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The rules for the hard boiled detective genre are simple: You are single and a success with the ladies. You have a dependable sidekick. You are either an ex-cop or definitely have an in with the cops for all that license plate, crime files, criminal background check, and inside information on the investigation you are going to need and, usually, your inside connection with the cops will vouch for you and sometimes even cover your ass. If you have all of that, you can set yourself up as a hard-boiled detective. Of course, you have to be able to write pretty well and tell a good story because most mystery novels are told from your point of view. You are, of course, a man.
There is also location, location, location. For example, forget about setting up shop in Boston, that is Spenser’s town. You need to find a big city no one has staked a claim to or some rural village where the people have a disposition of getting killed on a regular basis such as Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, population: dwindling.
That is not all. You also have to have a bit of a sense of humour and an existentialist look on life that will allow you to philosophize at the drop of a hat or a lull in the action.
There are many tough investigators out there to satisfy any taste. There is of course the late Travis McGee (penned by John D. MacDonald) of Bahia Mar, Florida. His adventures are all color-coded, his sidekick is an economist named Meyer, and his cure for the frequent damsel in distress is a good roll in the hay aboard The Busted Flush. The first novel, always a good place to begin as this is where the reader gets all the prerequisite background information and recurring secondary character info is The Deep Blue Goodbye. The series closes with The Long Silver Rain. There has always been a rumor about the missing final book penned by MacDonald for after his demise, Black Border For McGee, but this has become more mythology than reality.
The quintessential modern hard-boiled detective is Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, played on TV’s Spenser For Hire by the late Robert Urich with Avery Brooks (of Deep Space Nine fame) as sidekick Hawk. Joe Mantegna –much more to Parker’s liking— took over the mantle in a few TV movies with Ernie Hudson as Hawk. This guy is, as girlfriend Susan Silverman points out, a man’s man. True, Spenser’s love of cooking leads to the nasty habit of discussing the latest meal he is preparing in enough detail to fill a paragraph or two but not enough to actually be able to follow the recipe, but each detective likes to fill a novel with paragraphs a familiar reader know can be skipped: it’s their way of seeing if the reader can sort through the evidence.
There are many other great detectives out there. The darkest is Burke, the character created by Andrew Vachss (Blue Belle, Strega), somewhere a bit below that is Matthew Scudder, written by the great Lawrence Block (A Long Line of Dead Men, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse), a down and out kind of guy. Block is also the ear of Bernie Rhodenbarr, a funny gentleman burglar who runs a used and rare bookstore.
There are many other great mystery writers out there. We hope to look at all of them with the intention of providing informed reviews and opinion. After all, some writers like Robert Crais (Elvis Cole) and, especially, James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux, the early ones are best) definitely lose steam after a while and the later books are more misses than hits.