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 At the time of his death in 1988, he was working at a bookstore in Atlanta and had a file cabinet full of unpublished novels.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 has released the entire Hardman series, his three other published novels, and his long-lost manuscripts. Scroll down and you’ll see his books below.
There's a killer stalking children in a small, North Carolina town...and the only one who can stop him is the local Sheriff, a man crippled physically and emotionally by a war that he's still fighting within himself. The haunting, powerful new thriller by Ralph Dennis, author of the legendary Hardman series of crime novels
The recently discovered, long-lost, 13th and final Hardman adventure sends the unlicensed PI to London to find a missing man...where he becomes embroiled in an ugly case of embezzlement and murder.
A small-town farmer hires Hardman to find his teenage daughter who ran off to Atlanta to become a model...and ended up a hooker. It’s fast work for Hardman, but she’s gunned down minutes after he finds her. To hunt her killer, Hardman and Hump Evans take a deep dive into a bottomless cesspool of vice and greed that could drown them.
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...
Ralph Dennis was a very good writer, a keen observer of life on the rough edges.
Dennis wrote, in the best sense, old-school hardboiled crime fiction. His strong prose and well-paced storytelling place him alongside the likes of George V. Higgins and Ross MacDonald.