Following the beginning of Prohibition, crime and accompanying dishonesty in police departments and in city hall increased. This development provided the inspiration for the fictional private eye. Two-fisted, hard-drinking, honest to a certain extent, the detective fought against crime and corruption.
by William Marling. This is an extensive history of the writers and themes of hard-boiled detective novels.
Black Mask Magazine - In 1920, the first issue of Black Mask Magazine appeared. It and other pulp fiction magazines published the stories of many of the private detectives.
Carroll John Daly - (1889 - 1958) His story "The False Burton Coombs" which was published in Black Mask in December, 1922 is credited with being the first hard-boiled story. The story "Three Gun Terry’ now seems to be recognized as the first hard-boiled private detective story. This story was published in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask Magazine. This is several months before the publication of the first Continental Op story by Dashiell Hammett ("Arson Plus", October 1, 1923). For more information about Daly, see Wikipedia. "The False Burton Coombs" and other stories by Daly may obtained as ebooks from Amazon.
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) Hammett was the first successful author of novels of the tough private detective. His book The Red Harvest was published in 1929. This was followed by The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and other novels and short stories. Hammett stopped writing novels in the mid-1930's. He was active in the Communist party, was a subject of the McCarthy investigations, and went to prison for a short time for failing to
reveal what he knew about other party members.
The Continental Op - Biography and bibliography of Hammett from the Thrilling Detective web site.
Baynard H. Kendrick (1894 - 1977) - Kendrick's private detective Duncan Maclain is blind. This character was developed from Kendrick's experience working with blinded WWI veterans, and showed that the handicap of blindness could be overcome. Kendrick was born in Philadelphia, Pa, and graduated from Episcopal Academy in 1912. he was the first American to join the Canadian Army. He served in France and was decorated by both the British and Canadian governments. He published his first novel, Blood on Lake Louise in 1934. He lived in many parts of the US and worked at a wide variety of jobs. He was an organizer of The Blind Veterans Association and served on its board. The movie Bright Victory is based on his novel Lights Out. The TV series Longstreet was adapted from the Duncan Maclain character. Kendrick was one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of American, and was named a Grand Master in 1967.
Cleve F. Adams (1885 - 1949) - Adams was born in Chicago. In 1919, he moved to California and worked at a variety of jobs such as soda jerk, interior decorator, copper miner, detective, and film director. He began writing stories for pulp magazines such as Black Mask and Detective Fiction Weekly. He published 50 short stories between 1936 and 1942. He was one of the few writers who made the successful transition from pulp fiction to writing detective novels. His first novels Sabotage and And Sudden Death were published in 1940, and he published 13 more novels after this. His series detectives such as Rex McBruce, William Rye, and John J. Shannon, were hard fighting and very tough characters. Adams was a founding member of the Fictioneers, a group of pulp writers, in Los Angeles. A little more about the group may be found in this article by John L. Apostolou. A bibliography of Adams' books may be found at Fantastic Fiction.
Raymond Chandler (1870-1959) - Chandler continued the tough guy tradition which Hammett had started.
Chandler's first novel The Big Sleep appeared in 1939. It was followed by other novels such Farewell My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and
short stories which were published in Black Mask. For a biography, bibliography, and filmography, go to the Raymond Chandler page of the Thrilling Detective web site.
Earle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) Gardner originally practised law. He, however, hoped that if he became an author
that he would have both financial success and more free time. He wrote many short stories which were published in pulp magazine before 1932 In 1933, he published
The Case of the Velvet Claw which was the first Perry Mason novel. This book was the first in a long series of extremely popular books about the crime fighting lawyer.
Earle Stanley Gardner - Listing of television shows and movies based on Gardner's writings from the Internet Movie Database.
James M. Cain (1892 - 1977). Cain was born in Annapolis, MD. He was a reporter for the The Baltimore American andNew York World. He published short stories in pulp magazines and, in 1934, his first and most famous novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was published. Cain also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for 17 years. Cain never did write a true detective novel. His books are almost always from the criminal's point of view. Several were made in successful movies such as Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. Cain was named a Grand Master of Mystery in 1970. His biography and bibliography may be found at the
Books and Writers web site.. His filmography may be found at the Internet Movie Database..
George Harmon Coxe (1901 - 1984) - Coxe was born in Olean, New York. He attended both Purdue University and Cornell University and never did obtain a degree. He worked at a variety of odd jobs until he moved west and became a journalist for the Santa Monica Outlook and later with the Los Angeles Express. He moved back east and worked for several newspapers. In 1932, he became a full time writer, and wrote stories for pulp magazines. He would write 63 movels during his lifetime. He was named a Grand Master of Mystery in 1964 by The Mystery Writers of America. He wrote several series and some stand alone novels. Two of his series dealt with the exploits of Jack Flashgun Casey, a photographer for the Boston Globe and of Kent Murdock, a photographer for the Boston Courier-Herald, A bibliography of his books may be found at the Frantastic Fiction web site. His books have been reissued in ebook form by Mysterious Press.
Brett Halliday (1904 - 1977) - Brett Halliday is the pen name of Davis Dresser. He is best known for the Mike Shayne series of detective novels and for the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Dresser was born in Chicago. He ran away from home at age fourteen and enlisted in the army. He was discharged two years later when his real age was discovered. He worked at odd jobs and received a certificate in civil engineering. He could not find a job during the depression so he turned to writing stories for pulp magazines. His first Mike Shayne novel Dividend on Death was published in 1939. This book had been rejected 22 times before it was published by Henry Holt. The Mike Shayne character was a break with the tradition of the hard-drinking, hard-fighting private detective. Shayne was more likely to use his brain to solve a case. For more information, see the article at Books and Writers
Ross Macdonald - (1915 - 1983) Pseudonym of Kenneth Millar. Millar was born in California, and had a doctorate in English literature, and, at one time, was a university professor. He was married to Margaret Millar who was also a successful mystery novelist. He wrote under the name MacDonald to avoid confusion with her books. Macdonald is best known for his books featuring Lew Archer. The first of these, The Moving Target was published in 1949.His biography and bibliography may be found at the Books and Writers web site. More information about Margaret Millar (1915 - 1994) may be found at the Books and Writers web site.
Stanley Ellin (1916 - 1986) - Ellin was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brooklyn College and graduated at the height of the great depression. He worked at a variety of odd jobs while he unsuccessfully tried to sell his fiction. He served in the army at the end of World War II. After the war, he became more successful in his writing career. In 1948, he published his first novel Dreadful Summit. During his lifetime, Ellin published 14 novels and four collections of short stories. Ellin won three Edgar awards for his writing, and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1981. More biographical information may be found at the Books and Writers web site. A bibliography of his works may be found at the Fantastic Fiction web site. "Stanley Ellen - Profile of Award Winning Short Story Mystery Author" by Charles L. P. Silet may be found at Mystery Net.
John D. MacDonald - (1916-1986) MacDonald was born in Sharon, PA. He studied business administration before entering
the army in 1940. MacDonald began writing short stories for pulp magazines when he was still in the army. His first novel The Brass Cupcake was published in 1950.He is best known for the Travis McGee series. He was named a Grand Master of Mystery in 1972. For more information, see his homepage
Mickey Spillane (1918 - 2006) Spillane was born and grew up in a tough section of Brooklyn, NY. He started writing for slick magazines before turning to pulp fiction. He also wrote comic books and was the originator of Captain Marvel and Captain America. He was in the Air Force during WWII. After the war, he worked for Barnum and Bailey
Circus as a trampoline performer. Spillane is best known for his brutal tough guy hero Mike Hammer. For more information, try the
Books and Writers web site.
Robert B. Parker (1932 - 2010). Parker was 40 before he turned to writing. His first book The Godwulf Manuscript featuring his tough private eye Spenser (no first name) was published in 1973. For more information, go to an article and bibliography at the Bookreporter web site.
Donald Westlake (1933 - 2008) Westlake was a prolific author of crime fiction and wrote over 90 books. He published under several pseudonyms of which the best known is
probably Richard Stark. He virtually invented the comic caper novel with his series about John Dortmunder. Westlake won 3 Edgar awards, and was named a Grand Master in 1993.
Several films were based on his books. An extensive bibliography of his works may be found at the Thrilling Detective web site. More information about Westlake may be found at Donald Westlake.com.
Marcia Muller (1944 - ) Muller was born in Detroit, MI. She worked for several magazine before writing mystery novels. Muller published Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977 which was the first in a series of Sharon McCone books. McCone was the first hard-boiled female detective. Muller is married to
Bill Pronzini, the author of the "nameless detective" series. Muller's web site
Sara Paretsky (1947 - ) Author of the series featuring the Chicago private investigator V. I. Warshawski.
The first book of the series Indemnity Only was published in 1982. Ms. Paretsky was name a Grand Master of Mystery by the Mystery Writers of America in 2010. Paretsky's web site
Sue Grafton (1940 - ) Ms. Grafton grew up in Louisville, Ky. She worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood prior to
taking up the writing of mystery novels. Her series features Kinsey Milhone, P.I. who lives in
Santa Theresa, CA. Her first novel A is for Alibi was published in 1982. Grafton's web site.
Rufus King (1893 - 1966) King's principal series detective was Lieutenant Valcour who was introduced in the book Murder by the Clock in 1929 and was in ten later novels in this series. King wrote only one book, Holiday Homicide featuring private detective Cotton Moon (1940). Interest in his novels fell off after this and King turned to writing short stories. King's novel Museum Piece No. 13 was brought to the screen by Fritz Lang as the Secret Beyond the Door in 1948. King was born in New York City, and served in the army in World War I. For more information on his writings, see The Golden Age of Detection web site. For more information on his movies, see the Internet Movie Database.
Zelda Popkin (1898 - 1983) - Ms. Popkin wrote five mystery novels which featured Mary Carner, a store detective, who was one of the first female detectives in mystery literature. She also wrote one of the first novels about the Holocaust. For more information, visit this web site by her grandson.
Dorothy B. Hughes (1904 - 1993) - Dorothy B. Hughes wrote crime novels and was a reviewer of mystery novels. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a journalism degree. She wrote 14 mystery novels, some of which such as The Fallen Sparrow, and In a Lonely Place were made into films. From 1940 - 1979, she reviewed mystery novels for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Herald Tribune and other papers. In 1978, she wrote Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason which is a biography of that author. Hughes received two Edgar Awards, and was named a Grand Master of Mystery in 1978. Several of her novels have been reissued and are available at Amazon.
Helen McCloy (1904 - 1994) - Ms. McCloy wrote a series featuring Dr. Basil Willing, a psychiatrist and consultant to law enforcement agencies. Helen McCloy studied at the Sorbonne and served as a foreign art critic for several US magazines. She returned to the US in 1932. She was one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America, and was named a Grandmaster by the MWA in 1990. She was married to author Brett Halliday. Aspiring mystery writers may be interested in applying for the Helen McCloy Scholarship given by the MWA.Her biography and bibliography may be found at Books and Writers.
Charlotte Armstrong (1905 - 1969) Armstrong was born in Vulcan, Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan and received her degree from Barnard College. She sold classified advertisement for the New York Times and also worked as a fashion reporter. She married Jack Lewi in 1925, and quit work to raise her three children. She published her first mystery Lay On, McDuff in 1943. After two other novels were published, she had great success with the novel The Unsuspected which was made into a movie as was a later novel Mischief. The film version of Mischief was named Don't Bother to Knock. She received an Edgar award for A Dram of Poison in 1957. Her novels were mainly novels of suspense. Her film credits are given at The Internet Movie Database.
Further biographical information and A bibliography of her books may be found at The Golden Age of Detection Wiki.
Chester Himes (1909 - 1984) wrote the first mystery series which featured African-American detectives. Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. He graduated from Glenville High School in Cleveland. He entered Ohio State University but he engaged in several nonapproved activities and was expelled from the university. In 1928, he was arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison. He was parolled to his mother in 1936. He worked at a variety of jobs including the Ohio State Writers project. At the start of World War II, he moved to Los Angeles where he published his first novel, If He Hollers, Let Him Go in 1945. In 1953, he moved to Europe. He is best know for his Harlem Domestic series of novels which features the detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. For a biography and bibiliography, visit the Books and Writers web site.
Margaret Millar (1915 - 1994) - Margaret Ellis Sturm was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She attended Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute as did her husband-to-be, Kenneth Millar. After college, they married, and Kenneth wrote under the pen name of Ross Macdonald to avoid the confusion of two mystery writers with the same last name. The Millars moved to the United States and settled in Santa Barbara, CA. Millar's first novel, The Invisible Worm, was published in 1941. She wrote mainly novel of psychological suspense. She won two Edgar awards and in 1983, received the award for lifetime achievement. She was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1956. For more extensive biographical information, visit the Books and Writers web site.
Patricia Highsmith (1921 - 1995). Highsmith is a master of the crime novel. Ms. Highsmith was born in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended public schools in New York City, and graduated from Barnard College. Her first suspense novel, Strangers on a Train was published in 1950 and was an immediate success. Her subsequent books were much better received in Europe than in the United States. She is well know for the series about murderer and con man, Tom Ripley. The first Ripley book was The Talented Mr. Ripley which was published in 1955. More biographical information may be found at Books and Writers. A list of movie and TV shows based on her writings may be found at the Internet Movie Database.
Tony Hillerman (1925 - 2008) Hillerman was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. He had a
career in journalism and wrote a series of novels featuring Navaho Tribal policemen Leaphorn and Chee. The first of these was The Blessing Way which was published in 1970. A bibliography and short biography may be found at Fantastic Fiction.
Information about TV shows based on Hillerman's books may be found at the PBS web site
Ed McBain (1926 - 2005) aka Evan Hunter and Richard Marsten. McBain has established himself as the premier writer of police
procedural novels. His series about the 87th Precinct began with Cop Hater which was published in 1956. He received the Grand Master award of the MWA in 1986.
The McBain web site
Julie Smith (1944 - ) Born in Maryland, raised in Georgia, and now residing in New Orleans. Ms. Smith has written several series. The Skip Langdon series features a woman police detective in New Orleans. The first book in this series New Orleans Mourning won the Edgar Award. Ms. Smith also writes a series about African-American poet and private investigator Talba Wells who also lives in New Orleans. For more information, visit her web site.