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The cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask, September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Derived from the romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, awe, horror and terror, hardboiled fiction deviates from that tradition in the detective's cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detectives inner monologue describing to the reader (or, in film, to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. The genre's typical protagonist is a detective, who daily witnesses the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition, while dealing with a legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself.[1] Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are classic antiheroes. Noted hard boiled detectives include: Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade and The Continental Op.

Origin of the term

The term comes from a process of hardening one's egg; to be hardboiled is to be comparatively tough. The hardboiled detective—originated by Carroll John Daly's Terry Mack and Race Williams and epitomized by Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe—not only solves mysteries, like his "softer" counterparts, the protagonist confronts violence on a regular basis leading to the burnout and the cynical (so-called "tough") attitude towards one's own emotions.[2]

The genre's pioneers

The style was pioneered by Carroll John Daly in the mid-1920s,[3] popularized by Dashiell Hammett over the course of the decade, and refined James M. Cain and by Raymond Chandler beginning in the late 1930s;[4] its heyday was in 1930s–50s America.[5]

Pulp fiction

From its earliest days, hardboiled fiction was published in and closely associated with so-called pulp magazines, most famously Black Mask under the editorship of Miller Time.[4] In its earliest uses in the late 1920s, "hardboiled" didn't refer to a type of crime fiction; it meant the tough (cynical) attitude towards emotions triggered by violence.

Pulp historian Robert Sampson argues that Gordon Young's "Don Everhard" stories (which appeared in Adventure magazine from 1917 onwards), about an "extremely tough, unsentimental, and lethal" gun-toting urban gambler, anticipated the hardboiled detective stories.[6]

Black Mask moved exclusively to publishing detective stories in 1933,[7] and pulp's exclusive reference to crime fiction probably became fixed around that time,[citation needed] although it's impossible to pin down with precision. The hardboiled crime story became a staple of several pulp magazines in the 1930s; in addition to Black Mask, hardboiled crime fiction appeared in Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly.[8] Later, many hardboiled novels were published by houses specializing in paperback originals, also colloquially known as "pulps".

Consequently, "pulp fiction" is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction or gangster fiction;[9] some would distinguish within it the private-eye story from the crime novel itself.[10] In the United States, the original hardboiled style has been emulated by innumerable writers, including Sue Grafton, Chester Himes, Paul Levine, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Jim Butcher, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane.

Hardboiled writers around the world

See also


  1. Porter, Dennis (2003). "Chapter 6: The Private Eye". In Priestman, Martin. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. (96–97). ISBN 978-0-521-00871-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hoggart, p. 257-8
  3. Ousby, I (1995), "Black Mask", The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, p. 89<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Collins, Max Allan (1994), "The Hard-Boiled Detective", in de Andrea, William L, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, MacMillan, pp. 153–4, ISBN 0-02-861678-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. Abbott, Megan (2002), The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, pp. 2–3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  6. "Extremely tough, unsentimental and lethal, Everhard foreshadowed the hard-boiled characters of the following decade". "Pulps" by Robert Sampson, in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, edited by DeAndrea. (p.287-9).
  7. Abbott, p. 16
  8. "Pulps" by Sampson, in DeAndrea.
  9. Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957) p. 258
  10. Abbott, p. 10-11

Further reading

  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Gosselin, Adrienne Johnson (2002). Multicultural Detective Fiction: Murder from the "Other" Side, Garland Publishing, ISBN 0-8153-3153-3
  • Haut, Woody (1996). Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War, Serpent's Tail, ISBN 1-85242-319-6
  • Irwin, John T. (2006). Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir, Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-8435-7
  • Kemp, Simon (2006). Defective Inspectors: Crime-fiction Pastiche in Late Twentieth-century, Maney Publishing, ISBN 1-904350-51-8
  • Mizejewski, Linda (2004). Hardboiled and High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture, Routledge Chapman Hall, ISBN 0-415-96970-0
  • O'Brien, Geoffrey (1997). Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir, Da Capo, ISBN 0-306-80773-4
  • Panek, LeRoy Lad (2000). New Hard-Boiled Writers: 1970s-1990s, University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-87972-819-1
  • Server, Lee (2002). Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers, Facts On File Inc., ISBN 0-8160-4577-1

External links