Tag Archives: Top Ten Classic Crime Novels

My TOP TEN List of Crime Noir and Hard Boiled Crime Novels

I enjoy reading crime fiction from past masters like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout. I also enjoy contemporary writers like Renee Pawlish, who writes modern crime noir, in a humorous style, combining her love for classic noir in a modern, present day setting. In addition to her Reed Ferguson stories, Ms. Pawlish writes classic noir in her Dewey Webb series. If you like a does of snark and snide humor with your detective mystery, along with a cute half-elf and her human partner, you'll enjoy the Daggers and Steele series by Alex P. Berg.

This list is my choice for the ten best crime noir stories I have read. Feel free to disagree if you want. If you like crime fiction, particularly noir or hard boiled, you should at least check this list. These authors and their stories are part of my inspiration for my own Inspector Sullivan stories.

Number One: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Sam Spade is the best tough guy private detective to ever grace the pages of a novel and Bogie's portrayal is the best to ever hit the silver screen. Hammett's plot is filled with twists and turns, complete with hopeless love, greed and betrayal. If that isn't enough, the villains are almost as fascinating as Spade. Sydney Greenstreet's portrayal of the Fat Man, Kasper Gutman is both creepy and fascinating at the same time.

Number Two: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Included on Time Magazine's list of Top 100 novels, The Big Sleep​ is a novel about death and introduces Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe. Filled with intrigue, double crosses and social commentary, it is one of the best examples the genre has to offer.

Number Three: The Post Man Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Banned in Boston in 1934, Cain's novel combines violence with eroticism as the solution to an inconvenient husband leads to one problem after another.​

Number Four: Web of Deceit by Renee Pawlish

For fans of hard boiled crime stories who can do without swearing a graphic sex, modern mystery writer Renee Pawlish has written a wonderful introduction to her second crime series, introducing Detective Dewey Webb to her readers.​

Number Five: Dark Passage by David Goodis

​Made famous by the movie version staring Bogie and Lauren Bacall, Dark Passage tells the story of a man unjustly convicted for the murder of his wife and the need to live with a false identify after escaping from prison. A wonderful commentary on urban life and loneliness.

Number Six: The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett

The Continental Op, the prototype for hundreds of tough guy detectives. This nameless, faceless detective was actually Hammett's primary character, not Sam Spade, appearing in two novels and over 70 short stories.​ Callous, brutal and indifferent at times to suffering of others, the Op always got the criminal, one way or another.

Number Seven: In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

​American noir at its finest, examining the mind of a serial killer in post WW II Los Angeles. This dark story is told from the point of view of the killer who enters a game of cat and mouse with his old army buddy who is now a detective. Adapted for film, starring who else, Bogie, the story was changed to focus on domestic violence.

Number Eight: L.A. Confidential by James Elroy

Centered around three detectives, each with a different view of the world and the job, LA Confidential is filled with plot twists, violence and fast paced noir style writing. Partially biographical, the​ detectives must deal with death and violence as it impacts their lives.

Number Nine: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

​Los Angeles, 1948. Devil in a Blue Dress will draw you in with its noir atmosphere as the story introduces Easy Rawlins. The story will set its hooks, so be sure to have time to read it in one sitting.

Number Ten: The High Window by Raymond Chandler

​Murder, rape, blackmail and human exploitation, what more could you want in a classic noir novel from the master Raymond Chandler. A mean spirited widow and a missing daughter-in-law plus facts that don't add up for Chandler's detective, Philip Marlow, make this a fascinating mystery.

Number Eleven: Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

Being from Louisiana originally where we always throw in something extra, a cultural practice known as Lagniappe, this list as an eleventh book included, Rex Stout's introduction to the brilliant detective Nero Wolfe and his legman Archie Goodwin. Presented with a gift of one of the most deadly snakes known to man, the fer-de-lance, Wolfe must solve the mystery of the murder of an immigrant and a college president.