Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Hardboiled Fiction Dead?

© John Knoerle, 2009 all rights reserved

My new novel “A Pure Double Cross” is my first venture into the dark world of hardboiled fiction. I was surprised to find few websites devoted to this field when I searched the web. I talked to my fellow mystery writer Stephen Smoke about this. He didn’t share my surprise. “Hardboiled fiction is really a dead genre,” he said.

Hardboiled fiction, dead? How can such a classic part of the American cannon, that gave birth to the films noir and a thousand trenchcoat-clad, fedora-wearing private dicks, be DEAD??

Perhaps Stephen is right. Of all the popular mystery writers working today I can’t really cite one who carries the torch, though Robert B. Parker did a bang-up job of completing Raymond Chandler’s last novel “Poodle Springs.”

Perhaps modern authors feel that all the great lines have already been written.

Top Ten Hardboiled Lines

10 – “The yellow-haired cutie shivered against me like a cat coughing
lamb chops."

- Robert Bellem, from the novel “Death's Passport”

9 – “It didn't cut enough ice to keep a louse in cold storage."

- Sapper, from the novel “The Return of Bulldog Drummond”

8 - “The cat’s in the bag, and the bag’s in the river."

- Tony Curtis, in the film “Sweet Smell of Success”

7 - “She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle."

-- Dick Powell, in the film “Murder My Sweet”

6 - “He staggered into my office, leaned against the door, then keeled over
on his face. He should have. He was dead."

- Humphrey Bogart, in the radio version of “The Maltese Falcon”

5 - “I felt lousy. I felt like an amputated leg."

- Raymond Chandler, from the short story “Trouble Is My Business”

4 - “I hear you're a real boy scout who helps old ladies into oncoming
traffic. Downstate they're not so nice. They say you wear rubber
pockets to steal soup."

- Jack Webb, in the film “Pete Kelly's Blues”

3 - “I don't pray. Kneeling bags my nylons"

- Jan Sterling, in the film “Ace In the Hole”

2 - “Why don't we go somewhere and discuss this over a couple of ice cubes?"

“Imagine you needing ice cubes."

- Audrey Totter and Robert Montgomery, in the film “Lady in the Lake”

1 - “Because you never can tell when life, or some mysterious force, is going to put the finger on you for no good reason at all."

- Tom Neal, in the film “Detour”

Of course the greatest hardboiled dialogue sequence of all time was written by Raymond Chandler for the film “Double Indemnity,” starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Walter: I wish you'd tell me what's engraved on that anklet.
Phyllis: Just my name.
Walter: As for instance?
Phyllis: Phyllis.
Walter: Phyllis, huh. I think I like that.
Phyllis: But you're not sure.
Walter: I'd have to drive it around the block a couple of times.
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He'll be in then.
Walter: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?
Walter: Yeah, I was. But I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around 90.
Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter: That tears it. 8:30 tomorrow evening, then.
Phyllis: That's what I suggested.
Walter: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so. I usually am.
Walter: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter: I wonder if you wonder.

Dead, my foot. Writing that good is eternal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Knoerle’s first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox for a TV series. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. His new novel, “A Pure Double Cross,” is Book One of the American Spy Trilogy. John lives with his wife in Chicago. You can learn more about John Knoerle at

ABOUT THE BOOK: Cleveland, Ohio, 1945. Hal Schroeder returns from a two-year stint behind German lines as an undercover agent for the OSS. The horrors of war have left him bitter and cynical. He is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a local mob that is pulling bank heists. The feds have concocted a sting operation to capture the head of the gang and they want Hal to execute it. He agrees. But Hal Schroeder is no longer interested in being a hero. Hal Schroeder is interested in a fat payday.


Marta Stephens said...

Oh, please tell me it's not true! John, I write crime and my work has been described by several as noir/hardboiled. I love it but more important, readers do too. So no, I can say without hesitation that hardboiled is not dead.

Great post. Makes me want to get those books out and read them again!

Marta Stephens said...

PS: Love that cover!

s.w. vaughn said...

Some interesting stuff here! I might just have to get my hands on a copy of Double Indemnity. :-)

Cheryl said...

Love this article!!!! Thanks for the great dialogue.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Great post! Forgot how great that dialogue was--not sure if people would accept quite the same today.


Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

And, until I read this post, I had no idea what hardcore fiction was. I'm still not certain but think it applies to quirky dialog. I'll have to look it up.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Very entertaining, John - wonderful stuff! And Marta, the first book I thought of when he described hardboiled was Silenced Cry. ;o)

Kim Smith said...

Hey John! Y'all I LOOOOVE his book. If you want a great read, get this one!
I had John on the radio show just a little bit ago and if you wanna hear more about this book, go have a listen to the show at