Ralph Dennis isn’t a household name… but he should be. He is widely considered among crime writers as a master of the genre, denied the recognition he deserved because his twelve Hardman books, which are beloved and highly sought-after collectables now, were poorly packaged in the 1970s by Popular Library as a cheap men’s action-adventure paperbacks with numbered titles.
Even so, some top critics saw past the cheesy covers and noticed that he was producing work as good as John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald.
The New York Times praised the Hardman novels for “expert writing, plotting, and an unusual degree of sensitivity. Dennis has mastered the genre and supplied top entertainment.” The Philadelphia Daily News proclaimed Hardman“the best series around, but they’ve got such terrible covers…”
Unfortunately, Popular Library didn’t take the hint and continued to present the series like hack work, dooming the novels to a short shelf-life and obscurity…except among generations of crime writers, like novelist Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap & Leonard series) and screenwriter Shane Black (the Lethal Weapon movies), who’ve kept Dennis’ legacy alive through word-of-mouth and by acknowledging his influence on their stellar work.
Ralph Dennis wrote three other novels that were published outside of the Hardman series but he wasn’t able to reach the wide audience, or gain the critical acclaim, that he deserved during his lifetime.
He was born in 1931 in Sumter, South Carolina, and received a masters degree from University of North Carolina, where he later taught film and television writing after serving a stint in the Navy. At the time of his death in 1988, he was working at a bookstore in Atlanta and had a file cabinet full of unpublished novels.
Brash Books will be releasing the entire Hardman series, his three other published novels, and his long-lost manuscripts. Scroll down and you’ll see his books below.
A killer-for-hire retribution for a man murdered for uncovering small-town corruption...and justice for another man on death row, falsely convicted of raping and murdering a child.
Hardman and his buddy Hump, the ex-NFL star, get sucked into a scheme involving a hundred grand in stolen jewelry and two corpses...and counting. The 12th and final book in the series.
The Man, the "Black Godfather" of Atlanta, wants Hardman to find out who is killing his crew before a gang war erupts. The 11th book in the legendary series.
In the 7th book in the series, Hardman is out to settle the score when an old professional gambler who once saved his life is murdered—and the coded ledger he kept for the city's "Black Godfather" disappears.
His prose was muscular, swift and highly readable. Like Chandler and Hammett before him, Dennis was trying to do something different with what was thought of as throwaway literature.
Ralph Dennis is an underappreciated master. His Hardman series is one of the finest in the P.I. genre.
The most beloved obscure private eye writer who ever lived..."