Last updated on 13 June 2017

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who witnesses 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 Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and The Continental Op.

The cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask, September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.

The genre's pioneers

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] its heyday was in 1930s–50s America.[4]

Pulp fiction

Paolo Monti - Servizio fotografico - BEIC 6340857.jpg
Photo by Paolo Monti, 1975.

From its earliest days, hardboiled fiction was published in and closely associated with so-called pulp magazines, most famously Black Mask under the editorship of Joseph T. Shaw.[3] In its earliest uses in the late 1920s, "hardboiled" didn't refer to a type of crime fiction; it meant the tough (cynical) attitude towards emotions triggered by violence.

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.[5]

Black Mask moved exclusively to publishing detective stories in 1933,[6] and pulp's exclusive reference to crime fiction probably became fixed around that time, although it's impossible to pin down with precision. The hardboiled crime story became a staple of several pulp magazines in the 1930s; in addition to Black Mask, hardboiled crime fiction appeared in Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly.[7] Later, many hardboiled novels were published by houses specializing in paperback originals, also colloquially known as "pulps".

Consequently, "pulp fiction" is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction or gangster fiction;[8] some would distinguish within it the private-eye story from the crime novel itself.[9] In the United States, the original hardboiled style has been emulated by innumerable writers, including Sue Grafton, Chester Himes, Paul Levine, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Jim Butcher, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane.

See also


  1. ^ Porter, Dennis (2003). "Chapter 6: The Private Eye". In Priestman, Martin. 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, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, MacMillan, pp. 153–4, ISBN 0-02-861678-2.
  4. ^ Abbott, Megan (2002), The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, pp. 2–3.
  5. ^ "Extremely tough, unsentimental and lethal, Everhard foreshadowed the hard-boiled characters of the following decade". "Pulps" by Robert Sampson, in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, edited by DeAndrea. (p.287-9).
  6. ^ Abbott, p. 16
  7. ^ "Pulps" by Sampson, in DeAndrea.
  8. ^ Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957) p. 258
  9. ^ Abbott, p. 10-11

Further reading

  • Breu, Christopher (July 2004). "Going blood-simple in poisonville: hard-boiled masculinity in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest". Men and Masculinities. Sage. 7 (1): 52–76. doi:10.1177/1097184X03257449.
  • Gosselin, Adrienne Johnson (2002). Multicultural Detective Fiction: Murder from the "Other" Side, Garland Publishing, ISBN 0-8153-3153-3
  • Haut, Woody (1996). Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War, Serpent's Tail, ISBN 1-85242-319-6
  • Irwin, John T. (2006). Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir, Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-8435-7
  • Kemp, Simon (2006). Defective Inspectors: Crime-fiction Pastiche in Late Twentieth-century, Maney Publishing, ISBN 1-904350-51-8
  • Mizejewski, Linda (2004). Hardboiled and High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture, Routledge Chapman Hall, ISBN 0-415-96970-0
  • O'Brien, Geoffrey (1997). Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir, Da Capo, ISBN 0-306-80773-4
  • Panek, LeRoy Lad (2000). New Hard-Boiled Writers: 1970s-1990s, University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-87972-819-1
  • Server, Lee (2002). Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers, Facts On File Inc., ISBN 0-8160-4577-1

External links

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