The Rara-Avis Blown Away List of Hard-Boiled Writers
Compiled by Mark Blumenthal

In December 1999, as the millennium drew to a close, Mark Blumenthal posed this question to the members of Rara-Avis, the world's premier hard-boiled crime fiction discussion list:

"What established hard boiled authors have ever you read whose work so blew you away on first exposure that you tried to find and then read all they had written as soon as possible?"

According to Mark, there were 54 lists and one wishy washy abstention. One person, recovering from recent lung surgery, e-mailed hers directly to Mark. Some people named more than five authors. Several prefaced their lists with something like, "assuming the big three are a given" and listed five more authors. Others just gave more than five. Unless there was a clear break after the fifth name, Mark decided to accept more than the five names rather than arbitrarily chopping off a list at the required number. Having had the experience of running rotisserie baseball leagues since 1989, he knows you can't please everyone. He apologizes to those who agonized at leaving off a favorite author to keep their list at only five names.

As Mark comments, "I expected a few replies to my post, not over 50. I guess this has to serve, per force, as a definitive list of our favorites, if not of our idea of the best. We certainly did not prefer the most recent in the field as many popular best of the century lists seem to do. Most of the top ten authors are not living, and the majority of of Rara Avians probably weren't alive when Chandler's last novel, Playback, was published in 1958.

I think the leaders are pretty much who we'd expect, but I was mildly surprised that Robert Parker was virtually ignored. If this survey had been taken as recently as the mid eighties I think he would have been in the top five. I know he would have been one of my picks then."

Of course, not all hard-boiled writers are private eye writers, but it's interesting how many of them are.

 And now the results:
  • 1. Raymond Chandler (28)
  • 2. Dashiel Hammett (25)
  • 3. James Ellroy (16)
  • 4. Jim Thompson (15)
  • 5. Ross Macdonald (13)
  • 6. James Crumley (11)
  • 7. Charles Willeford (11)
  • 8. Donald Westlake/Richard Stark (10)
  • 9. James Cain (9)
  • 10. Michael Connely (7)
  • 11. David Goodis (5)
  • 11. Elmore Leonard (5)
  • 11. George Pelecanos (5)
  • 14. Robert Crais (4)
  • 14. Chester Himes (4)
  • 14. Derek Raymond (4)
  • 14. Richard Barre (3)
  • 18. Lawrence Block (3)
    .
  • 18. Donald Hamilton (3)
  • 18. John D. MacDonald (3)
  • 18. Walter Moseley (3)
  • 18. Bill Pronzini (3)
  • 18. Ross Thomas (3)
  • 24. Kent Anderson (2)
  • 24. Bowen (2)
  • 24. Howard Browne/John Evans (2)
  • 24. James Lee Burke (2)
  • 24. Norbert Davis (2)
  • 24. Ed Gorman (2)
  • 24. Stephen Greenleaf (2)
  • 24. John Harvey (2)
  • 24. Stephen Hunter (2)
  • 24. Dennis Lehane (2)
  • 24. Ed McBain (2)
  • 24. Robert B. Parker (2)
36 (79 with one mention each):  
  • Richard Abshire
  • Neil Albert
  • Leigh Brackett
  • Carter Brown
  • Max Allan Collins
  • Collins, Michael
  • K.C. Constantine
  • Tim Dorsey
  • Robert Ferrigno
  • Joe Gores
  • James Hall
  • Laurell Hamilton
  • Steve Hamilton
  • Joseph Hansen
  • Timothy Harris
  • Gar Anthony Haywood
  • Jeremiah Healy
  • Carl Hiaasen
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Dorothy Hughes
  • Joe R. Lansdale
  • Jonathan Latimer
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Ted Lewis
  • Dan Marlowe
  • Danny Martin
  • Horace McCoy
  • Wade Miller
  • Manuel Vasquez Montalban
  • Kem Nunn
  • Gary Phillips
  • Peter Rabe
  • Ian Rankin
  • John Shannon
  • Sjowall & Wahloo
  • Mickey Spillane
  • Newton Thornburg
  • John Wainright
  • Joseph Wambaugh
  • Harry Whittington
  • Fred Willard
  • Charles Williams
  • Don Winslow
  • Daniel Woodrell

Thanks to Mark Blumenthal and, as always, William Denton, who manages the Rara-Avis list.


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