When You're Quoted,
You'll Take It and Like It!

"We work in the dark, We do what we can,
We give what we have, Our doubt is our passion,
And our passion is our task"

-- Henry James, "The Middle Years" (1893)

Out of the mouths of dicks...

  • "Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse. "

-- Jake Gittes offers advice in Chinatown (1974), directed by Roman Polanski

  • "Don't ignore intuitive tickles lest they reappear as sledgehammers."

-- Tenzing Norbu, Tibetan monk turned P.I., in The First Rule of Ten (2012)

  • "I'm trying to be a gentleman. Get down on your knees. Put your ass in the air."

-- Jake Gittes consoles a widow in The Two Jakes (1990)

  • "If I wasn't hard, I wouldn't be alive. If I couldn't ever be gentle, I wouldn't deserve to be alive"

-- Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's Playback, in response to the question, "How can a hard man be so gentle?"

  • "Playing detective is like being a gravedigger. There's always dirt to be dug up, people willing to pay to have it dug up. But what kind of a man wants to spend his life scrounging for human rot six feet underground?"

-- Mike Brennen in Fred Zackel's Cocaine and Blue Eyes

  • "I like being a private eye, and even though once in a while, I've had my gums massaged with an automobile jack, the sweet smell of greenbacks makes it all worthwhile. Not to mention the dames."

-- Kaiser Lupowitz in Woody Allen's "Mr. Big"

  • "Does your mother know what you do for a living?"

-- Jim Rockford to thug

  • " ... the hard thing to do is the right thing to do. "

-- Travis McGee in The Lonely Silver Rain (1985) by John D. MacDonald

  • "A tough case ends with a corpse, a good case ends with a piss."

-- Nick Danger, on a job well done, in The Case of the Missing Yolks

  • "My name is Kinsey Millhone. I am a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I am thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind."

-- Kinsey Millhone in A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

  • "Being an adult means accepting those situations where no action is possible."

-- Travis McGee in The Green Ripper (1979) by John D. MacDonald

  • "There's nothing left of this profession, Frank, it's all over."

-- Al Hickey in 1972 P.I. classic Hickey & Boggs, directed by Robert Culp


  • "Never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own."

-- Lew Archer in Black Money by Ross Macdonald. Also used as an epigram in James Crumley's The Wrong Case, althought it seems the quote is actually by Nelson "Walk on the Wild Side" Algren. At least Macdonald acknowledges its source, when Archer prefaces it with "A wise man in Chicago once said..."

  • "Maybe she was trying too hard. Most women who wear black during the day are trying too hard."

-- Mike Brennen in Fred Zackel's Cocaine and Blue Eyes

  • "If we ain't supposed to eat pussy, why does it look like a taco?"

-- Zachariah Smith, in Cat's Paw, Inc. (1991)

  • "Leave us to do the thinking sweetheart. It takes equipment."

-- Philip Marlowe in The Little Sister (1949) by Raymond Chandler


  • "That's it, I'm getting a vibrator."

-- Jinx Alameda on the men in her life, in Brian Michael Bendis' Jinx.

Femme Fatales

  • "Seriously, are we still so terrified of pussy?"

-- Christa Faust drops the hammer in her Ten Rules to Write Noir

On Love

  • "Hell," I said, "I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?"

-- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway,

  • "I loved her like a rabbit loves a rattlesnake."

-- Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

On Beauty

  • "To say she had a face that would stopped a clock would have been to insult her. It would have stopped a runaway horse."

 -- Philip Marlowe in The Little Sister (1949) by Raymond Chandler

On Sex

  • "I'm going to **** you."
    I said "What?"
    "I'm gonna **** you."
    There. She'd said it. She was going to asterisk me.

-- Shell Scott recounting the advances of a female admirer in Bodies in Bedlam by Richard Prather

  • "True love may be blind, but good sex sends you cross-eyed."

-- Fitzroy Maclean Angel pontificates on the meaning of life in That Angel Look by Mike Ripley

On Honour

  • "What I do for a living may not be very reputable. But I am. In this town I’m the leper with the most fingers.”

-- Jake Gittes in The Two Jakes

On Courage

  • '"Tis better to make a good run than a bad stand."

-- M.V. Heberden, creator of private eye Desmond Shannon

It's Just a Matter of Trust

  • "Don't get me wrong. I'm not a tough guy -- just careful. I don't know hell's first whisper about you. You might be a lifetaker for all I know."

-- Brody to Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

  • "The public is an untrustworthy animal. "

-- Travis McGee in The Quick Red Fox (1964) by John D. MacDonald

Men Are Such Pigs

  • "The outline of the legs was eye-catching, and the hips and waist were wonderful, but I lost interest when I came to breasts like potato pancakes."

-- Shell Scott relating the charms (or lack thereof) of a woman in Bodies in Bedlam by Richard Prather.

Can we talk?

  • "Now, sir, we'll talk if you like. And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

-- Casper Gutman (who evidently likes to talk), to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

  • "Never tell anybody anything unless you're going to get something better in return."

-- V.I. Warshawski in Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

Crime and Punishment

  • "...they don't put towns in jail. They probably should, but they don't."

-- John Marshall Tanner in Grave Error by Stephen Greenleaf

  • "The only thing that prisons demonstrably cure is heterosexuality. "

-- Travis McGee in The Long Lavender Look (1970) by John D. MacDonald

  • "The only possible solution to this deadly trade is to ignore it. Legalize (cocaine) along with marijuana. Then the infrastructure will sag and collapse. It will no longer be fashionable. Street dealers will no longer hustle new customers on high school sidewalks. And men won't die in the squalid massacres... But maybe it is too late for legalization. The bureaucracy of detection and control has a huge national payroll... Legalization will be fought bitterly by politicians who will say that to do so will imperil our children. Are they not now imperiled?"

-- Travis McGee in The Lonely Silver Rain (1985)

  • "Not even the names have been changed. Why bother? To protect the innocent? There were no innocent..."

-- The Pregnant Widow (2010) by Martin Amis

On Lawyers

  • "Maybe if we all behave ourselves for a hundred years, they'll all go away."

-- Jane Whitefield on lawyers in Dance of the Dead (1995) by Thomas Perry

Politics, Schmolitics, They Oughtta Hold Their Breath

  • "... as empty as a congressman's mind"

--Race Williams describes a street in The Snarl of the Beast by John Carroll Daly (1927)

On Wandering Daughter Jobs

  • "But, hell! Looking for a missing dame in Hollywood is like trying to find a drop of butter in a kettle of boiling lard."

-- Dan Turner in "Death's Bright Halo" by Robert Leslie Bellem

Wasn't That a Party?

  • "Okay, Marlowe" I said to myself, "you're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now lets see you try something really tough like putting your trousers on."

-- Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) in Murder My Sweet

Location, Location, Location!

  • "Nothing is wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure."

-- Lew Archer in The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald

Steady, Chum...

  • "You better go lay down somewhere, buddy. If I'm any judge of color, you're goin' to shoot your cookies."

-- Bernie Ohls, the D.A.'s man, consoles a cabbie who's just shot two men, in "Finger Man" by Raymond Chandler.

It's Just a Scratch...

  • "There is a bullet in my chest, less than a centimeter from my heart. I don't think about it much anymore."

-- Alex McKnight in A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton

Guns, Guns, Guns...

  • "I gotta get a bigger gun. I can't hit anything."

-- Frank Boggs in 1972 P.I. classic Hickey & Boggs

  • "This gun ain't ham on rye."

-- Mitch Hennessy in The Long Kiss Good Night

  • "My, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains."

-- Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946)

  • "I think if you need to use a gun you're doing a lousy job as a detective."

-- Spade & Archer by Joe Gores

In Your Face

  • "He pushed the door open and headed out to see what the fuck."

-- Young Junius by Seth Harwood

Because the Night Belongs to Us...

  • "I'm in Mike Hammer mode, puffing on Kools reading cheap detective novels sitting in the lobby waiting for William Burroughs. He comes in dressed to the nines in a dark gabardine overcoat, gray suit, and tie. I sit for a few hours at my post scribbling poems. He comes stumbling out of the El Quixote a bit drunk and disheveled. I straighten his tie and hail him a cab. It's our unspoken routine."

-- from Just Kids by Patti Smith

All Apologies

  • "I know there's nothing I can do to square myself for such a terrible act, but I hope you'll let me cut my throat and bleed in one of your garbage cans as a sort of apology."

-- The Continental Op in "Dead Yellow Women" by Dashiel Hammett

On the Big Guy

  • "I took my own divinity where I could find it, and most of the time it was measured in small sips, usually delivered through natural beauty and acts of unprovoked kindness."

-- Junior Bender waxes philosophic on Christmas Eve, in In Fields Where They Lay (2016)

On Being Hard-Boiled...

  • "I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights."

-- Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler

  • "It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night is another thing."

-- The Sun Also Rises by ernest Hemingway

  • "I have met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you're twenty minutes."

-- Oscar Wilde

  • "I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you - you're twenty minutes."

-- from the 1951 film Ace in the Hole, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Kirk Douglas as a man trapped in a collapsed mine.

  • "Every hard-boiled egg is yellow inside."

-- Unknown

  • "If he farts, kill him."

-- former lawman Oscar Schiller's advice for properly guarding a suspect in 1991 P.I./Western classic The Search for Temperance Moon by Douglas Jones.

Of course, almost all of Dashiell Hammett''s The Maltese Falcon could be quoted here. It's probably this genre's Hamlet, as far as quotability goes. And I hear this Chandler guy may have fired off a good line or two, as well...

List compiled by Kevin Burton Smith, with ample contributions and suggestions from Peter Walker, Jan Long, Jim Doherty, OddMonster and a cast of thousands.

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