Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




David Kress

Second Committee Member

Alexander Irvine

Third Committee Member

T. Jeff Evans


When considering the literary trajectory of the American hard-boiled detective genre, one must recognize the shifting role of the reader, how each new addition to the tradition asks the reader to do something else, perform a different function. The best way to approach this examination of literary progression is by imagining the history of the genre as a mason laying brick upon brick. Using this analogy, Raymond Chandler completes the Modernist foundation started by Dashiell Hammett in his Sam Spade series. With his 1939 novel The Big Sleep, Chandler writes of Philip Marlowe and his bleak vision of Depression-era Los Angeles. Marlowe's vision is echoed by Mickey Spillane, the leading voice of the second generation of the Modernism, in his Mike Hammer series, most specifically in his 1953 bestseller Kiss Me, Deadly. The Modernist tradition isn't dead. Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries continue the practice, using a slightly modified template, but the question remains: What happens after the Modernist tradition? How has the hard-boiled detective evolved? If Raymond Chandler lays the foundation, while Spillane and Parker solidify it, Postmodern voices such as Thomas Pynchon and Ishmael Reed emerge to add the next layer. Pynchon's 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49 continues the hard-boiled tradition through the confusing travails of Oedipa Maas. By inverting the sex of the protagonist, Pynchon creates a new noir where a true crime is never perpetrated and a satisfactory conclusion is never reached. The reader works harder in the world of Pynchon, but that work is not rewarded as uncertainty is the only thing accomplished. The code of certainty is replaced by the force of entropy. The tradition of perversion and inversion continues in the more recent works of writers such as Denis Johnson and Paul Auster, whose respective novels Resuscitation of Hanged Man (1991) and City of Glass (1985) take the Pynchon model in a new direction defined by questions of identity, language, and religion. This new Post-postmodern detective also works toward something that is undefined, but instead of the guiding force of entropy, these detectives act according to empathy, believing this to be their greatest gift/weapon) (but also their greatest detriment). This study explores the literary progression of the hard-boiled detective genre and tries to establish a firm foundation for tracking how the genre has moved in a different, uncharted direction.