Hardboiled detective novels (popular from 1920 through the 1950s) and the film noir genre inspired by them (popular from the 1940s through the 1950s) featured mystery-solving protagonists who were as tough as they were cynical. But if you look, you can find more hardboiled detective novels … not in the mystery section of the bookstore but in science fiction and fantasy.
I love hardboiled SF/F, which both grounds fantastical elements in reality and elevates crime into something completely unexpected. If you read this subgenre long enough, you’ll see that these novels tend to have certain elements in common:
* Our protagonist is some kind of policeman or private investigator, or perhaps a bounty hunter.
* He/she/it is cynical and unlucky in love—if there’s romance it is either unattainable, thwarted or doomed.
* There’s a point when the nature of the target or the mission is called into question. In SF/F, there may be a point where the nature of the protagonist him/her/itself is called into question. Sometimes both at the same time.
* The protagonist starts off damaged, and may become only less damaged after the resolution. There is high likelihood they will be more damaged, and a good chance they will know this ahead of time and persevere anyway.
* Knowing who committed the crime or what was really going on—and why—in no way at all leads to true satisfaction.
If all that sounds like your cup of tepid bitter coffee, here are XXX novels and series I’d like to recommend, plus several more at the end that deserve your attention. Instead of ranking them in terms of release date I’ve ranked them in order of bitterness. This noir can get very black indeed.
I’ve probably not read some obvious ones. Let me know which novels I’ve left off this list: I’ll take all the recommendations I can get.