“Film noir.” The phrase conjures a very specific sort of image: a man in a trenchcoat, perhaps, or a black-and-white figure smoking a cigarette in a dingy alleyway. Film noir encompasses some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies, from The Maltese Falcon to Double Indemnity. Characterized by its shadowy aesthetic, gritty characters, femme fatales, and hard-boiled mystery plots, film noir defined the careers of actors like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, and of writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
While film noir ceased to be a big presence in Hollywood around the 1950s, its spirit lives on. If you’re looking for a book that can capture the mood of the film noir genre, any of these seven crime thrillers (or all of them!) will hit the spot. Some are modern stories, while others are mystery books set in or closer to the period when film noir was king. All have that distinctive noir flavor that has kept audiences spellbound for decades.
by Denise Mina
This is the second book in Denise Mina's "Garnethill" series. Our protagonist, Maureen O'Donnell, works as a counselor at a battered women's shelter. She puts herself in charge of investigating when a woman staying at the shelter is found murdered, supposedly by her husband. Still haunted by the six-month-old murder of her own lover, Maureen is determined to learn the truth about the woman's death. But unbeknownst to Maureen, by seeking the true culprit, she may end up murdered as well.
by James Ellroy
Elizabeth Short's 1947 murder remains one of America's most notorious unsolved cases. Nicknamed "The Black Dahlia," the ill-fated starlet captured national interest when she was found dead in a vacant lot, naked and mutilated. This novel, as much a psychological thriller as it is a crime thriller, follows two fictional detectives assigned to investigate Short's gruesome death, only to lose themselves in the case's dark twist and turns.
by Dan Simmons
After spending over a decade in prison, former private investigator Joe Kurtz has little choice but to take whatever employment he can find. He accepts a job from a powerful but endangered mob boss: track down his missing accountant before he can spill the beans on family business. Joe soon finds himself deep in an unforgiving world of treachery, seduction, and mob violence with no one to rely on but himself. The first in Dan Simmons's "Kurtz" trilogy, Hardcase is a gritty noir thriller.
Nick Stefanos, unsatisfied with his bar-keeping gig, agrees to help a friend by tracking down his unfaithful wife, April. Nick confirms that April has indeed found herself a new man, and that she intends to make a fresh start with him--and the small fortune she stole from a mobster for just that purpose. Now on the run from a vengeful crime boss, Nick might just end up wishing he'd stayed at the bar in this second installment in George Pelecanos's "Nick Stefanos" series.
Foreword by Pinckney Benedict
The Redmond and Dolly families have been feuding since long before Doyle Redmond was born. Now Doyle finds himself right in the middle of that feud. His brother, his brother's girlfriend, and her teenage daughter are just about to harvest their marijuana crop. By agreeing to help them instead of turning them in, Doyle risks the wrath of both the Dollys and the police. Set in a rugged Missouri Ozark community where the law doesn't count for much, Give Us a Kiss has excitement to spare.
Part of James Lee Burke's "Dave Robicheaux" series, A Morning for Flamingos finds the eponymous detective aching for revenge. After he is shot and his partner is killed during a prison transport gone wrong, Robicheaux agrees to infiltrate the New Orleans mob. As with any undercover mission, this one keeps him on his toes and pushes him to the limit. Only this time, Robicheaux, still hurting physically and mentally, may not be up to the challenge.
When Hanson joins the Green Berets, he is an optimistic college graduate. By the time he returns from two tours of duty in Vietnam, his youthful enthusiasm is irrevocably drained, decimated by war and loss. This classic book by Kent Anderson is a very different sort of noir. A searing counterpoint to narratives about the glories of war, Sympathy for the Devil offers a raw, unflinching look into the reality that soldiers, serving willingly or otherwise, face on the battlefield and at home.
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Eileen Gonzalez is a freelance writer from Connecticut. She has a Master’s degree in communications and years of experience writing about pop culture. She contributes to Book Riot and Foreword Reviews, and she occasionally tweets at @eileen2thestars.