In his 1950 essay The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler outlined the character of the modern detective, in words fit to quote at length:
“…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. … He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor — by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. He is a lonely man…”
From that day to this, hardboiled fiction writers have offered variations of this theme, some memorable and some not so. When an author gets it right, he brings us a character with such enduring pathos that we will follow him to the ends of the earth, to hell and back, for years on end. Chandler himself did it with Phillip Marlowe, Ross MacDonald did it with Lew Archer, and Michael Connelly has followed in their footsteps with his maverick detective Harry Bosch, sometime of the LAPD, and admired by millions.
We admire the stoic integrity with which Bosch grapples with the morally compromised world which it his endless job to make a little bit better, or at least more just. We identify with his own doubts and fears, and are moved by his sacrifice as he gives up some part of his soul to the unforgiving business of meeting evil, day in and day out, settign aside his own happiness to rescue others, or to try. We sympathise with his frustrations as he struggles against the banalities and bureaucracies of modern life.
And when we have read all his books and are waiting for the next, we look about for another hero who we can believe in half as much. Here is a list of some excellent hardboiled mysteries featuring heroes with a lot of the same appeal as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Can you think of any other great hardboiled detectives that have the same feel and appeal?