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Making Crime Pay

I write and review crime fiction and thrillers and teach fiction writing and publishing at SSU.

Hardboiled vs. Noir

What's the difference between hardboiled and noir?



Hardboiled – tough American crime writing featuring graphic sex and violence, vivid urban backgrounds, fast-paced action, sassy dialogue and a tough, cynical, world weary investigator.


Generally, it does include a murder mystery. Cases that at first seem straightforward, often turn out to be quite complicated, forcing the investigator to embark on an odyssey through the urban landscape.


The typical American investigator in these novels is someone who:


  • works alone
  • has a tough loner personality
  • hangs out at shady all-night bars
  • is a heavy drinker but able to fight back when attacked
  • carries a gun
  • shoots criminals or takes a beating if it helps solve a case
  • is involved with organized crime and other lowlifes on the “mean streets” of, preferably Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or Chicago
  • has an ambivalent attitude towards the police
  • has an ambition to rid the world of its mean elements


Authors: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane


Chandler on the author of hardboiled fiction as opposed to the classic detective story: “gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.”



Noir – crime fiction or films characterized by fatalism, moral ambiguity, emotional darkness and often tragedy.


Noir is closely related to the hardboiled genre with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the protagonist.


Authors: James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis.


Woolrich on Noir: “I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t.”

Source: http://www.edensharp.com/crime-library