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This book belongs to an unusual genre that might well be called personal criticism, sharing as it does characteristics of both literary criticism and the personal essay. It is an exploration of detective fiction, investigating why I like certain mystery writers (or not) and trying to detect whether there is more artistic merit in their writing than simply proficient plotting and energetic action. The first essay is a general inquiry into the thriller/detective genre, looking at various authors and why I either like or dislike them; the second considers three classic writers of the so-called noir mystery (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald); and the third examines a characteristic that many hard-boiled detectives display, namely, that each has been damaged in some way, either socially or psychologically. The thrust of these essays is not simply to display my taste but to discern as well whether and what kinds of literary merit is to be found in the writers I consider.