James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential, 1990. Ellroy has a bleak view of the world, and the book is wonderful noir, but not for everybody. The plot is complex; however, it boils down to seriously troubled or flawed cops in 1950s Los Angeles, who bust heads while solving crimes or committing them themselves. Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her role in the 1997 movie. It doesn't try to cover the whole book, but it does a great job of translating it from paper to the screen. Also stars Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, and Danny DeVito.
Peck and Mitchum are diametrically opposed; Peck is an upright man, while Mitchum is a relentless man intent on sadistic revenge. Nolte and De Niro are more complex characters. Watching the less-than-completely ethical Nolte and the disturbing-but-wronged De Niro, you know De Niro must be stopped, but you'd still like to see justice done. Mitchum and De Niro are particularly interesting to compare. De Niro is a maniac while Mitchum is implacable. It isn't often that you can read a book and then watch two directors' interpretations of it and compare top actors occupying the same roles. Don't miss your chance to do it with Cape Fear.
If you're in the mood for another Leonard book/movie combo, try his novel Rum Punch, in which airline hostess Jackie Burke is caught bringing money into the country for gunrunner Ordell Robbie. The cops bring pressure on her to set him up, but this is a Leonard plot so things don't go as originally planned. Leonard's Rum Punch was used by Quentin Tarantino as the basis for his movie Jackie Brown, starring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe could have been talking about Chandler when he said that a writer he admired rode words bareback. Nobody in mystery fiction used words like Chandler. If you haven't bothered to read him yet, you have a tremendous treat in store. Keep a couple of his books by your bed (The Long Goodbye, The Little Sister, The Lady in the Lake), and if you can't sleep, be happy that you have the chance to read one.
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, 1929. The search for a legendary statuette leads to betrayal and murder. Read the book and then watch the 1941 John Huston movie, which stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade along with Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre. Both book and movie are classics and unforgettable.
Need more recommendations for a book by Hammett? Put those sleepless hours to good use reading his The Glass Key, involving political corruption, loyalty, double-dealing, and a love triangle in an anonymous city in New York or his Red Harvest, in which a private operator takes on a corrupt town.
Thompson is a powerful writer whose noir comes in handy for those times you're annoyed with your overly optimistic sister or you want confirmation that the world is a bleak place. He's not the most pessimistic writer in mysterydom (if anybody can beat David Goodis in that department, I want to hear about it), so you'll be able to face the world when the cruel sun comes up and it's time to stop reading. You might even be able to smile after you've had a cup of coffee.