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Hardboiled Detective
"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun."
Philip Marlowe, Farewell My Lovely

A tough, cynical guy with a gun and a lot of Street Smarts, who solves mysteries with dogged persistence rather than astounding insight, the Hardboiled Detective was America's Darker and Edgier response to the classic ideal of the Great Detective.

The hardboiled detective is generally a Knight in Sour Armor or even an Anti-Hero who lives in a world of Black and Grey Morality. He's a Private Detective or Amateur Sleuth—usually the former. His services are required because the police are useless, corrupt or both, so he'll never be a cop, though he may be a retired one. Expect him to keep a bottle of scotch in his desk, which is probably located in an office in the low rent district. Recent depictions typically include the trademark trenchcoat and fedora over a rumpled suit, made popular by Humphrey Bogart.

Originating in the early part of the twentieth century, hardboiled detective stories quickly became a major subgenre of Mystery Fiction. Later, they became strongly associated with Film Noir. Raymond Chandler is considered the master of the genre, but it was Humphrey Bogart's depiction of detective Sam Spade in the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon (based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett), that became the Trope Codifier.

By the 1960s, the hardboiled detective had nearly become a Dead Horse Trope, but continuing interest in Film Noir kept it from the brink of extinction. Today it is most often seen in parodies and genre crossovers (the Hardboiled Detective In SPACE!!), but can still be played straight in Noir revival or homage. The style, language and fashion of the hard-boiled detective tends to remain solidly anchored in the 1930s and 1940s, though, no matter where he appears. Expect him to call his gun a "gat", to refer to women as "dames" and their legs as "gams".

See also: Private Detective, Amateur Sleuth, Film Noir and Fantastic Noir. Contrast with Great Detective, Kid Detective, and Little Old Lady Investigates. If the character simply provides first-person narration the way detectives in Film Noir often do, that's Private Eye Monologue.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Gai Kurasawa, a minor character in Darker Than Black is an affectionate parody of the hardboiled detective.
  • Gintama has an entire chapter parodying hardboiled detectives. The hardboiled detective in question uses the phrase to describe so many things that nobody knows what it means anymore.

    Audio Play 
  • In The Firesign Theater's "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger", from the album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?, the character Nick Danger, Third Eye is a surrealist take on the trope.
  • Decoder Ring Theatre's Black Jack Justice follows the adventures of two hardboiled detectives, occasionally switching between their often-conflicting narratives.

    Comic Books 
  • Hannibal King from Marvel Comics is a vampiric hardboiled detective.
  • Rorschach from Watchmen has some elements that seem like a shout-out to the trope, including the trenchcoat and fedora and the Private Eye Monologue (which is actually excerpts from his journal).
  • Dr. Occult from The DCU is a hardboiled Occult Detective.
  • From the Batman universe, Harvey Bullock is usually one of these. As was late 1980s supporting character Joe Potato.
  • The nameless protagonist of Potter's Field by Mark Waid is another.
  • Hellboy is an otherworldly version of the noir classic model, a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, cynical demon with Badass Longcoat who sticks his nose where it doesn't belong, takes a beating, etc. etc. He's often referred to as "The World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator".
  • The DC comic character Ms Tree, created by Max Allan Collins, is a relatively rare female hardboiled detective.
  • Steve Ditko loved Hardboiled Detectives, and his two (very similar) characters Mr. A and The Question are objectivist takes on the Trope.
  • The title character of the Spanish comic Blacksad is a hardboiled detective in the 1950s — and a cat.
  • Nightbeat from The Transformers, Transformers: Classics, and IDW's "-ations" is a Humongous Mecha homage to the genre, up to and including sporting a fedora and trenchcoat and "Bird of Prey!" in particular being almost a retelling of The Maltese Falcon. Whether he's an Amateur Sleuth, a "consulting detective" for the Autobots, or a Private Detective varies depending on the continuity, but he always has the same general hardboiled, noir-ish personality.
  • The two Nathaniel Dusk mini-series from DC Comics in the mid 1980s were a loving homage to the genre.
  • The titular character from 2000 AD's short lived gamebook/comic hybrid Diceman, Rick Fortune was a variation on this trope, being a hard boiled psychic investigator with a pair of magical dice that could summon a demon amongst other powers.
  • Dwight McCarthy of the Sin City series is a quite violent one of these, though he becomes more of a vigilante as the series goes on.
  • Bigby Wolf from the Fables series has all the archetypes of a hard boiled detective. In a way, Bigby subverts it; many hard boiled detectives take beatings, but Bigby is the only one who can (and does) retaliate by turning into a wolf and delivering violent beatdowns on his attackers.

    Film 

    Literature 

  • Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, protagonist of The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and other novels, is an iconic and much-copied example. Even the introduction to Marlowe in recent prints sums this trope up pretty well:
    I'm a licensed private investigator and have been a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers and sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, at it could to anyone in my business, nobody will feel the bottom has dropped out his or her life.
  • Dashiell Hammett has several, most notably, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, as well as the recurring, nameless character called "The Continental Op", as seen in Red Harvest.
  • Nick Feldman's Put The Sepia On stars an unnamed detective who owes the lion's share of his personality to Spade and Chandler, though he's a bit more self-loathing and less effective.
  • Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun" Terry Mack is possibly the Ur Example of this trope, predating Hammett's Continental Op by several months. Daly's Race Williams is also an example.
  • Rex Stout:
    • Archie Goodwin, in the Nero Wolfe series, was a partial deconstruction. Created during the trope's peak years, Goodwin had many of the classic elements, but he worked for Wolfe, the fat, home-bound Great Detective. Archie did all the footwork and fighting, but tended to avoid the cynicism and world-weariness of the true hardboiled detective.
    • Stout had another, much smaller and less popular series starring Tecumseh Fox, who was much more the straight hard-boiled type.
  • Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer was an early, over-the-top, ultraviolent, Knight Templar example who is often credited with helping turn the genre into a parody of itself.
  • Garrett, P.I. is the Hardboiled Detective Recycled In a Standard Fantasy Setting.
  • Neil Gaiman wrote some short stories featuring Lawrence Talbot, the Wolfman, as a hardboiled private investigator. "Only the End of the World Again" is one.
  • The Marcus Didius Falco series starts out as the hardboiled detective Recycled In Ancient Rome (though he mellows as the series goes on). Living centuries before Noir was invented makes him amusingly Genre Blind.
  • Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files is part this, part Sherlock Holmes (showing surprising deductive skills on occasion, to nigh Sherlock Scan levels), part Gandalf. With emphasis on the world weariness by around book 3. The snark continues unabated.
  • Invoked by Vincent Rubio in Anonymous Rex. He's a detective — and a velociraptor! He claims he's not really hard-boiled, but he acts like he is because that's what the customers expect. He even uses the "Bogart" persona to pick up female dinos.
  • Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski is a distaff version of the (usually) male hardboiled detective.
  • Lazlo Woodbine, from the Far Fetched Fiction of Robert Rankin, is a blatant parody. He insists on using the first person, getting knocked unconscious at his first appearance and can only appear in four scenes (his office, a bar, an alleyway and a rooftop). Considering the outlandish nature of his books, often involving things such as time-traveling Elvis doing battle with Eldritch Abominations out to unmake existence, this makes things awkward.
  • Eddie Valiant from Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is an homage.
  • Conrad Metcalf, the protagonist of Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music. is a hard-boiled detective in a world that doesn't really have a use for them anymore.
  • Kinsey Milhone from Sue Grafton's "Alphabet Mysteries" is another example of a female hard-boiled detective.
  • Rosie Lavine from Melisa Michaels' Cold Iron and Sister to the Rain is a Chandleresque hardboiled detective Recycled In Urban Fantasy. (Though she prefers gin to scotch.)
  • Patrick Kenzie from the Kenzie and Gennaro Series is an updated version set in Boston; a sort of homage to the classics, with all the style, but without many of the stereotypes found in parodies.
  • Nohar Rajastan, from the Moreau Series takes the trope into the Bio Punk 21st Century, being an anthropomorphic tiger.
  • Glen Novak, the "hero" of Undead on Arrival is a violent thug who solves his own murder by beating everyone in sight until he finds the right one.
  • Idriel Ramirez of the sci-fi noir Nerve Zero seems like he has to shoot his way through his homeworld to find his old flame.

    Live Action TV 
  • The 1980s TV adaption of Mike Hammer is either a straight example or a parody, depending on who you ask.
  • Spenser For Hire was a rarity; a Hardboiled Detective with an even harder-boiled partner.
  • Michael Garibaldi of Babylon 5 has flashes of this from time to time. Picked up, bizarrely enough, by G'Kar of all people.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dixon Hill is a hardboiled detective holodeck character that Captain Picard is fond of playing.
  • Parodied in the PBS Kids' show, Between the Lions, which had a recurring skit featuring "Sam Spud, parboiled potato detective".
  • The Electric Company's Fargo North, Decoder was as hard boiled as a kid's show could show.
  • In a Storybook Episode of Fringe, Walter casts Olivia as this.
  • Kamen Rider Double uses this concept as its main motif.
    • Protagonist Shotaro Hidari very much wants to be hard-boiled but is too emotional, leading his friends to dub him "half-boiled"; eventually he realizes that this is a strength. Each two-episode Story Arc begins and ends with him doing a Private Eye Monologue, and the second half starts with a corkboard diagram showing the character relationships.
    • His late mentor Sokichi "Boss" Narumi, on the other hand, had much more success modeling himself on the Chandler-esque ideal of manliness. Chandler is name-dropped in The Movie, and Sokichi named the young man who would become Shotaro's partner after Philip Marlowe.
    • Ryu Terui, although a police detective rather than a private eye, comes rather closer to the trope than Shotaro, with comparison explicitly drawn to his being the kind of person Shotaro aspires to be. However, all that goes out the window in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge quest to find the man who murdered his family. Thankfully, interacting with Shotaro and Philip helps Ryu level out, eventually leading him to marry Sokichi's daughter Akiko.
  • Magnum, P.I. has the voice over and cynicism, but wears loud hawaiian shirts instead of a trenchcoat.
  • Richard Diamond Private Detective
  • In the noir-esque South African Sci-Fi thriller, Charlie Jade, Charlie is an homage to the older Chandler/Hammett style of hardboiled detective. He even sports the classic trenchcoat (though no fedora), and uses the Private Eye Monologue.
  • Peter Gunn made from 1958-60, was a Hardboiled Detective with a 50s Jazz cool to him.
  • The main cast from the supernatural neo-noir series Angel act as a general deconstruction of the trope, although play some parts to a T.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's imaginary alter-ego, Tracer Bullet, is a pure parody of the hardboiled detective.
    "I keep two magnums in my desk. One's a gun, and I keep it loaded. The other's a bottle, and it keeps me loaded. I'm Tracer Bullet. I'm a professional snoop."
  • Garfield occasionally features Garfield as Sam Spade. Due to his being a cat, however, having people ask "Spade?" tends to get a "Why do people keep asking me that?" in response.

    Pinball 
  • Nick Spade from WHO dunnit, complete with fedora and trenchcoat.

    Radio 
  • On A Prairie Home Companion, the character of Guy Noir is a parodic example.
  • In the Cabin Pressure episode Uskerty, Arthur and Douglas are drinking in an airport bar, and Arthur tries to channel this trope.
    Arthur: Hey you guy. The dames,eh? Yeah the dames. Stupid dames. Do you have any luck with the horses? No, the horses are all idiots. You know between the dames and the horses sometimes I don't even know why I put my hat on. That's how we talk in bars,isn't it?
    Douglas: No, Arthur. That's not how anyone talks...anywhere.
  • The Golden Age of Radio had dozens of hardboiled detective series, including
    • Sam Spade
    • Phillip Marlowe
    • Pat Novak
    • Jeff Regan
    • Harry Lime
    • Box 13
    • Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
    • Richard Diamond
    • Bold Venture
    • Big Town
    • Michael Shayne
    • Nightbeat
    • That Hammer Guy
    • Rogue's Gallery
    • The Falcon

    Roleplay 

    Tabletop Games 
  • A Call of Cthulhu scenario included "Artie Gumshoe - Tough Private Investigator" as a pregenerated character, packing a .45 Automatic and with an illustration showing him with a cigarette wearing a fedora and trench coat, inviting him to be played like this trope.
  • Joe Diamond in Arkham Horror. He was even given this assignment by a classic dame.
  • One of the first and third edition pregen characters in Shadowrun was one of these. Trenchcoat and fedora, too. And a .38 revolver. Just ignore the fact that he's an ork ... or embrace it, actually.
  • Cyberpulp is an in-development RPG about detectives fighting crime in a New York like Mega City where The Night Never Ends. The central character class of the game is meant to be this.

    Webcomics 

    Video Games 
  • Richmond from Suikoden II is an homage to the classic noir version.
  • Tex Murphy from the Tex Murphy/Mean Streets series of noir/thriller video games is an Affectionate Parody of the genre.
  • Scott Shelby from the game Heavy Rain is an aging, asthmatic retired-cop-turned-PI who's on the edge of hardboiled. (Softboiled?)'
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Tyrell Badd's appearance and demeanor are intended to evoke the hardboiled detective image. He has a bullethole-riddled trenchcoat, Perma Stubble, a gruff and cynical attitude, and his color scheme is Deliberately Monochrome. However, he works for the actual police when he's not moonlighting as a Phantom Thief.
  • Lewton in Discworld Noir both embodies and parodies this trope, due to the Disc's Theory of Narrative Causality; he doesn't know why being a private investigator means he has to wear a trenchcoat and fedora, but he's quite sure it does.
  • Booker DeWitt, the protagonist of BioShock Infinite, is a hardboiled ex-Pinkerton PI sent on One Last Job to clear the debts of his gambling addiction. Unlike most hardboiled detectives, however, his milieu is the bright, shiny, blue-skied floating city of Columbia (although you barely have to scratch the surface before realising how screwed up that place is, and that's before finding out about its real secrets...).
  • Big Band, from Skullgirls, is a hardboiled Cyborg detective outfitted with a suite of brass instrument-themed weapons.
  • Max Payne borrows just as much from Hardboiled Detective fiction and Film Noir as it does the Heroic Bloodshed genre. In the first two games, he's an actual police officer as opposed to a private detective, going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. The third game plays the spirit of the trope a bit straighter, however. Max is no longer a police officer and works as private security, and spends most of the game trying to rescue a Damsel in Distress and overcoming his alcoholism. Though, the setting switches (mostly) from gritty and dark New York to bright and vibrant São Paulo.
  • Pokemon X and Y invoke this with a sidequest featuring Looker (who notably wears a long trenchcoat), having you tag along with him in a series of film noir-esque cases. He even describes himself as "hard-boiled." Parodied as Looker isn't all that talented at acting dark or gritty, as hard as he tries. Also subverted in that he isn't actually a private detective, he's just playing the role to hide his true status as an International Police member.

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly OddParents in Where's Wanda; Timmy wishes to become such a detective after the disappearance of Wanda, and ends up spoofing Sam Spade and Rick Blaine.
  • In The Venture Bros., Hank gets a fedora and affects a classic hardboiled detective personality whenever he's wearing it. It gets him laid for the first time.
  • Ruby Rocket Private Detective. Ruby.
  • Parodied in the Animaniacs episode "This Pun for Hire".


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