As part of our week celebrating hard-boiled crime fiction, we’re taking a look back at the founding fathers of the genre.
Hard-boiled crime fiction was born in the 1920s. One of its great early voices was Dashiell Hammett, who spent his early twenties working as a Pinkerton detective. In 1921, he moved to San Francisco and tried his hand at writing, inspired by the tough characters he’d encountered while sleuthing and strike-breaking, as well as the earlier stories published in the pulp magazine, Black Mask, by the largely forgotten writer, Carroll John Daly.
He published his first story in an upscale society magazine, The Smart Set. His gritty style turned out to be better suited to popular pulp crime magazines, and Black Mask published his second story, “Arson Plus.”
Over the next several years, Hammett created the nameless, tough-talking private eye called “the Continental Op,” or “Op” for short. The Op was entirely different from the softer, more cerebral protagonists of most detective novels published at the time. Instead of cracking cases with encyclopedic knowledge and powers of deduction, Op took to the dangerous urban streets. He seemed indifferent to pain and had no qualms about the use of violence or deceit if it meant catching the crook. Still, Op also had his own code of honor.
Hammett went on to write The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, and The Maltese Falcon starring his other famous hard-boiled hero, Sam Spade, before he passed away in 1966. In 1941, Humphrey Bogart revived Sam Spade as an icon in the film The Maltese Falcon.
In many ways, Raymond Chandler took up where Hammett left off. After losing his job as an oil company executive, Chandler turned to writing. Strongly influenced by the raw, sparse language of pulp crime writers, Chandler added his own artistic flair and wrote several hard-boiled masterpieces. The Big Sleep (1939) introduced one of crime fiction’s most popular characters: the wisecracking private eye Philip Marlowe.
Marlowe flourished in chaotic and corrupt Los Angeles, and didn’t fear playing a little dirty if that’s what it took to get the job done. Like Op, though, he also had a clear code of ethics that he was unwilling to break. Chandler wrote six more Philip Marlowe novels, including Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953).
Tomorrow we’ll be back, taking a look at the defining characteristics of the hard-boiled genre. Discover the entire list of Hardboiled novels available as ebooks at MysteriousPress.