Hardboiled Detective

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"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 by Raymond Chandler

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 Police Are Useless, 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 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 and language 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 of Hardboiled Detective include:

Anime and Manga

  • Gai Kurasawa, a minor character in Darker than Black is an affectionate parody of the hardboiled detective.

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.
  • 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.



  • Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, protagonist of The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and other novels, is an iconic and much-copied example.
  • Dashiell Hammett has several, most notably, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, as well as the recurring, nameless character called "The Continental Op".
  • Archie Goodwin, in Rex Stout's 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • In a Storybook Episode of Fringe, Walter casts Olivia as this.
  • Magnum, P.I. has the voice over and cynicism, but wears loud hawaiian shirts instead of a trenchcoat,
    • Magnum, P.I.: is a crossover between hardboiled and cozy but it is mostly hardboiled. Magnum is a character more typical of hardboiled. While he isn't cynical per se, he depends a lot on his street smarts. Moreover the setting often includes sorties into the more vice ridden parts of Honolulu. On the other hand, Magnum has a standing room-and-board contract as a security agent for a rich playboy, and mingles with the upper class regularly. Furthermore some episodes resemble cozies more then hardboileds.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's imaginary alter-ego, Tracer Bullet, is a pure parody of the hardboiled detective.

"I have two magnums in my desk. One is a gun, and I keep it loaded. One is a bottle, and it keeps me loaded. My name is Tracer Bullet. I'm a professional snoop."


Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy

  • On the Firesign Theater's 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.

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?)'
  • 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.

Web Comics

Agatha: About Sharktooth… he didn't really investigate much, did he? He mostly just walked around and caused trouble.
Vanamonde: Well, he isn't a private investigator, he's a private Jäger.
Agatha: Oh. I see.

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.