Everybody by now knows about film noir. Where that comes from is a genre of drug store paperbacks focusing on tough guys, bad girls, and thugs. There are great mystery writers of the first rank such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. But beyond them is a whole pantheon of second-rank writers who have contributed to American literature (and to subjects for American films). Here is a list of some of my favorites, listed in alphabetical order followed by the name of one of their representative works:
- Robert Edmond Alter: Swamp Sister
- Barry Gifford: Perdita Durango
- David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player
- Chester Himes: The Real Cool Killers
- Dorothy B. Hughes: In a Lonely Place
- Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty
- Mickey Spillane: I, the Jury
- Jim Thompson: Pop. 1280
- Charles Willeford: Pick-Up
- Cornell Woolrich: I Married a Dead Man
This list does not attempt to be definitive, as I am still making discoveries in this genre all the time. Fortunately, many of the novels are being regularly re-issued.
Interestingly, there are also several excellent European noir novelists, such as Britain’s James Hadley Chase, whose No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a classic. In France, there are Jean-Patrick Manchette (Fatale) and Boris Vian (I Spit on Your Grave).