1. The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler: Philip Marlowe has no serious competition as the quintessential hardboiled private eye. Here he travels through a Los Angeles where nothing—or at least anything good—is what it seems.
2. Double Indemnity, James M. Cain: You'll never look at insurance salesmen quite the same. Pull down the shades, pull up the covers and don't plan on getting any sleep.
3. They Don't Dance Much, James Ross: In and out of print since it was first published in 1940, this blistering novel about a rural Carolina roadhouse with a dance floor is packed with enough desperate characters to make murder merely inevitable, but no less horrifying.
4. Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett: Hammett's nameless detective, the Continental Op, sets off a war among the thugs who rule a mining town. The inspiration for Kurosawa's Yojimbo.
5. A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes: The author has barely introduced his two Harlem police detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones before one of them gets acid thrown in his face. From there it just gets uglier.
6. The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson: A murderous, psychopathic small-town sheriff with a corny sense of humor. Hijinks and mayhem ensue.
7. The Hunter, Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake): Parker, a professional criminal, goes on a rampage to get paid. A frightening, admirable man.
8. The Doorbell Rang, Rex Stout: Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin never met a case they couldn't solve, not even when they take on the FBI.
9. Chinaman's Chance, Ross Thomas: Funny and cynical, detectives Durant and Wu plow through a case involving a missing blonde, a million-dollar con game and enough memorable bad guys to populate five other books.
10. Laidlaw, William McIlvanney: A hard-drinking Glasgow detective investigates the brutal assault and murder of a young girl.