Mysteries and thrillers make up the most popular sub-genre of literature and no part of that sub-genre has gotten as much critical acclaim as detective fiction. While many sub-genres still struggle to get recognition as serious or literary fiction, Raymond Chandler’s 1953 classic “The Long Goodbye” has been included on at least one list of the best 100 novels in 20th century English literature. Start your introduction to detective fiction by reading three classics of the genre and then comparing them to their best film adaptations, two of which are among the best of Film Noir.
“The Maltese Falcon”
Dashiell Hammett introduced his character Sam Spade in his 1930 novel, “The Maltese Falcon.” It was serially published in the detective magazine “The Black Mask” the previous year. Widely considered his best novel, it has been voted No. 2 of The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time] by the Mystery Writers of America.
If you think you’ll want to read more of Hammett’s work, this beautiful Everyman edition is hardbound with sewn signature binding and includes two more of his novels, “Red Harvest” and “The Thin Man.”
“The Maltest Falcon” was made into a movie as early as a year after the novel was published, then again (under a different name) in 1936 but it was John Huston’s 1941 version that is best known. Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade in this film which some scholars claim is the first example of a “film noir.”
“The Big Sleep”
Raymond Chandler’s 1939 hard-boiled crime novel “The Big Sleep” was his first to feature the detective Philip Marlowe. Like “The Maltest Falcon” it is one of the most revered and loved books in crime fiction. I recently read the wonderful annotated edition, which includes a feast of explanatory text and pictures, published in side-by-side pages for easy reference.
The Howard Hawks 1946 film version is a film noir classic. The Blu-ray edition includes a rarely seen 1945 cut made for soldiers that includes a narration that makes the difficult plot easier to digest. I prefer the 1946 cut, but this is a cool extra. Meanwhile, some prefer the 1978 adaptation with the L.A. setting changed to London and Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe.
“The Moving Target”
Ross MacDonald is considered the heir to the Chandler legacy and he wrote many more novels than his mentor. MacDonald’s writing is not as stylish as Chandlers, but it contains more psychological depth. His 19 novel “The Moving Target” was the first of two of his novels to be turned into a movie. The name was changed to “Harper.” And MacDonald’s detective Lew Archer’s name was changed to Harper as well. Some say it was because star Paul Newman had had prior successes with films whose title started with an “H” so he asked for the name change.