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What is ‘hardboiled’?

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When people mention hardboiled what do you think of? An effective way of cooking eggs when you’re making potato salad? Maybe even Dr Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham? Here on Crime Fiction Lover, we might dally a while with Dr Seuss, but we definitely don’t truck with salad. Hardboiled is a sub-genre several of our writers – RoughJustice, DispatchesFromNoir, and PulpCurry in particular – adhere to. But what is it, exactly?

Over on the Open Road website, Edgar Award-winning author Otto Penzler ponders just what hardboiled is, and starts by identifying the fact that a private investigator is nearly always the hero, or anti-hero, in hardboiled crime fiction.

“PIs need to be tough, since they are dealing with killers, so in the books about them, they act tough and talk that way too,” writes Penzler. “They are mainly American and they are loners, much like the old gunslingers of the West. They have a code of honour and justice that may not be strictly legal, but it is moral. They may be threatened, or beaten, but they won’t give up a case or betray a client. They are individuals, often matched against a corrupt political or criminal organisation, but they prevail because they are true to themselves and their code.”

He goes on to discuss the structure of hardboiled books, as well as their front covers, and some of the classic and contemporary greats of the sub-genre. Click here to read his blog article.

If you enjoy what he has to say, watch out for Otto Penzler’s book The Great Detectives which is being re-released at the end of August as an eBook published by Mysterious Press. We’ll have a review here on Crime Fiction Lover during our much anticipated theme month, Classics in September. And we also aim to bring you an interview with Mr Penzler right here on the site.

In the meantime, if you’re planning to dip your toe into the hard-boiled pool and don’t fancy the searing intensity of Dr Seuss or potato salad, Open Road Integrated Media has produced a helpful hardboiled infographic that will help you choose your next hard-boiled read. You can download this infographic as a PDF here.


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