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Hard-boiled Detectives

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hard boiledTough guys (and gals) with soft hearts, these PIs take on all cases, sometimes endangering themselves.  If you like “White Knights” with raw edges, read a few of these titles.

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Lawrence Block. A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

Facing his demons in his first year of sobriety, Matthew Scudder finds himself on the trail of a killer. When Scudder’s childhood friend Jack Ellery is murdered, presumably while attempting to atone for past sins, Scudder reluctantly begins his own investigation, with just one lead: Ellery’s Alcoholics Anonymous list of people he wronged. One of them may be a killer, but that’s not necessarily Scudder’s greatest danger. Immersing himself in Ellery’s world may lead him right back to the bar stool.

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James Lee Burke. Creole Belle.

While in a New Orleans recovery unit, detective Dave Robicheaux meets a Creole girl whose subsequent disappearance prompts his search for the girl’s sister against a backdrop of a bayou-threatening oil well rupture in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Raymond Chandler. The Long Goodbye.

An encounter with a down-on-his-luck war veteran brings both adventure and trouble to cynical private detective Philip Marlowe when he discovers that the man is the prime suspect in the murder of his wealthy nymphomaniac wife and the target of a crazy gangster.

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Harlan Coben.  Live Wire.

When a pregnant tennis star reports that her rock-artist husband has gone missing amid scandalous rumors, Myron Bolitar is forced to confront deep secrets about his client’s past while struggling with fatherhood roles in his personal life.

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Max Allen Collins.  Angel in Black.

She was a woman of uncompromising beauty who had come to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. Her quest ended in an abandoned lot on the outskirts of the city. First on the crime scene is newshound Bill Fowley, and at his side is Chicago private eye Nathan Heller, in town to help launch the West Coast branch of his famed detective agency. The police arrive at the brutal scene of the crime and suddenly the postwar world of Hollywood is plunged into the terror that is the Black Dahlia case. Only one problem persists: uncovering the woman’s identity. Her name was Elizabeth Short, and Heller vividly remembers her from Chicago. But revealing that he knew her can only land him atop a very short list of suspects. Heller’s own investigation starts with what he knew of the doomed wannabe starlet, with the crazed phone call he received from her just days before her death. But looking into her past means opening old wounds – and revealing secrets of his own. At the risk of his marriage, his career, and maybe even his life, Heller is drawn into an inescapable maze to lay bare a terrifying truth behind the facade of Hollywood’s make-believe world.

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Robert Crais. The Last Detective.

Elvis Cole’s relationship with attorney Lucy Chenier is strained. When she moved from Louisiana to join Elvis in Los Angeles, she never dreamed that violence would so easily touch her life. But then the unthinkable happens. While Lucy is away on business and her ten-year-old son, Ben, is staying with Elvis, Ben disappears without a trace. Desperate to believe that the boy has run away, Elvis soon receives a phone call that suggests a much darker scenario. Joining forces with his enigmatic partner, Joe Pike, Elvis frantically searches for Ben with the help of LAPD Detective Carol Starkey, even as Lucy’s wealthy, oil-industry ex-husband attempts to wrest away control of the investigation. Amid the maelstrom of personal conflicts, Elvis and Joe are forced to consider a troubling and recurring possibility – that Ben’s disappearance is not random, but is connected to a terrible long-held secret from Elvis Cole’s past. Venturing deep inside a complex psyche, Robert Crais explores Elvis’s search for family – the military that embraced him as a troubled adolescent, his rock-solid partnership with Pike, and his floundering relationship with Lucy – as he races the clock in his search for Ben.

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James Crumley. Mexican Tree Duck.

It seems that no one can find Sarita Cisneros Pines – not her well-connected Republican husband, not the FBI, not even a group of violence-prone guys with vaguely South American accents. And when Sughrue starts searching, working his way from Montana to Aspen, to the Mexican border, he comes up empty too. Empty but for a woman and infant who become Sughrue’s responsibility and obsession…the small, strange, hollowed-out sculpture of a duck that means more than he can imagine – and the blood that keeps getting spilled on his shoes. Sughrue, along with a ragged band of Vietnam buddies, a tough-talking female undercover deputy, and an assorted cast of wanderers, lawbreakers, and lost souls, is in the middle of a war he can’t understand. And unlike his last war, C.W. will fight this one to the end, trying to separate traitors from friends and the enemy from the innocent.

Earl Emerson. The Vanishing Smile.

Marian Wright is an amateur sleuth in the employ of two attractive young women eager to catch up with their no-account ex-lovers. Spry and seventyish, Marian has all the resourcefulness of a professional gumshoe, and the relentlessness of a woman with a score of her own to settle. When Marian’s investigation ends abruptly and ferociously–with Thomas Black and his estranged friend Kathy Birchfield as eyewitnesses–Thomas has a new case on his hands. Picking up the pieces of Marian Wright’s search for her clients’ rogue boyfriends, Thomas encounters a network of people–from ex-cons to prostitutes to other private investigators–all webbed together by a chilling common thread. It’s a discovery that speaks volumes about the zealousness of Marian’s manhunt, and even suggests a monstrous reason for her sudden death. Equally monstrous is an unknown, baseball-wielding assailant who seems hell-bent to ensure that the investigation stays closed. But Black doesn’t need a head-bashing to grasp the violent, virulent implications behind Marian Wright’s death. And readers don’t need to look further than The Vanishing Smile for the red-hot action and white-knuckle suspense that have become Earl Emerson’s trademarks.

Paul Engleman. Murder In-Law.

Mark Renzler, ballplayer turned shamus, is hired by one of his least favorite people–lawyer Mike O’Leary, his ex-father-in-law–to help with a daunting 1972 murder case: ex-Yankee Dwight Robinson, “the black Mickey Mantle,” has been accused of killing his rich, white, well-connected wife Cynthia. So, reluctant but curious, Renzler and sidekick Nate–a bulky, sloppy celebrity-painter–set off on a series of day-trips from Manhattan to suburban, country-clubby New Jersey. If Dwight didn’t kill Cynthia, then who did?

Loren Estleman. Retro.

Amos Walker has made a lot of friends – and a few enemies – in his years as a detective in Detroit, but he has never had to deal with quite the trouble he finds when he agrees to grant the deathbed wish of Beryl Garnet. Beryl was a madam with a long, successful career. She’s got no regrets about that, but she does about her son. She hasn’t seen him in a long time and would like him to know his mother never forgot him. So she asks Walker to make sure that her son gets her ashes when she’s gone. He obliges her, finding her son, who has been in Canada since the 1960s, evading the law since he was a Vietnam War protester. A simple favor, melancholy, but benign. Except that before he can get settled back in Detroit, Garnet’s son is dead, and Walker is the prime suspect. He has little choice but to find out who might have done the deed and tried to pin the blame on him and in the process he discovers another murder, of a prizefighter from the 1940s. Curtis Smallwood was the father of Beryl Garnet’s son. And it that wasn’t bad enough, the two murders, fifty-three years apart, were committed with the same gun.

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Joe Gores.  32 Cadillacs.

32 Cadillacs is the fourth novel in Joe Gores’ delightful series about the San Francisco private eye firm Dan Kearny Associates. This time the squad must recover 32 cadillacs stolen from their largest client by Gypsies to be a casket for their dying king. The result is a fast, furious, funny, nonstop action tale with esoteric Gypsy lore and hard-edged investigation.

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Sue Grafton. V is for Vengeance.

On her thirty-eighth birthday, Kinsey Millhone receives a facial punch that leaves her with a broken nose and two black eyes before she tackles a suspicious suicide involving a host of unscrupulous characters.

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Stephen Greenleaf.  Flesh Wounds.

“Marsh? It’s Peggy.” The words strike like lightning bolts into the life of John Marshall Tanner, reopening old wounds, rekindling old desires. The speaker is Peggy Nettleton, Tanner’s former secretary and former lover, who left his life six years earlier in circumstances too painful to remember. Now Peggy lives in Seattle and is about to marry Ted Evans, a wealthy investment banker. But Peggy has a problem – Nina Evans, Ted’s beautiful young daughter by a previous marriage, is missing. The young model has disappeared into Seattle’s netherworld after posing for some nude photographs. Peggy’s marriage can’t go forward until Nina is found. Peggy calls on her old boss for help. From art galleries to strip clubs, from porn kings to computer wizards, Tanner trails Nina to her oppressor’s lair. He will be tested as never before as he learns more than he cares to know about Peggy and the man to whom she is betrothed, and about the world of digital imagery and its capacity to generate electric evils.

Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade’s partner is murdered while working on a case, and it is Spade’s responsibility to find the killer. In his search, Spade runs mortal risks as he comes closer to the answer.

Charles Knief. Silversword.

We meet John Caine far from his beloved Hawaii protecting Chawlie, the Honolulu gangster, at the funeral of a rival Triad leader in San Francisco. Just as the coffin is placed in the hearse, a not totally unexpected shooting breaks out. Caine succeeds in keeping Chawlie intact and saving the life of Chawlie’s number one son, and his reward is a long stay in a San Francisco hospital and the enmity of a female police detective with her own agenda. It isn’t long before Caine learns that he is her prime suspect in a murder case. Back home, convalescing in Waikiki, Caine finds that there are better ways to pass the time than watching daytime TV when his old friend Hawaiian Police Chief Kimo presents him with a new case. Donna Wong, a young scientist, has made an important discovery under the waters of the Pacific – one that could turn the history of Hawaii upside down – but her faculty adviser is planning to steal it from her. Can Caine look into the man’s background to find out if he’s ever done this before? “Of course,” says Caine. “It’s easy.” But nothing is easy for John Caine. The California detective arrives in Hawaii to take him back to the mainland for trial. Dodging her, he learns that his friend is threatened with charges of extortion, kidnapping, and murder. And the imminent eruption of a new volcano threatens the site of Ms. Wong’s discovery. Despite his still weakened condition, Caine must run to the rescue, battered but still dangerous. And another bunch of bad guys learn an important lesson: Never count John Caine out.

John Lutz.  Serial.

When a young woman whose life he saved years ago is brutally tortured and then murdered, Frank Quinn will stop at nothing to stop a sadistic serial killer who enjoys making his victims suffer.

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John MacDonald. Dreadful Lemon Sky.

Travis McGee learns that he will have to earn the ten thousand dollars being paid him for hiding a small fortune aboard his houseboat, The Busted Flush.

Ross MacDonald. The Goodbye Look.

In searching for a gun used to commit two murders fifteen years apart, Lew Archer is introduced to California hobos and the nouveau riche in his attempt to solve the murder of another private eye.

Walter Mosley. Devil in a Blue Dress.

Devil in a Blue Dress honors the tradition of the classic American detective novel by bestowing on it a vivid social canvas and the freshest new voice in crime writing in years, mixing the hard-boiled poetry of Raymond Chandler with the racial realism of Richard Wright to explosive effect. Easy Rawlins, a tough World War II veteran and detective is hired by a financier and gangster to locate Daphne Monet, a search that leads him from elegant board meetings to the raucous jazz joints of late forties Los Angeles.

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Sara Paretsky. Breakdown.

When the teenage daughters of some of Chicago’s most influential families discover the body of a ritually murdered victim, investigator Warshawski explores theories that the killing is linked to a hostile media campaign against a senatorial candidate or a wealthy patriarch’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.

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Robert Parker. Hush Money.

With Hush Money, Parker adds another classic to the legendary series, with a morally complex tale that pits the burly Boston P. I. and his redoubtable cohort, Hawk, against local intellectual heavyweights. When Robinson Nevins, the son of Hawk’s boyhood mentor is denied tenure at the University, Hawk asks Spenser to investigate. It appears the denial is tied to the suicide of a young gay activist, Prentice Lamont. While intimations of an affair between Lamont and Nevins have long fed the campus rumor mill, no one is willing to talk, and as Spenser digs deeper he is nearly drowned in a multicultural swamp of politics: black, gay, academic, and feminist. At the same time, Spenser’s inamorata. Susan, asks him to come to the aid of an old college friend, K. C. Roth, the victim of a stalker. Spenser solves the problem a bit too effectively, and K. C., unwilling to settle for the normal parameters of the professional-client relationship, becomes smitten with him, going so far as to attempt to lure him from Susan. When Spenser, ever chivalrous, kindly rejects her advances, K. C. turns the tables and begins to stalk him. Then the case of Robinson Nevins turns deadly. It is, Spenser discovers, only the tip of the iceberg in a great conspiracy to keep America white, male, and straight. Spenser must call upon his every resource, including friends on both sides of the law, to stay alive.

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Bill Pronzini. Camouflage.

Nameless may not like David Virden, but the case is simple enough: find his ex-wife, and they know where she is. Deliver some papers to her and it is is all done. But she refuses the papers, sends a message to Virden to never contact her again, and slams the door. His colleague, Tamara, tells Nameless that Virden threatens to sue, stops payment on his checks, and claims that the woman they located is not his wife. Then he disappears and his fiancee hires Nameless to find out why. Clearly, someone is trying to make Nameless the monkey in the middle. The investigation that Nameless’s partner, Jake Runyon, has to undertake is personal and urgent. His girlfriend Bryn’s son, a pawn in a bitter divorce settlement, is being beaten and every indication is that his father is responsible. Is he bitter enough to take out his frustrations on a young boy, to fracture his arm? Then events turn on Jake: a dead woman, a bloodied Bryn, and a scared and silent child force him to look in other, darker, more deadly directions.

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Mickey Spillane. Big Bang.

In a tale completed from an unfinished Spillane outline, Mike Hammer rescues a young hospital messenger from drug-connected muggers in 1960s Manhattan and teams up with the beautiful Velda to tackle the illicit narcotics scene.

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James Swain.  Mr. Lucky.

Tony Valentine made his living and his name as a cop in Atlantic City – and is now known worldwide for his ability to spot the kinds of scams, grifts, and rip-offs that cost casinos billions every year. A man with a biting wit who drives a ’92 Honda, Tony is low-profile, old-school, and has seen it all – until he meets the luckiest man on earth. Ricky Smith was once a small-town loser. Then he went to Las Vegas, jumped out the window of a burning hotel, lived to tell the tale, and tore up the Strip on an incredible winning streak. Ricky didn’t just win at one slot machine or table game. He won at blackjack, roulette, and craps, and then beat the pants off the world’s greatest poker player. Tony knows that goofy, loudmouthed Ricky Smith – or anyone else, for that matter – couldn’t possibly be that fortunate. But when “Mr. Lucky” returns home to the little town of Slippery Rock, North Carolina, he keeps on winning everything from a horse race to a $50,000 lottery. Hired by a desperate casino, Tony starts to pry into Ricky’s past, his friends, and the strange little town that is benefiting from Ricky’s fame and fortune. Unfortunately for Tony, his cover is blown when he is forced to reveal a trick he has up his own sleeve: a pocket Glock he can shoot with laserlike precision. Suddenly, two men are dead, the cops are on Tony’s tail, and the investigation explodes in violence – putting the lives of Tony’s son and his young family in danger. For years, Tony’s son Gerry has dueled with his own criminal impulses. Now, the Ricky Smith case has lured Gerry through the gates of temptation and into a murderous confrontation with the Dixie Mafia. With Tony stuck on the slippery slope of Slippery Rock and Gerry fighting for his life, the Valentines are finding out just how bad good luck can get.

Jonathan Valin.  The Music Lovers.

Detective Harry Stoner has seen better days. It’s the middle of January and business is slower than a crawl. Curled up in his office with a paperback mystery, a little classical music on the radio, and a bottle of Scotch, Harry’s ready to cut his losses and hibernate until spring. The only problem is that Harry’s been living off Visa credit and Christmas cash, and the money faucet is beginning to run dry. Enter Leon Tubin, an odd little man with worn trousers but a pocketful of cash. Leon’s a collector of vintage LP recordings and he’s sure another member of his music-listening group is ripping him off. They’re all jealous of his record library, especially his Wagner-loving rival, Sherwood Loeffler. It seems to be nickel-and-dime stuff to Harry but Leon insists that the recordings in question are worth about ten thousand dollars. Convincing arguments are one thing, an advance of five crisp one-hundred-dollar bills is another. Harry takes the case. After interviews with Leon’s music-loving cronies, Harry is struck by their obsessive audio compulsions but almost positive that when it comes to grand theft, they are all on the up-and-up. It’s Leon’s blond bombshell of a wife, Sheila, who has Harry doing a double take. What’s a woman like her doing with a wimp like Leon? Sheila confides that Leon saved her years before from her days as a swizzle-stick lounge singer, and out of loyalty and true love she’d do anything to protect him. But what does Sheila’s past have to do with a bunch of stolen records? A bizarre trail of clues emerges but, in the end, Harry finds his case won’t be completely resolved even though he’s heard the fat lady sing over and over again.

Steven Womack. Murder Manual.

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MURDER I LEARNED IN NASHVILLE. The bestselling toast of Tennessee, author Robert Jefferson Reed has made big bucks with his little book of folksy homilies like “Never go to bed angry” and “Eat your vegetables.” He should have included “Don’t commit murder.” For when Reed’s wife hires P.I. Harry James Denton to catch her hubby in a tryst with a sexy secretary, Harry finds the author of Life’s Little Maintenance Manual strangled and drowned in his own hot tub. Caught at the scene of the crime, Harry is pegged as the prime suspect and must work double duty to avoid the specter of prison–and to pluck a murderer out of a dead man’s tangled past. . . .

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John Connolly.  The White Road.

After years of suffering unfathomable pain and guilt over the murders of his wife and daughter, private detective Charlie Parker has finally found some measure of peace. As he and his lover, Rachel, are awaiting the birth of their first child and settling into an old farmhouse in rural Maine, Parker has found the kind of solace often lost to those who have been touched by true evil. But darkness soon descends when Parker gets a call from Elliot Norton, an old friend from his days as a detective with the NYPD. Now practicing law in Charleston, South Carolina, Elliot is defending a young black man accused of raping and killing his white girlfriend, the daughter of a powerful Southern millionaire. Reluctantly, Parker agrees to help Elliot and by doing so ventures into a living nightmare, a bloody dreamscape haunted by the specter of a hooded woman and a black car waiting for a passenger who never arrives. Beginning as an investigation into a young woman’s death, it is a fast-moving descent into an abyss where forces conspire to destroy all that Parker holds dear.

Carl Hiaasen. Basket Case.

Once a hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, “plotting to resurrect my newspaper career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff.” Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, dead in a fishy-smelling scuba “accident,” might be the stiff of Jack’s dreams – if only he can figure out what happened. Standing in the way are (among others) his ambitious young editor, who hasn’t yet fired anyone but plans to “break her cherry” on Jack; the rock star’s pop-singer widow, who’s using the occasion of her husband’s death to re-launch her own career; and the soulless, profit-hungry owner of the newspaper, whom Jack once publicly humiliated at a stockholders’ meeting. With clues from the dead rock singer’s music, Jack ultimately unravels Jimmy Stoma’s strange fate – in a hilariously hard-won triumph for muckraking journalism, and for the death-obsessed obituary writer himself. “Always be halfway prepared” is Jack Tagger’s motto – and it’s more than enough to guarantee a wickedly funny, brilliantly entertaining novel from Carl Hiaasen.

Philip KerrBerlin Noir.

Ex-policeman Bernie Gunther thought he’d seen everything on the streets of 1930s Berlin. But then he went freelance, and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi subculture. And even after the war, amidst the decayed, imperial splendour of Vienna, Bernie uncovered a legacy that made the wartime atrocities look lily-white in comparison…

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Dennis LeHane. A Drink Before the War.

Kenzie and Gennaro are private investigators in the blue-collar neighborhoods and ghettos of South Boston-they know it as only natives can. Working out of an old church belfry, Kenzie and Gennaro take on a seemingly simple assignment for a prominent politician: to uncover the whereabouts of Jenna Angeline, a black cleaning woman who has allegedly stolen confidential state documents.  Finding Jenna, however, is easy compared to staying alive once they’ve got her. The investigation escalates, implicating members of Jenna’s family and rival gang leaders while
uncovering extortion, assassination, and child prostitution extending from bombed-out ghetto streets to the highest levels of government.

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Elmore Leonard. Get Shorty.

Chili Palmer, a Miami loanshark, and Harry Zimm, a film producer in debt, become reluctant partners as they become embroiled in the seductive but deadly Hollywood scene.

George Pelecanos. Hard Revolution.

Derek Strange is a rookie cop, the job he’s dreamed of since he was a boy. His brother, Dennis, has not been as fortunate; home from the service with a disability pension and zero prospects, he is a man with good intentions but bad habits. Derek has always looked out for Dennis, but no amount of brotherly love can save him from the dangerous world of Alvin Jones, a local bottom-feeder, hustler, and stone killer who draws him into his web of violence. While the rookie cop navigates the rocky terrain of a city in turmoil, a family in crisis, and his love for a woman he has driven away, Frank Vaughn, a cop at the opposite end of his career, investigates the vicious hit-and-run of a young black man. Vaughn’s personal life is a shambles, but he’s good police; he pursues the killers with sharklike intent. Meanwhile, in Memphis, a prophet is murdered, igniting a volcanic chain of events that will leave the nation’s capital burned, divided, and decimated, forever changing the lives of its working-class inhabitants. 

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Andrew Vachss.  Another Life.

When Pryce, a government-connected shadow-man, offers Burke up-to-date medical services for “the Prof” and a pardon in exchange for a dangerous mission, Burke takes on the job to rescue the kidnapped son of a Saudi prince.

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