The 14 Best Private Eye Novels Of All Time

The April 2012 P.I. Poll Results

To mark this site’s fourteenth anniversary, I asked readers to compile a list of their fourteen favourite private eyes.

The results, as of 12:01 AM, PST, April 1st, 2012, when we closed the poll, are:



In descending order…

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade)

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe)

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe)

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (Easy Rawlins)

L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole)

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block (Matt Scudder)

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (C.W. Sughrue)

I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer)

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro)

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe)

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer (Karl Craven)

The Promised Land by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

The Taste of Ashes by Howard Browne (Paul Pine)

Not bad, eh? I do think the votes reflect an interesting balance of literary merit and plain old popularity. Of course, did anyone really expect the Black Bird not to win? The surprise, for me at least, was how close The Long Goodbye came to toppling The Falcon. We’re talking a handful of votes here.

The next three, Farewell, My Lovely, Devil in a Blue Dress and L.A. Requiem were also close, and again almost too close to call, but also several votes ahead of the rest of the pack, who were similarly clumped together. Of course, prolific authors were penalized in this poll, in that votes for their work were often spread over several novels, while those with relatively sparse output reaped the benfits. Chandler and Hammett were easily most popular (and were in fact tied with the exact same number of votes), followed very closely by Ross Macdonald, Mickey Spillane and Robert B. Parker, in that order. A few other authors with particularly strong showings were James Crumley, John Evans/Howard Browne, Lawrence Block, Joe Gores and Jonathan Latimer.


In descending order…

The Wrong Case by James Crumley (Milo Milodragovitch)

The Staked Goat by Jeremiah Healey (John Francis Cuddy)

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winston (Boone Daniels)

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (The Continental Op)

Halo in Blood by John Evans (Paul Pine)

Wild Wives by Charles Willeford (Jake Blake)

The Lady in the Morgue by Jonathan Latimer (Bill Crane)

Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block (Matt Scudder)

The Chill by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

Dead Skip by Joe Gores (Dan Kearney & Associates)

One Lonely Night by Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer)

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)


In alphabetical order…

Not Sleeping, Just Dead by Charles E. Alverson (Joe Goodey)

A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block (Matt Scudder)

In Defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria by Marcus Cicero (Cicero)

Empty Ever After by Reed Farrel Coleman (Moe Prager)

Blood Ties by Lori Armstrong (Julie Collins)

Promise Me by Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar)

Trigger City by Sean Chercover (Ray Dudgeon)

The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman (Moe Prager)

True Detective by Max Allan Collins (Nate Heller)

The Million Dollar Wound by Max Allan Collins (Nate Heller)

Stolen Away by Max Allan Collins (Nate Heller)

Flying Blind by Max Allan Collins (Nate Heller)

Act of Fear by Michael Collins (Dan Fortune)

Every Dead Thing by John Connolly (Charlie Parker)

The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole)

Dancing Bear by James Crumley (Milo Milodragovitch)

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)

The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin (Murray Kirk)

Every Brilliant Eye by Loren Estleman (Amos Walker)

A Smile on the Face of the Tiger by Loren Estleman (Amos Walker)

Halo for Satan by John Evans (Paul Pine)

The Convertible Hearse by William Campbell Gault (Brock Callahan)

32 Cadillacs by Joe Gores (Dan Kearney & Associates)

Interface by Joe Gores (Neal Fargo)

The Autumn Dead by Ed Gorman (Jack Dwyer)

“G” is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone)

“S” is for Silence by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone)

Fatal Obsession by Stephen Greenleaf (John Marshall Tanner)

Skin Deep by Timothy Hallinan (Simeon Grist)

Winter of the Wolf Moon by Steve Hamilton (Alex McKnight)

The Big Knockover by Dashiell Hammett (The Continental Op)

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (Nick and Nora Charles)

Fade Out by Joseph Hansen (Dave Brandstetter)

Nightwork by Joseph Hansen (Dave Brandstetter)

Kyd for Hire by Timothy Harris (Thomas Kyd)

Yesterday’s News by Jeremiah Healy (John Francis Cuddy)

Sleep with Slander by Dolres Hitchens (Jim Sader)

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (Harry Angel)

The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes (Ed Loy)

Murder on the Wild Side by Jeff Jacks (Shep Stone)

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James (Cordelia Gray)

March Violets by Philip Kerr (Bernie Gunther)

A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr (Bernie Gunther)

Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta (Lincoln Perry)

Mucho Mojo by Joe R Lansdale (Hap Collins & Leonard Pine)

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro)

City of the Sun by David Levien (Frank Behr)

The Killing Floor by Arthur Lyons (Jacob Asch)

Hard Trade by Arthur Lyons (Jacob Asch)

Castles Burning by Arthur Lyons (Jacob Asch)

The Dark Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee)

The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee)

The Blue Hammer by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

Find A Victim by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

The Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

The Zebra Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer)

Mather by Joseph Monninger (Mather Edson)

Leave a Message for Willie by Marcia Muller (Sharon McCone)

Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski)

Killing Orders by Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski)

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker (Spenser)

A Firing Offense by George Pelecanos (Nick Stefanos)

Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go by George Pelecanos (Nick Stefanos)

Right as Rain by George Pelecanos (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn)

Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn)

Soul Circus by George Pelecanos (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn)

The Cut by George Pelecanos (Spero Lucas)

Down in the Valley by David M. Pierce (Vic Daniel)

Shackles by Bill Pronzini (Nameless)

Texas Wind by James Reasoner (Cody)

Big Red Tequila by Rick Riordan (Tres Navarre)

Stone Quarry by S.J. Rozan (Bill Smith & Lydia Chin)

Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (Gordianus the Finder)

Blues for the Prince by Bart Spicer (Carney Wilde)

Naked Moon by Domenic Stansberry (Dante Mancuso)

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin)

The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin)

Blue Belle by Andrew Vachss (Burke)

Death in a Bowl by Raoul Whitfield (Ben Jardinn)

Way Past Dead by Steven Womack (Harry James Denton)


  • “That’s my fourteen, man. A frustratingly short list from a genre rich in excellent writers, too many of the best left unmentioned.”
    — Dick Lochte on his choices


  • Robert Randisi’s PI Survey Results (1997)
    PWA founder Randisi’s survey results from the Spring of 1997, which he conducted himself on rec.arts.mystery. The results–and some of Randisi’s comments–are pretty, um, interesting.
  • 100 Eyes of The Mystery Scene Era (2007)
    My personal look back at the eyes who I felt had left their mark on the shamus game since Mystery Scene first hit the streets in 1985, published in conjunction with their 100 issue in 2007.
  • Dick Lochte’s Top 20 Private Eye Novels (2010, revised 2017)
    A treat from Ed Gorman’s blog.

2 thoughts on “The 14 Best Private Eye Novels Of All Time

  1. Great list! The only ones I haven’t read are Latimer’s Solomon’s Vineyard and Browne’s A Taste of Ashes. I’ve read his Halo in Blood and Halo for Satan and have been looking to read Ashes for quite awhile now. I’ve never even heard of Solomon’s Vineyard before this and will have to add it to my list.

    1. Jim, I envy you that you haven’t read those two. This poll led me to both in 2012 and they richly deserve their place. Definitely two of the best all time PI stories out there IMHO.

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