Since the early 20th century, hard-boiled books have carved a definitive place in literary history. Stories depict stark situations and blunt behavior, and they don't always end on a happy note. It's a distinctive genre that grabs reader attention with tough-talking narration, graphic details, and whirlwinds of characters who may or may not be involved in crimes.

Pulp detective fiction was a sharp contrast to Edgar Allan Poe's eerie atmospheres, Agatha Christie's elegant settings, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's intricate mysteries. There was a darker tone to plots, and they contained more explicit violence and adult situations, raw dialogue, and protagonist actions that walked the fine lines between right and wrong. Of the several publications that paved the way for hard-boiled detective books, The Black Mask: An Illustrated Magazine of Detective Mystery, Adventure, Romance, &; Spiritualism (1920-1951) and Dime Detective (1931-1953), still stand out as coveted collector items. Many authors got their start in these magazines, including Raymond Chandler, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Dashiell Hammett writing as Peter Collinson.

It's easy to see how Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins, and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski have earned big-screen or television adaptations. Their personality flaws make them relatable, and the crimes they investigate often occur in a setting that's more real-world than perhaps an exotic destination. Relationships are another appealing feature in vintage hard-boiled books, ranging from elusive women and unrequited crushes to petty exes and loyal partners. Plots are more about straightforward action rather than flowery language, where much of the timeline is seen right through the sleuth's eyes.

Whether you're looking to buy hard-boiled books in brand new condition or don't mind gently used copies, there are plenty of seller options at AbeBooks. Search for classics including Dennis Lehane's A Drink Before the War, James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere, and James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. Build up a collection with editions by Michael Connelly, Joe R. Lansdale, Ken Bruen, and other terrific writers.