As a relative newbie I'll have to read more noir to cast my vote, because right now DOUBLE INDEMNITY stands alone--I can't think of another to put next to it. The novel is so lean and tight, and while I had seen the film several times NOTHING could have prepared me for that ending. Stunning, terrifying--nothing like it anywhere I've ever seen, and in the hands of almost any other writer that ending would have been corny rather than utterly blood-chilling.
I also liked POSTMAN ALWAYS, but I don't think it's even close to INDEMNITY.
For modern candidates, I'd put forward Aleas's SONGS OF INNOCENCE. I liked the two Blake books a lot, even though I think each had flaws--some inconsistencies, I thought, in character, and a bit of flabbiness in each case that, rather than being a major flaw in and of itself, served to remind me of how hard it must be to pull off what Cain and Hammett seem to do so effortlessly. I guess SONGS OF INNOCENCE is not a classic noir, but it has an ending for the ages.
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