It was a tough way to go. My head hit the pavement and had the audacity to bounce once. The man had no sympathy. No surprise. He playfully bounced my head a few more times for good measure in dull curiosity to see whether my skull or the pavement would crack first. I’ve had it worse. My bar tab at Clocker’s was worse than this. This? Well, this I could handle. I got bored after my head bounced the third time. Rolling on my back I saw three blurry heads on one set of shoulders. I aimed for the middle head and kicked up as hard as possible. Direct hit. I took out two of the three rotten teeth in the guy’s mouth and he screamed like a schoolgirl deprived of her iPhone. He went down howling and I came up growling and that pretty much finished it.
Welcome to the New Hardboiled. “New” is a bit misleading. Downright deceptive. I’m not really sorry and no I didn’t slap on the title – others already have. This label is floating out there amongst authors and readers in blogs and discussion boards and can be as vague as the moral landscape in any particular novel of the type. This term really applies to authors of the last 10-20 years or so and not just last week, with several newcomers within the last five years arguably we should call the “New” new hardboiled, especially in the realm of self-publishing ebooks and genre spin-offs like those zombie chasers. Also, the new hardboiled is not a distinct departure from traditional hardboiled and like all other hardboiled novels in their age, they cynically reflect the times – meaner, cruder, and more violent but still faithful to the traditional angst-ridden outsider as complicated hero … or anti-hero, depending. There are great exceptions to this general definition, of course and there are the usual branches off into science fiction and other genres though writers have been doing this for a long time. (Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick for starters.) If we analyze it too much, the term pretty much dissolves as quickly as a dainty tissue stomped into a dirty puddle.
Below are some authors to take note. Although I mentioned ‘violent’ some are much more tame than others both in violence and language, what I call supermarket safe and readily available in mass-market paperback. With some, the threat of violence is implied and off the page…which, like Hitchock’s movies, can be more unsettling. Like I said, some authors have been around for awhile though still fall under “new” and are still publishing and the others are more “New” new (go with it). I’m not going to argue with somebody over who should or shouldn’t be on the list or derive a Webster’s definition. Let it stay murky. If the whole “new” bothers you, I don’t blame you. Just roll ‘em all under “hardboiled” and get yourself a cup a day-old joe down at the diner and settle in.
At the bottom, I listed some classic old school hardboiled/noir authors as well.
Here we go:
New (last 10 or so years):
Jason Starr — The Craving (2012) has good buzz.
Josh Bazell – Try Beat the Reaper, movie coming soon.
James Sallis – Who? Sallis is the author of Drive and the sequel Driven. Yes, the movie Drive was based on his book. (I liked the book — amazingly lean.)
Ed Lin – Try his newest One Red Bastard (2012).
Donald Ray Pollock – Check out his 2011 novel The Devil All the Time as well as the aptly titled Knockemstiff! Devil drifts more towards hardboiled-horror gothic.
Charlie Huston – The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and others…
Ken Bruen – I’ve talked about him enough before. Just grab a book. Any book. Rinse. Repeat.
Scott Philips – Try The Adjusment.
Not so new (20+ years):
Joe Lansdale – Lansdale himself is actually a dude You Do Not Want to Mess With. Lansdale is all over the map and pushing genre boundaries at every turn.
Andrew Vachss – He just released a few recent novels – Blackjack (2012), That’s How I Roll (2012) that feature a new run of characters. He is most notable for the Burke series.
James Ellroy – Against popular opinion, I recommend his earlier works for sheer rawness (pre- L.A. Confidential, though it is a masterpiece). After the first 4 or 5 novels he leans way too much on the overly-strained tiresome hepcat lingo. Can ya dig?
George Pelacanos – Again, the earlier works, the better.
Dennis Lehane – Any.
Robert Crais- Try the Elvis Cole series.
Robert Parker – Obviously try his Spenser series, but also the Jesse Stone series, among others. (Does Tom Selleck play Jesse Stone right? You decide.)
If you want to start from the beginning, here are some of the classic authors I promised: James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain, Richard Stark a.k.a. Donald Westlake, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, James Crumley, David Goodis, Lawrence Block, Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard and many many more.
And here is a slight nod to some graphic novels. (I couldn’t help myself.) Check out Frank Miller’s Sin City series; Powers by Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarellos’s 100 Bullets, and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, among several others. I am purposely leaving much off. Care to add?
There is always room for more sub-sub genres under “new hardboiled” like post-apocalyptic-neo-noir-cyberpunk-romance thanks to those New York marketing geniuses.
When in doubt, Black Lizard Press and Hard Case Crime imprints have many new authors and classic reissues to check out. You will see many of these on our shelves and are noticeable by either the black lizard on the spine of Black Lizard’s novels or the retro pulp covers of Hard Case Crime’s novels. Still, with the rise of independent publishers and DIY ebook platforms like Smashwords (I recommend), Lulu, and the big regulars , the game is changing very quickly with hungry and angry new authors on the scene giving some of the above a run for their money.
NOW BEAT IT!