Dashiell Hammett

Fifty years ago today, Dashiell Hammett died. He was certainly my favorite hard-boiled American novelist, and someone whose core books I like to reread every few years. I remember fierce discussions about his work in my younger days, for example in the early seventies with Fee Dawson at the bar at Max’s Kansas City around notions of and differences between  factual realism and psychological realism. A few years later other long discussions with Eric Mottram, for whom Hammett was nearly, if not quite, as important an American writer as William Faulkner, mainly around the  progressive politics of the novelist. Unhappily, my detective novels are still in boxes in the U-Haul storage in Albany, or I would have wasted a couple hours today rereading pages from Red Harvest or from The Glass Key. I’ll confess to be partial to Sam Spade, & always thought Nick & Nora a bit fay. Check out this fan’s website, and here’s a bit from the Wiki article on Dash:

…Hammett turned to drinking, advertising, and, eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.[9]

Known for his authenticity and realism, Hammett drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton operative. As Hammett said: “All my characters were based on people I’ve known personally, or known about.” Raymond Chandler, the writer often considered Hammett’s successor, summarized his accomplishments:

“Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of [The Glass Key] is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

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