Noir is a tried and true subgenre of crime fiction. For decades, readers have been entranced by stories of hard-boiled detectives and sleuths caught up in criminal enterprises. What’s so appealing about noir is that it’s unafraid to talk about the grizzly underbelly of the crime world. Although noir is often associated with the 1930s and 40s, in recent years, modern authors have added their own spin to this classic genre.
Related: What Is Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction?
Neo-noir certainly has all the hallmarks of classic noir, but with a modern twist. Each author has the freedom to put their own spin on it, whether that be bringing noir’s best tropes to a modern audience or subverting the genre as a whole. Neo-noir can also include elements of other genres such as science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. If you’ve been looking to get into neo-noir, or you’ve just been looking for your next crime fiction obsession, look no further than this list! Here are 13 of the best neo-noir books.
Kiss Me, Judas
To say Phineas Poe’s life is not going well would be an understatement. The former cop-turned murder suspect has just woken up in a bath of ice, short one kidney after a hazy night with a woman he knows only by her red dress and the scar on the edge of her mouth. Despite his missing kidney, he feels drawn to the woman, and begins a quest to find her. But as he descends into a drug-fueled world he barely recognizes, Phineas will have to decide if his love for this dangerous woman is worth the risk.
An Untamed State
The daughter of one of the richest men in Haiti, Mireille Duval Jameson lives a life of comfort with her husband and newborn son. That is, until the day she is violently kidnapped in broad daylight just steps from her father’s house. Mireille is sure that her father will quickly pay her ransom and free her from the mysterious man who calls himself “The Commander”. But as the days go by and rescue doesn’t come, she will have to question everything she thought she knew about her life, all while trying to stay alive.
No Country for Old Men
The basis for the hit 2007 film, No Country for Old Men follows the disastrous consequences of one man’s choice. When Llewellyn Moss took the two million dollars in cash from the back of a pickup truck full of dead men, the result of a drug deal gone wrong, he thought that would be the end of it. But with multiple men on his tail—including the merciless Anton Chigurh—Llewellyn will have to question every decision he’s ever made. Meanwhile, the aging Sheriff Bell will have to contend with the horrors of his own past while trying to keep the local violence in check.
Years ago, childhood friends Sean, Jimmy, and Dave’s lives changed forever when a stranger invited them into their car. Only one boy got in, but what happened next destroyed their friendship forever. 25 years later, when Jimmy, now an ex-con-turned corner store owner, learns his daughter has been murdered, all three men will be brought back together. Homicide detective Sean is assigned to the case, and is soon directed towards Dave, who came home the night of the murder covered in blood.
While Sean struggles to find the truth, Jimmy is tempted to reconnect with his criminal contacts to take justice into his own hands. And as Dave’s life crumbles around him, he finds himself battling dark and twisted impulses too terrible to name. As more truths come to light, all three men will discover that the past and the present are more linked than they could have ever imagined.
Survive the Night
In November 1991, Charlie Jordan agrees to share a ride home to Ohio with fellow college student Josh Baxter. Still grieving the loss of her best friend, the latest victim of the Campus Killer, Charlie just wants to get home, no questions asked. But as they drive on, Charlie starts to suspect that Josh—who claims to be headed home to take care of his sick father—has secrets of his own. Josh’s story seems to have a lot of holes in it, and why isn’t she allowed to look inside his trunk?
Is Charlie’s obsession with horror movies getting to her? Or is she sitting next to the Campus Killer himself? Even if she is, on the darkened highways on the road home, she has nowhere to escape to.
Black Water Rising
In 1981, Jay Porter runs his less-than-successful law practice out of a strip mall in Houston, Texas. After putting his violent past behind him, he’s determined to make some good in the world. But after he saves a drowning woman, it seems that one act of goodwill might spell his own doom.
This woman has secrets that are connected to some of Houston’s most powerful people and put Jay right in the middle of a murder investigation. Now, Jay stands to lose everything if he can’t find the truth. But serving justice will mean reckoning with the sins of the past.
If Ree Dolly’s father doesn’t show up for his court date—the result of charges for running a crystal meth lab—she and her two younger brothers will lose their house. Although Ree is only 16, she understands that it's up to her to track down her missing father. But the well-established hierarchy of the Ozarks is not to be questioned or challenged, as Ree will soon find out. And the consequences may be deadly.
In the 25th century, dying no longer means your life has to end. If you can afford it, your consciousness can be transferred into an entirely new body every time. Former UN worker Takeshi Kovacs is no stranger to death, but he’s still reeling from a particularly painful one as he is placed into a body in the city formerly known as San Francisco.
As Kovacs explores this crumbling world hundreds of lightyears from home, he stumbles on a vast conspiracy of people buying and selling consciousnesses. But attempting to uncover it will expose him to unimaginable danger.
The Black Dahlia
In 1947, the brutalized body of a young woman is discovered in Los Angeles. Warrants Squad officers Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard quickly get involved with the investigation of what the press is calling the Black Dahlia. Bleichert and Blanchard are colleagues and friends, but simmering underneath is their rivalry for the same woman’s love. But as they investigate the Dahlia case more, each man becomes obsessed with the victim, and if they aren’t careful, this case will swallow them both whole.
Related: Spotlight on James Ellroy
Follow Her Home
Juniper Song has always been a noir fiction enthusiast. So when she’s asked to investigate a possible case of infidelity, she jumps at the chance to live like her private investigator idols. As she follows clues through the streets of LA, she really starts to feel like she’s in a Philip Marlowe novel. But when she gets knocked out while examining a suspicious car, the real problems start.
When Song wakes up, she discovers a body stuffed into her own car’s trunk. Suddenly, she’s stuck in the middle of a much larger crime than adultery. Now, Song will push herself to uncover the truth. If the mistakes of her past don’t eat her alive first.
The Contortionist’s Handbook
John Dolan Vincent, a man born with the unique condition of polydactylism, is a mathematical supergenius burdened by a complete lack of social skills and debilitating migraines. As he gets older, his migraines only worsen, and he is forced to self-medicate if he even hopes to function. But he knows that his routine trips to the emergency room will get him institutionalized. In order to stay out of the hospital, John puts his skills as a forger to good use and creates a new identity each time he leaves.
But with each new identity, John’s life spirals further out of control. And when his forgery clients in LA’s seedy underbelly decide they are dissatisfied, he will have to rely on all of his skills of trickery to protect himself and the only woman who truly knows him.
Heaven's a Lie
Widow Joette Harper lives just to get through each day, hoping to keep a roof over her head and her mother’s medical bills paid for. When she happens to witness a deadly car crash just outside a local motel, she can’t help but investigate. Lying among the wreckage is a collection of nearly $300,000 in cash, and Joette would be foolish not to take it. Unfortunately for Joette, the money belongs to notorious drug dealer Travis Clay.
Travis is willing to do anything to get his money back. But Joette is a woman with nothing to lose, and she might just be willing to match him in this game.
A Man Named Doll
Ex-cop Happy Doll now makes his living as a private investigator and part-time worker at a Thai spa that offers unique services to those who know to ask. After all, his time in the LAPD has left him well-prepared to make sure the women he works with stay safe. But when things take an unexpectedly violent turn with an angry client and an old cop buddy turns up on his doorstep having been shot, Happy has to wonder if he should’ve left this whole life behind him.