Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Hard-boiled detective)

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 Dick Tracy, Philip Marlowe, Nick Charles, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Slam Bradley, and The Continental Op.

Genre pioneers[edit]

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] English writer Gerald Butler was referred to as the "English James M. Cain", and his characters were noted as hardboiled.[4][5] Its heyday was in 1930s–50s America.[6]

Pulp fiction[edit]

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.[7] 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][8] but also in other pulps such as Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly.[9][10] Consequently, "pulp fiction" is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction or gangster fiction;[11] some would distinguish within it the private-eye story from the crime novel itself.[12] 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[edit]

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.[13] 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'".[14]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b Collins, Max Allan (1994). "The Hard-Boiled Detective". In de Andrea, William L (ed.). Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0-02-861678-0.
  4. ^ Barr Mavity, Nancy (1946-04-28). "Butler Is Heralded as British James M. Cain". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved 2024-04-30 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Gerald Butler's Novel of Pursuit - Author of 'Dark Rainbow' Wrestles a Creaking Plot". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 1946-09-08. Retrieved 2024-04-30 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Abbott, Megan (2002). The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-312-29481-6..
  7. ^ Sampson, Robert (1994). "Pulps". In Deandrea, William L. (ed.). Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp. 287–289. ISBN 978-0-02-861678-0. "Extremely tough, unsentimental and lethal, Everhard foreshadowed the hard-boiled characters of the following decade".
  8. ^ Budrys, Algis (October 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 142–150.
  9. ^ Sampson, Robert (1994). "Pulps". In Deandrea, William L. (ed.). Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa. MacMillan. pp. 287–289. ISBN 978-0-02-861678-0.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Hoggart, Richard (1957). The Uses of Literacy. Chatto and Windus. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-7011-0763-5.
  12. ^ Abbott, Megan. "Toward a Hardboiled Genealogy" (PDF). pp. 10–11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-07-19. Retrieved 2006-08-21. Hardboiled/noir "family tree", by crime fiction author and scholar Megan Abbott.
  13. ^ Duggan, Eddie (1999). "Writing in the darkness: The world of Cornell Woolrich". CrimeTime. 2 (6): 113–126.
  14. ^ Gertzman, J. A. (2018). Pulp According to David Goodis. Lutz, FL: Down & Out Books. p. 53.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]