Many people know that “noir” is the French word for “black,” but how many know what it means when the word is applied to the mystery genre? Admittedly, noir can encompass a broad range of stories, but its general definition, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.”
Lovers of noir are very fortunate, because not only are there many classic noir novels, but there are several authors writing fantastic noir tales today. Noir doesn’t just mean detectives in trench coats and fedoras in smoky bars and rainy alleys in the seedy parts of big cities. It can be tales of existential dread in Japan or racially motivated crimes in a tiny Texas town. Justice doesn’t always get served, but ennui always wins.
So buckle up, noir lovers: Today’s forecast calls for hard-boiled and cynical, with a chance of sleazy. Here are 14 of the best authors who have written works of noir, along with an example of their best books.
Widely considered the greatest work of noir, The Big Sleep introduces hardboiled private eye Philip Marlowe, who is hired to deal with the blackmailer of a dying millionaire's daughter.
A former drug abuser in the 1950s struggling to get back on her feet accepts a thousand dollars from a suburban couple for a job. Her task? To find their missing daughter somewhere in the sleazy drug dens of New York City's underground.
Weary private eye Sam Spade is hired to find a missing woman, but instead gets drawn into a case of double-crossing, deadly dames, and diamond-encrusted bird statues.
In Patricia Highsmith's debut novel, two strangers meet on a train—with deadly consequences. Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno are two men who each wish someone close to them dead and decide to swap murders to keep from getting caught.
Chester B. Himes
A foolish man named Jackson loses his life savings while gambling with a conman. So he steals more money from his boss to try and win back the money he lost. Spoiler: That doesn't work, either.
Dorothy B. Hughes; Megan Abbott (Introduction by)
A surprising portrait of toxic masculinity and misogyny for its time, In A Lonely Place is about a former aircraft pilot who helps his police officer friend search for a murderer who preys on women in Los Angeles.
A genius high school dropout who helps solves small cases in his crime-ridden East Long Beach neighborhood finds himself in serious danger when he agrees to help a hometown rap mogul.
Four factory workers find themselves tangled up with a dangerous gang in the violent underbelly of their Japanese city after one of them murders her abusive husband.
This slow-boiling thriller, about murder and racial tensions in a small Texas town and the Black Texas Ranger who must sort it all out, won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
Black war veteran Easy Rawlins is hired to find a beautiful missing blonde in 1940s Los Angeles. But the promise of easy money leads to big trouble.
Fuminori Nakamura; Stephen Coates (Translator); Satoko Izumo (Translator)
An award-winning noir thriller about a pickpocket living a quiet, solitary life of crime in Tokyo, until he is visited by his old partner about a new job he can’t bring himself to refuse.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.