular at the time.

A great many excellent writers have written hardboiled or noir fiction, and these art forms have spread worldwide. Nevertheless, the hardboiled detective and the doomed noir protagonist are rooted in America’s Jazz Age. The Fourth of July is a good time to examine how hardboiled and noir fiction has developed since Hammett, Chandler and Cain. Here are a few current American writers that have written excellent hardboiled or noir fiction. All of them continue to write and illuminate various geographical areas in the United States of America, and important themes of American history.

James Ellroy
Ellroy writes with a telegraphic prose style that is as bruising as it is spare. His sentences are short, but his novels are sprawling historical epics. Like many crime novelists before him, Ellroy writes about Los Angeles. Unlike his predecessors though, Ellroy’s novels often focus on the Los Angeles Police Department, but he uses the police as a springboard to examine the corrosive effects of power on both society and those who wield it. James Ellroy writes with meticulous historical detail, relentlessly forcing readers to confront the seamy elements that are often forgotten when ‘the good old days’ are remembered fondly.
James Ellroy on Amazon

Carl Hiaasen
Influenced by late hardboiled greats John D MacDonald and Charles Willeford, Carl Hiaasen sets his crime novels in South Florida. Hiaasen has been a newspaper reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald for more than 35 years, and his crime writing combines the grit of MacDonald and Willeford with an investigator’s keen eye for local detail. Along with these aspects, Hiaasen’s fiction has a sense of humour that could only be honed by a lifetime living in South Florida. He’s a funny author whose work laments the development of the Everglades, and the increasing prevalence of celebrities. Hiaasen can’t stop South Florida from becoming more superficial and artificial, but it can’t continue to do so without receiving his ridicule.
Carl Hiaasen on Amazon

Dennis Lehane
No-one, not even Robert B Parker in his prime, writes about Boston the way that Dennis Lehane does. Lehane also excels at writing across any number of crime subgenres. He has written hardboiled PI fiction (the Kenzie and Gennaro novels), bleak noir (Mystic River), historical epics (The Given Day) and sci-fi tinged pulp (Shutter Island). Lehane writes prose with an economy that would make Hemingway jealous, but with a hardboiled edge that descends straight from Chandler and Ellroy. He produces a great variety of crime fiction, but much of it centers on the gritty neighborhoods of South Boston and Dorchester. Lehane invests Southie with vivid characters and often heartbreaking moral dilemmas.
Dennis Lehane on Amazon

Walter Mosley
Easy Rawlins is Walter Mosley’s most famous creation. Mosley’s Rawlins novels trace the private detective during a period of great social change. From 1948 to 1967, Easy Rawlins solves crimes in Watts, a mostly African American neighborhood in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has always been fertile ground for private eyes, but none have explored race in the American experience the way that Rawlins did. Mosley’s more recent series continues this groundbreaking approach. Leonid McGill is a contemporary black private investigator in New York City. Whether Rawlins or McGill, Mosley writes cracking good hardboiled detective fiction that is only enhanced by the author’s historical and social awareness.
Walter Mosley on Amazon

George Pelecanos
We cannot consider the United States without marking off its capital. Though George Pelecanos came to prominence as a writer on The Wire, set in Baltimore, his crime fiction takes place in nearby Washington, DC. Pelecanos knows his way around the city, and is familiar with its various facets. DC is a town filled with power brokers on the make, but is also a city of grinding poverty and violence. Whether police officers, private detectives or soldiers of fortune, Pelecanos’ hardboiled protagonists warily straddle political fault lines. As they do, Pelecanos tells his stories with complex characters and furious, violent prose.
George Pelecanos on Amazon

Who are your favourite American authors on Independence Day? Post your suggestions below.

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8 Comments

  1. Pongo Ponce Reply

    Ellroy,Mosley & Pelecanos are firm favourites with me. I’d add Elmore Leonard,James M. Cain,Charles Willeford,C J Box and my all favourite James Lee Burke.

  2. verymessi Reply

    Great post….I would add Dave Zeltserman to the list. I know he is relative newbie compared to the others, but he has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I don’t think he is capable of writing a bad book.

    He is also one to cover many different genres. His retelling of the Frankenstein story-“Monster” comes out in August, I think.

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