Pathfinding Noir/Detective Stories

Roy Mackenzie | August 2, 2016

Confession: I love detective stories. Especially pulp/noir detectives. My love of crime fiction started early, when I discovered the Encyclopedia Brown and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators books, but it didn’t stop there. I read And Then There Were None when I was a little older, and I was blown away. From then on, crime fiction was my go-to genre. Without a doubt, my favorite crime novels are hard boiled detective and noir stories. I read Raymond Chandler‘s Marlowe books almost every year (nobody turns a phrase quite like Chandler does).

Whether you’re as big a fan as I am or you’ve never touched a crime novel in your life, the library has a wide assortment of crime fiction to read, listen to, or watch, and we’re here to help you find what you’re looking for. Here’s a list of traditional and genre bending crime stories to get you started.

Books:

  • The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler didn’t invent the hard boiled detective, but his creation, Philip Marlowe, is arguably the most famous and enduring. The clever dialogue and complicated plot involving blackmail, murder, pornographers, and a missing person, make this a wonderful introduction to the genre.
  • The Hunter – Richard Stark (pseudonym of prolific author Donald Westlake) created the ultimate criminal antihero when he came up with Parker, the hunter of the book’s title. Parker is the consummate professional. He’s no nonsense, careful, intelligent, and brutally efficient, but he made the mistake of trusting someone he shouldn’t have. They made the mistake of not making sure he was dead. Now he’s back, looking for revenge.
  • Irene – French author Pierre Lamaitre’s series about the diminutive Commandant Verhoeven starts with this clever, disturbing take on the detective series in which a brutal serial killer is leaving carefully arranged crime scenes that pay homage to classic crime novels of the past. The two follow-up books–Alex and Camille–are every bit as good (and as dark) as Irene.
  • Neuromancer – William Gibson’s sci-fi classic might seem like a strange fit, but, like many of the cyberpunk stories that would follow, Neuromancer borrows heavily from noir and pulp crime, wrapping them in the chrome, neon, and techno-jargon of a sci-fi future setting. Case, a burned out hacker stripped of his talent after he betrayed a vengeful employer, is offered a chance to regain his old life if he joins a small team for a two part heist/break-in.
  • Midnight Riot – If you’re looking for a dash of fantasy and magic in your detective fiction, Ben Aaronvitch has you covered with his Peter Grant series, which starts with this book. In it, a young Probationary Constable who dreams of making detective finds himself caught up in a most unusual crime. When his key witness turns out to be a ghost, he discovers a hidden side of London that few have access to.

 

Graphic Novels:

  • Criminal – You’d be hard pressed to find a creator today who has done even half as much for crime comics as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have. Their entire careers have involved producing some of the most interesting and incredible crime and noir comics ever produced. Criminal, one of their most famous collaborations, is a series of self contained, but inter-related, stories about the criminal underworld of the fictional Center City.
  • Road to Perdition – This graphic novel, by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, is loosely based on real events, and is modeled on the manga series Lone Wolf and Cub. In it, an enforcer for a crime syndicate is betrayed by the organization and must flee with his young son while persuing revenge.
  • Batman: Long Halloween – This Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaboration set in the early years of Batman’s career finds the Dark Knight tracking down the mysterious Holiday Killer while simultaneously trying to put an end to a brutal crime war between Gotham City’s two most powerful crime families.
  • 100 Bullets – This series, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, starts off as a series of seemingly self-contained stories focusing a mysterious man approaching people who have been wronged in some way and giving them an opportunity for revenge. He gives them a briefcase with incontrovertible proof of the identity of the person who harmed them, a gun, and a guarantee that they will not face any legal repercussions for their actions should they pursue revenge.
  • Fell – This crime procedural, by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith, follows detective Richard Fell after he is transferred from the big city to the crumbling wasteland that is Snowtown; a borough so rotten it would have to greatly improve to be considered a slum.

 

Film:

  • Brick – Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in this film about a missing girl that takes the genre conventions of a noir detective story and transposes them onto an American high school. The dialogue is crisp and clever, and the genre tropes work surprisingly well in the new setting.
  • Dark City – A man, John Murdoch, wakes up alone in a strange hotel. He can’t remember who he is, and he can’t remember why he is there. He answers the phone, and is told that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders he can’t recall. As he tries to discover the truth, he finds himself chased by strange men in dark coats.
  • Lost Highway – This strange film, from surreal director David Lynch, finds a troubled jazz musician trying to salvage his crumbling marriage. When a series of strange and disturbing video tapes are dropped at their door, the couple find themselves further apart than ever. This being a David Lynch film, the story takes a particularly bizarre turn when the musician is arrested on murder, but disappears from his cell, only to be replaced by a completely different person. This is a mind bending, fascinating film that will have you debating what it all means.
  • Memento – Leonard, who suffers anterograde amnesia, tries to track down his wife’s killer by leaving himself notes and tattooing important information onto his own body in this film from Christopher Nolan.
  • Strange Days – In this sci-fi noir, a former cop, Lenny, spends his days selling the recorded memories of other people (which can be played back via virtual reality) and pining for his ex. When a famous musician and activist is murdered, and Lenny discovers that he has evidence implicating the murderer in the form of one of his discs, a desperate game of cat and mouse ensues.