Hard-boiled detective fiction from the last 30 years?
April 9, 2016 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I've been reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett lately and I am really into it. But now I want to taste some of this same flavour in a more recent vintage, especially if it is seasoned with some cross-genre pollination.

I'll be very happy with straight-up detective fiction (the harder boiled the better) recommendations as long as they are in the same tradition as Chandler and can hold their own from a literary perspective (I'm not really into dime-store prose for the most part). What I'm especially interested in is books that take this perspective and bring it into other genres, be it fantasy, science fiction, romance, or book club lit.

A couple of examples that jump to mind of this done relatively well are "Altered Carbon" by Richard Morgan and the Miller half of "Leviathan Wakes" by James S.A. Corey. I'm specifically looking for stuff written relatively recently like, say, since 1990.
posted by 256 to Media & Arts (70 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon?
posted by miasma at 2:15 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes. That is another fantastic example that I have, unfortunately, already read.
posted by 256 at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2016

Also, I highly recommend The City And The City by China Miéville if you're willing to go off hard-boiled and get into downright bizarre while still being first and foremost a detective story.
posted by miasma at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

The City and the City is so great. If you can deal with something that is a little more cop-as-detective in a scifi vein you might really like The Last Policeman trilogy.
posted by jessamyn at 2:21 PM on April 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

All of the novels listed on page four of 20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 4 of 4
are from 1982 or later.
posted by blob at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Richard Price? Lush Life, Freedomland, Clockers and The Whites (as Harry Brandt) might fit this. Really, really well written (he used to write for The Wire), fast paced, real, raw. All written in the past 20 years.
posted by nevercalm at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

You are looking for James Crumley. He writes extraordinarily hard-boiled detective fiction that rhymes with Chandler in my opinion. Real Literature People tell me that his work has Serious Literary Merit as well. His wikipedia page literally describes him as the author of hard-boiled novels.

Obituary thread.
posted by stet at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, Today's Best Hard-Boiled Writers might be helpful
posted by blob at 2:25 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Letham! Motherless Brooklyn and Gun, with Occasional Music
posted by Gorgik at 2:26 PM on April 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's been years since I read them but check out the Hap & Leonard books from Joe Lansdale. Mucho Mojo and Two-Bear Mambo are a couple that I recall having enjoyed.
posted by geekyguy at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dresden files
posted by pyro979 at 2:38 PM on April 9, 2016

Natsuo Kirino's 1997 debut novel Out. Neal Barrett, Jr.'s oddball noirs
Pink Vodka Blues, Dead Dog Blues, Skinny Annie Blues, and Bad Eye Blues. Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls (and if you like that, her earlier novels also, though Moxyland and Zoo City feel closer to cyberpunk weirdness).
posted by cgc373 at 2:46 PM on April 9, 2016

I should mention that, as a rule, I can't abide stories where serving policemen or policewomen are heroes.
posted by 256 at 2:48 PM on April 9, 2016

This might be too much of a departure for you, but Haruki Murakami is heavily influenced by Chandler. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has probably the most direct connection, but you might also find some of what you're looking for in some of his other works that deal broadly with "investigating," like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84, or Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
posted by telegraph at 2:56 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think of Ross MacDonald as the postwar Chandler — he's got the same kind of LA/SoCal stories but in the 50s and 60s. There are a bunch and I love them all. There are also two Jasper Fforde literary mysteries, The Fourth Bear and the Big Over Easy that are silly and literate but in the vein of the hard-boiled. They make me sad he hasn't written more.
posted by dame at 2:57 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have you ever played the computer game "Under a Killing Moon"? It's exactly what you're talking about (except with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:58 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Megan Abbott's The Song is You is in some ways a literal take on noir conventions: it's set in Hollywood in the early '50s and it revolves around the real-life disappearance of a starlet named Jean Spangler. The detective is a studio PR guy who was with Spangler on the night she disappeared. It subverts the genre by insisting on taking women seriously as characters, in ways that kind of hammer home how they existed in the originals mainly as objects of male desire.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:04 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hear you on the no-police-heroes preference but... you really owe it to yourself to check out The Last Policeman series. It's unexpected and unusual and not really a cop series.
posted by janey47 at 3:07 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Andrew Vachss' Burke series, maybe? He leans to the Spillane/Frank Miller end of things but can still be fun.
posted by juv3nal at 3:08 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series?

He's an assassin amongst elves, which involves quite a bit of private detective-like actions.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:12 PM on April 9, 2016

Not genre-blending, but the best written modern hard-boiled PI fiction around is Sara Paretsky's VI Warchawski books.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:22 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you're willing to look at historical fiction, Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir series is great.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:31 PM on April 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

Oh yes, I can't believe I spaced out on that. Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther/Berlin Noir stuff is GREAT. His Chandler pastiche is IMO spot on and it's basically Marlowe in Nazi Germany replete with cameos/villains roles for all the infamous Nazi figures you've actually heard of (over the course of the series, at least).
posted by juv3nal at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I thought Fresh Kills was a strong noirish debut.
posted by smoke at 3:45 PM on April 9, 2016

Oh oh oh I am so glad you asked this question. My very favorite detective series in all the world is the Henry Rios series by Michael Nava. The first one came out in the eighties, the last in (I believe) the late nineties. Henry Rios may be the character that I identify most with in all fiction, despite the fact that he is a gay lawyer in 1980s/90s LA, and I am not. When the series starts, he's in his thirties and has recently dried out. The first book is obviously in dialogue with The Big Sleep. They're just excellent books - The Hidden Law is, IMO, the weakest, and The Burning Plain the most overwhelming, but they are so good.
posted by Frowner at 3:51 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Noir by Robert Coover for a postmodernist take. Not exactly one of his great works ... funny at times though, and maybe more so if you're steeped in the genre.
posted by Lorin at 3:56 PM on April 9, 2016

Nthing Jonathan Lethem.
posted by Caravantea at 3:59 PM on April 9, 2016

Corporate rules oblige me to suggest the Halting State novels by MeFi's own (TM) cstross
Chasm City by Alistair Reynolds, part of the Revelation Space series, is another example in SF, along with the Arabesk trilogy by John Courtenay Grimwood.
Q by Luther Blissett may be a slightly more literary suggestion, along the lines of The Name of The Rose.
And of course, Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels, starting with Gorky Park.
posted by Jakey at 4:11 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

nova swing (and i think empty space - i've lent them to a friend so can't check details) by m john harrison has a pretty weird take on this. the hard boiled policeman is responsible for policing what comes out of a weird zone of unpredictable physics. it's the second (and third) book in a trilogy, but all three are only loosely connected so i wouldn't worry about that (although light, the first book, is good too).

also - perhaps not what you are looking for, but fascinating if you're into literary fiction - david markson, author of the excellent wittgenstein's mistress (not hardboiled police at all, but a pretty famous modern novel) wrote a couple of detective stories that are available as epitaph for a tramp. they're a pretty straight take on the genre (ie somewhat misogynistic), but well written (imho).
posted by andrewcooke at 4:16 PM on April 9, 2016

Try the Nameless Detective series by Bill Pronzini. Set in San Francisco it has a touch of the noir with a modern setting.
posted by Zedcaster at 4:33 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:38 PM on April 9, 2016

FWIW, the character of Philip Marlowe has been revived by (pen name) Benjamin Black, (real name John Banville). I read one, and thought he captured the spirit.

JK Rowling's new novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith are pretty hard boiled.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:40 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker fits you to a tee (link goes to GoodReads page for the novel, probably contains spoilers.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:00 PM on April 9, 2016

The Budayeen series by Effinger?
posted by The otter lady at 5:02 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Richard Price? Lush Life, Freedomland, Clockers and The Whites (as Harry Brandt) might fit this. Really, really well written (he used to write for The Wire), fast paced, real, raw. All written in the past 20 years.

Richard Price, along with George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane, would be my first suggestion as well. A few of their books have police as main characters (such as in The Whites) but they are not boring procedurals.

Susanna Moore's In The Cut might be a bit graphic for some people, but is very much in the same genre.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:09 PM on April 9, 2016

Inherent Vice's main character is basically Marlowe, but in the 70's and high instead of drunk. It's fantastically entertaining (and the movie was great, too). It's a bit confusing and hard to get into at first, but just keep reading and enjoy the ride.
posted by radioamy at 5:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not exactly hard boiled, but have you read any Carl Hiassen?
posted by gnutron at 5:25 PM on April 9, 2016

I can't recommend Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseille Trilogy (a nice review here) enough.

Taking the conventions of the noir and dropping them into the Mediterranean isn't a step as far as sci-fi or fantasy. But the slightly different view to race, class, crime, culture, etc. made me appreciate anew some of the conventions. It's not a different world, but it's far enough away to qualify.

One other thing, Ta-Nahisi Coates, a few years back, dug into Chandler's work. And one of his readers shared that:
"If I could sum up Chandler's vision of LA in one phrase, it would be "the beauty of the fallen world." If I could sum up Marlowe in one phrase it would be, "A man's last stand against his own corruption." [...] Most "Chandleresque" private eyes have faux "rough around the edges" trappings but never actually wrestle with any genuine temptation.

Their adherence to their good-guy code is never at risk. (Or, in James Ellroy, they long since lost so much of their integrity that they can't get their moral compass to point even north by northwest. No moral jeopardy there either, because they're past hope.) Marlowe is trying to hang on to just enough self-respect to live with himself, and it's not at all clear he'll manage.
Man, I think that's exactly right, and I think that's a big part of what's made Chandler more interesting to me than most other hard-boiled writers. And I don't think that -- for the most part -- it's something that Chandler'smany followers do well. But Izzo come closer than anyone else. His protagonist, Fabio Montale, gets the right notes: the wistfulness, the doubt, the poetry.

In short, yeah, Izzo, man. That's where it's at.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:28 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Library Of America has been reissuing compilations of Ross Macdonald novels featuring the PI Lew Archer. The first volume, Four Novels of the 1950s, has been out for a few years and used copies are available. The next compilation will contain some of Macdonald's novels from the 1960s, and that volume will be available later this month.

I was interested to learn a few years ago that Macdonald and Eudora Welty were friends and correspondents.

I always return eventually to Chandler, though. His scenes of Marlowe interviewing clients and suspects have yet to be surpassed.

Hmm... Izzo, eh? A writer I should investigate!
posted by Agave at 5:42 PM on April 9, 2016

Legion by Brandon Sanderson.
posted by willnot at 5:46 PM on April 9, 2016

I read a book of short stories titled Haiti Noir. It was one of a series of Noir books. Some of the Haiti stories wandered into the voodoo fantasy area.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:02 PM on April 9, 2016

Miss Smilla's feeling for Snow- Peter Hoeg
posted by Coaticass at 6:09 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend Walter Mosely's Easy Rawlins series. The first book is Devil in a Blue Dress. Very hard-boiled, well-written, and like Chandler's books, they take place in Los Angeles. The protagonist is African-American, so there's a lot of interesting stuff about race. The first book takes place just post-WW II. He's got other series, but I haven't read them, so I cannot speak on those.

There's a series by David Liss that starts with A Conspiracy of Paper. The detective character is a Sephardic Jew in eighteenth century London. I found them fun and obviously well-researched.
posted by zorseshoes at 6:16 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Try Down Don't Bother Me, a debut novel and supposedly first in a series by Jason Miller. You will not be disappointed.
posted by lyssabee at 6:17 PM on April 9, 2016

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher? Red-scare robot noir.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:30 PM on April 9, 2016

Have you read any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. They're pretty hard core, and the stories march right along.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:36 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ari Marmell's Mick Oberon novels are hard-boiled 1930s PI fiction starring an escapee from the Seelie Court (as in fairies et al) -- he uses a wand instead of a gun.
posted by Etrigan at 7:15 PM on April 9, 2016

Ken Bruen is pretty hard-boiled and I love him.
posted by BibiRose at 7:25 PM on April 9, 2016

Little Girl Lost, and its sequel Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas (and yes, that's a pen name--the author is actually Charles Ardai).
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:36 PM on April 9, 2016

Dennis Lehane. His Patrick Kenzie series captures the worst of Boston.

He wrote Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone in case you have seen those movies.
posted by Crashback at 7:40 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I second Walter Moseley. A corollary author could be Ishmael Reed.
Also, the Parker series by Richard Stark (pseud of Donald Westlake): an amoral criminal with a strict code, nicely bleak.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:10 PM on April 9, 2016

I forgot Ross Thomas. His books could be classified as political thrillers but they're full of grifters, heists, violence, weirdos, and many twists and turns. Some are related but many are standalones. Try "The Fools in Town Are on Our Side" but they're all good. He also has a series about a professional go-between (criminals and insurance companies, mostly) named Philip St. Ives (Charles Bronson played him in the movie), under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:44 PM on April 9, 2016

Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series is really great and surprised me with its hard-boiledness, as I actually first picked it up looking for a "cozy"; the protagonist is a policeman and a good guy, but it's all about dealing with the corruption of the Venetian justice system and the darkness of the human soul- a lot of the mysteries end up unresolved or with the bad guy going free.
posted by Owl of Athena at 9:03 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's older than the last 30 years, but check out J.P. Manchette; He's got a hero called Eugene Tarpon, essentially Marlowe in 60's Paris, among other good stuff.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:34 PM on April 9, 2016

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. Evn if you don't really like comics, the graphic version of City of Glass is most definitely worth a look.

And, thanks for asking this. Think I found some new authors to read and enjoy.
posted by Gotanda at 3:10 AM on April 10, 2016

Clive Barker's story "The Last Illusion" stars Harry D'Amour, supernatural detective.

Harry appears again (but only briefly) in The Great And Secret Show, and has a bigger role in the sequel, Everville. These may not be the hard-boiled detective stories you're looking for, but they're pretty mad psycho-sexual horror-fantasy.

Apparently he shows up in The Scarlet Gospels, but I haven't read that one yet.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:51 AM on April 10, 2016

nth-ing Gun, With Occasional Music
posted by duoshao at 5:26 AM on April 10, 2016

Michael connely and his harry bosch series of novels.... right up your alley.
posted by chasles at 5:28 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nicola Griffith's Slow River is a great, dark sci-fi noir in a well-built near-future world.

Ancillary Justice is a smart, inventive, all-the-awards-winning space opera with the some of the structure and tone of a hard-boiled detective novel.

I nth the recommendation of The City and The City.

Halting State and Rule 34 (by Metafilter's own) are hard-boiled detective stories set in a disturbingly plausible near-future. While a police sergeant is one of the characters we follow, it's actually told from the perspective of -- well, I don't want to spoil it for you.

My entire household has been devouring the Akashic Noir series. There are dozens of books in the series; each is a short-story compilation called [Place] Noir (for instance, Detroit Noir or Tel Aviv Noir). The stories are generally good and there are definitely great ones in there -- and some of them are genre-mixing, too.
posted by ourobouros at 6:11 AM on April 10, 2016

You guys are amazing. And yes, I've already read (and loved) "Gun, With Occasional Music."

After following all these links and reading a bunch of reviews, I've just placed a huge book order including:

Motherless Brooklyn
The City and the City
The Last Policeman
The Last Good Kiss
Ancillary Justice

And I've got about fifteen more books saved in my basket for later. Keep the suggestions coming.
posted by 256 at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2016

Saw that someone already mentioned the Dresden Files. Those are quite good. Addictive, even.

Rob Thurmond's stuff - along the same lines - is pretty good. Very dark.

Finally, I really do recommend Ben Aaronovitch's series starting with "Midnight Riot." It's a unique take on the magic-detective thing. London itself is a character of the books. Really well-done.
posted by Thistledown at 7:26 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing that Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series is the successor (chronologically, stylistically, and thematically) to Chandler and Hammett.

Seconding Charlie Huston - what you're looking for is the "Joe Pitt casebooks". Pitt is essentially a PI/troubleshooter within the vampire culture secretly embedded in modern-day NYC. If you liked Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" series (and you know that there are two more after Altered Carbon, yeah?) you should like Pitt. Probably best to read them in order, though - the series starts with Already Dead.

Seconding the Jack Reacher series - I just wound up binging all of them in like two months. Tough as nails and the stories move like greased lightning.

And you can't get much more hard-boiled than Richard Stark's Parker series. Written by Donald Westlake under a pen-name, Parker's a professional thief & armed robber whose stories usually revolve around planning a heist, carrying it out, and then figuring out who double-crossed him and where they are so he can get his money back. So "detective" stories from the point of view of the criminal, more or less. (The "recent-vinatge" thing does kinda vary - Westlake did a first run of books in the 60's & early 70's then took a break and picked the series back up in the late 90's without providing any accounting for the time that's passed. Parker just pretty much picks up where he left off, only in a more current world.)

(As an aside, the Dresden Files books are very much a YMMV, IMO. I read a bunch a couple of years ago, and while they certainly meet your "detective story in different genre" criteria, the writing and characterization is pretty pedestrian. They go down easy, but don't really satisfy. Maybe give 'em a free trial run through your library before plunking down dough.)
posted by soundguy99 at 8:36 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Richard Stark. The flip side to Parker is Dortmunder, who came about when Westlake found that a Parker novel kept veering into funny. Rather than drop the book, he switched gears and started a whole new line. (Several movies based on the character are out there, none of them near good enough.)
posted by IndigoJones at 9:56 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love hard boiled detective novels, but also really enjoy when an author can sidestep into farce. Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books are just the best thing, as are Sarah Caudwell's books.
posted by dotparker at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2016

In addition to Sara Paretsky, you can also try Sue Grafton's books, although they're very ... "clean" compared to the Paretsky ones. VI Warshawski often runs into difficulty with the police.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:02 AM on April 11, 2016

I thought about Sue Grafton as well. I feel like she began pretty light in mood for detective fiction. But the more recent ones are much darker. Maybe start around N is for Noose.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:37 AM on April 11, 2016

What I'm especially interested in is books that take this perspective and bring it into other genres, be it fantasy, science fiction, romance, or book club lit.

Mike Carey's Felix Castor series (The Devil You Know; Vicious Circle; Dead Men's Boots; Thicker Than Water; The Naming of the Beasts).
Detective noir crossed with urban fantasy, with a freelance exorcist as the protagonist: darkly and dryly humorous.

Malcolm Pryce's Aberystwyth Noir series.
Set in a slightly off-kilter Aberystwyth, an affectionate parody of both Chandleresque noir and Welsh culture.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really like Robert Parker's Spenser series of novels.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I was surprised Spenser wasn't already mentioned. The same for James Lee Burke: while most of the Robicheaux novels would violate your "no cops" rule, Robicheaux is constantly undercut by the fact he's a cop and some of the fatalism comes from the fact the police department fails him not because there are evil people working there but because it just doesn't care about poor people.
posted by yerfatma at 8:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, I think this article on the resurgence of noir as protest literature might be interesting to you. I would read the whole thing, but it has some recommendations at the end: Denise Mina, Megan Abbott, plus some interesting folks who are new to me:
At the same time, the genre, particularly where it intersects the mainstream, is still blindingly white and Anglo-centric. There are a few lights on this horizon. The poet, professor and activist Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ (son of Kenyan literary icon Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o) has written a pair of crime novels featuring detectives—one African-American, one Kenyan—who team up to unravel international webs of deceit and post-colonial violence. The Indian poet Jeet Thayil’s Booker-shortlisted Narcopolis, while not previously categorized as such, is an amazing work of modern noir, a story of murder, betrayal, transformation and addiction in Mumbai’s drug culture, with atmosphere so thick you can smoke it. Franco-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard writes science fiction and culturally diverse alternate history, but her Xuya universe features a number of noir-influenced detective stories. British-Israeli writer Lavie Tidhar explores his obsession with classic pulp and noir in strange and magical crossover tales like Osama and A Man Lies Dreaming, that take the genre tropes in profound and unexpected directions. New imprints, like Hard Case Crime, have been formed to publish both contemporary noir and forgotten books from the genre’s heyday, while others, like Melville International Crime, are leading the way in bringing foreign noir classics into English translation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:43 AM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

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