The Top 100 Hard-Boiled Characters of the Twentieth Century,
As Chosen by the Members of Rara-Avis,
and compliled by Joe Dante and Mark Blumenthal

In March and April of 2002, the members of Rara-Avis, the web's premier disscussion group for all things hard-boiled, decided to poll its members on the The Top 100 Hard-Boiled Characters of the Twentieth Century.

Readers were invited to submit their top twenty votes via e-mail. In announcing the winners, co-compiler Mark Blumenthal had this to say:

"Here is our selection of the 100 (actually 111, to allow for ties) best hard-boiled characters (in literature). Although there are several many of us would not consider hard-boiled, most of our ballots had a large majority of characters who made it into the top 111... Of those authors who had more than three characters in the best 111, Dashiell Hammett had six characters and Walter Mosley, George Pelecanos, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and James Ellroy had four apiece. Of those characters that debuted in the 90's Easy Rawlins and Harry Bosch received the most votes."

Seems like Mark wasn't too happy with some of the results, but personally, I was very pleased to see the high regard in which some relatively obscure characters were held, for one, and the wide variety of characters who made it, in general. If hard-boiled is more about attitude than surface trappings, then I have no problem with the final list, really. Though I'm still very conscious of how availability affects the vote. Some of my beloved pulp characters and relatively forgotten P.I.s who just made it to the list could easily rank much higher, I think, if only more people had read them. And, of course, it's a little disappointing that supporting players from popular novels (bolstered in some cases by popular films) cracked the list, while protagonists from some now difficult-to-find novels and series didn't crack it at all. Like, Jo Gar didn't make it? Bummer...

Still, a pretty good list.

The Top 100
(Actually, 111, allowing for ties... )

  • 1. Philip Marlowe (from the series by Raymond Chandler)
  • 2. Sam Spade (from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 3. The Continental Op (from the series by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 4. Lew Archer (from the series by Ross Macdonald)
  • 5. Matt Scudder (from the series by Lawrence Block)
  • 5. Parker (from the series by Richard Stark)
  • 7. Travis McGee (from the series by John D. MacDonald)
  • 8. Easy Rawlins (from the series by Walter Mosley)
  • 9. Harry aka Hieronymus Bosch (from the series by Michael Connelly)
  • 10. Hoke Moseley (from the series by Charles Willeford)
  • 11. Lou Ford (from the novels The Killer Inside Me and Wild Town by Jim Thompson)
  • 12. Mike Hammer (from the series by Mickey Spillane)
  • 13. Matt Helm (from the series by Donald Hamilton)
  • 14. Dave Robicheaux (from the series by James Lee Burke)
  • 14. Nick Stefanos (from the series by George Pelecanos)
  • 14. Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson (from the series by Chester Himes)
  • 14. C.W. Sughrue (from the series by James Crumley)
  • 14. Hap Collins & Leonard Pine (from the series by Joe R. Lansdale)
  • 14. Nameless (from the series by Bill Pronzini)
  • 14. John Rebus (from the series by Ian Rankin)
  • 14. Mouse (from the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley)
  • 22. Spenser (from the series by Robert B. Parker)
  • 23. Eddie Coyle (from the novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins)
  • 24. Brigid O'Shaughnessy (from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 25. V.I. Warshawski (from the series by Sara Paretsky)
  • 26. Dudley Smith (from the novels by James Ellroy)
  • 26. Paul Pine (from the series by Howard Browne)
  • 26. Dimitri Karras (from the series by George Pelecanos)
  • 26. Arkady Renko (from the series by Martin Cruz Smith)
  • 30. Hanson (from the novels by Kent Anderson)
  • 30. Burke (from the series by Andrew Vachss)
  • 30. Ned Beaumont (from the novel The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 30. Artie Wu & Quincy Durant (from the series by Ross Thomas)
  • 30. Tom Ripley (from the series by Patricia Highsmith)
  • 30. Hawk (from the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker)
  • 36. Amos Walker (from the series by Loren D. Estleman)
  • 36. Kinsey Millhone (from the series by Sue Grafton)
  • 36. Steve Carella (from the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain)
  • 36. George Smiley (from the series by John Le Carre)
  • 36. James Bond (from the series by Ian Fleming)
  • 41. Jack Reacher (from the series by Lee Child)
  • 41. Earl Drake (from The Operation series by Dan J. Marlowe)
  • 41. Bill Crane (from the series by Jonathan Latimer)
  • 41. Keller (from the Hit Man series by Lawrence Block)
  • 41. Frank Chambers (from the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain)
  • 41. Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (from the novel Miami Blues by Charles Willeford)
  • 41. Dan Kearney (from the DKA series by Joe Gores)
  • 41. Hannibal Lecter (from the series by Thomas Harris)
  • 41. Batman (from the comics/novels series by various authors)
  • 41. Chili Palmer (from the novels Get Shorty and Be Cool by Elmore Leonard)
  • 51. Martin Beck (from the series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo)
  • 51. Lucas Davenport (from the series by John Sandford)
  • 51. Doc McCoy (from the novel The Getaway by Jim Thompson)
  • 51. Peter Bondurant (from the trilogy by James Ellroy)
  • 51. Harry Lime (from the novel The Third Man by Graham Greene)
  • 51. Buzz Meeks (from the novel The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy)
  • 51. Dan Turner (from the series by Robert Leslie Bellem)
  • 51. Milo Milodragovitch (from the series by James Crumley)
  • 51. Lew Griffin (from the series by James Sallis)
  • 51. Mario Balzic (from the series by K.C. Constantine)
  • 61. Charlie Resnick (from the series by John Harvey)
  • 61. Jack Carter (from the series by Ted Lewis)
  • 61. Clete Purcell (from the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke)
  • 61. Max Latin (from the short stories by Norbert Davis)
  • 61. Lloyd Hopkins (from the series by James Ellroy)
  • 61. Joe Friday (from the Dragnet series by various authors)
  • 61. Shell Scott (from the series by Richard S. Prather)
  • 61. Nate Heller (from the series by Max Allan Collins)
  • 61. Nick Corey (from the novel Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson)
  • 61. Nick and Nora Charles (from the novel The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 71. Marcus Clay (from the series by George Pelecanos)
  • 71. Socrates Fortlow (from the series by Walter Mosley)
  • 71. Richard Bone (from the novel Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg)
  • 71. Detective Sergeant Department of Unexplained Deaths (from the Factory series by Derek Raymond)
  • 71. Elvis Cole (from the series by Robert Crais)
  • 71. Walter Huff (from the novel Double Indemnity by James M Cain)
  • 71. James Figueras (from the novel The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford)
  • 71. Casper Gutman (from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett)
  • 71. Mike Shayne (from the series by Brett Halliday)
  • 71. Frank Clemons (from the trilogy by Thomas Cook)
  • 71. Sharon McCone (from the series by Marcia Muller)
  • 71. Race Williams/Three Gun Mack (from the series by Carroll John Daly)
  • 71. John Shaft (from the series by Ernest Tidyman)
  • 71. David Brandstetter (from the series by Joseph Hansen)
  • 71. Jack Liffey (from the series by John Shannon)
  • 71. Perry Mason (from the series by Erle Stanley Gardner)
  • 87. Bernie Gunther (from the Berlin Trilogy by Philip Kerr)
  • 87. Joe Gall (from the series by Philip Atlee)
  • 87. Jonathan Hemlock (from the from the novels The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction by Trevanian)
  • 87. Kells (from the novel Fast One by Paul Cain)
  • 87. Joe Pike (from the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais)
  • 87. Fast Eddie Felson (from the novels The Hustler and The Color of Money by Walter Tevis)
  • 87. Bob Lee Swagger (from the series by Steven Hunter)
  • 87. Cora Papadakis (from the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain)
  • 87. Roy Dillon (from the novel The Grifters by Jim Thompson)
  • 87. Eva Wylie (from the from the series by Liza Cody)
  • 87. Ed and Am Hunter (from the series by Fredric Brown)
  • 87. Skink a.k.a. The Governor (from the a recurring character in the novels by Carl Hiassen)
  • 87. Derek Strange (from the series by George Pelecanos)
  • 87. Lionel Essrog (from the novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem)
  • 87. Charlie Arglist (from the novel The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips)
  • 87. Richard Hudson (from the novel The Woman Chaser by Charles Willeford)
  • 87. Ernest Stickney (from the novels Stick and Swag by Elmore Leonard)
  • 87. John Marshall Tanner (from the series by Stephen Greenleaf)
  • 87. Doc Ford (from the series by Randy Wayne White)
  • 87. Jay Gatsby (from the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • 87. Dick Tracy (from the newspaper strip by Chester Gould)
  • 87. Mick Ballou (from the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block)
  • 87. Quiller (from the series by Adam Hall)
  • 87. Deputy Detective Carl Houseman (from the series by Donald Harstad)
  • 87. Maigret (from the series by Georges Simenon)

The 21 runner-ups
(Joe Gar almost made it):

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

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