HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

Eight Easy Pieces

Alta books editor David L. Ulin selects a collection of must-read (and reread) titles for every noir fan. 

Noir is a genre made for the West Coast, a landscape defined by dreams—and the disappointment of a dream deferred.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

THE MALTESE FALCON (1930)

Dashiell Hammett
Serialized in 1929 in Black Mask and one of the earliest noir novels, The Maltese Falcon introduces Sam Spade, who moves through the streets of San Francisco like an avenging angel, bound by no code but his own.

Fast One by Paul Cain

FAST ONE (1933)

Paul Cain
Noir comes to Los Angeles in this early, and often overlooked, masterpiece, the story of a tough guy named Gerry Kells, who gets caught up in a mob turf war in the waning days of Prohibition. Southern California has never looked so bleak.

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1943)

James M. Cain
One of the absolute touchstones of the genre, this taut, explosive novel chronicles an insurance scam gone wrong. Raymond Chandler worked on the screenplay for Billy Wilder’s 1944 movie adaptation.

Dark Passage by David Goodis

DARK PASSAGE (1946)

David Goodis
Goodis was one of the all-time greats, and he shows why in this, his second novel, about a man, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, who escapes from San Quentin and returns to San Francisco intent on revenge.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

IN A LONELY PLACE (1947)

Dorothy B. Hughes
In this landmark novel, Hughes creates perhaps the greatest unreliable narrator in the history of noir, a former fighter pilot adrift in Los Angeles…until, that is, his true nature is revealed.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

THE LONG GOODBYE (1953)

Raymond Chandler
The last great novel Chandler wrote—and the one in which he reinvents the genre. Philip Marlowe is older, tired if not quite beaten, and as he investigates a couple of suspicious deaths, his vulnerability becomes exposed.

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1990)

Walter Mosley
The first novel in Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, which collectively reframes the detective novel as a social history of African American life in Los Angeles between 1948 and 1968.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY (2019)

Steph Cha
Working in the tradition of Mosley, Cha reimagines the 1992 Los Angeles insurrection as a crucible for two families, one African American and the other Korean American, as they navigate the city’s tortured racial legacies.

Read more from Alta‘s Fall 2020 Noir Special Section

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