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Nightmare Town

Nightmare Town

4.2 5
by Dashiell Hammett, William F. Nolan (Introduction)

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"Hammett's pioneering hard-boiled style has been much imitated, but the original--packs a wallop."--The New Yorker

Here are twenty long-unavailable stories by the master who brought us The Maltese Falcon. Laconic coppers, lowlifes, and mysterious women double- and triple-cross their colleagues with practiced nonchalance. A man on a bender


"Hammett's pioneering hard-boiled style has been much imitated, but the original--packs a wallop."--The New Yorker

Here are twenty long-unavailable stories by the master who brought us The Maltese Falcon. Laconic coppers, lowlifes, and mysterious women double- and triple-cross their colleagues with practiced nonchalance. A man on a bender awakens in a small town with a dark mystery at its heart. A woman confronts a brutal truth about her husband. Here is classic noir: hard-boiled descriptions to rival Hemingway, verbal exchanges punctuated with pistol shots and fisticuffs. Devilishly plotted, whip-smart, impassioned, Nightmare Town is a treasury of tales from America's poet laureate of the dispossessed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Nightmare Town, with its crystalline prose as spare as Hammett himself, is a welcome treat." --The Baltimore Sun

"Hammett's work carries an authenticity and raw power that few writers, before or since, have been able to equal." --The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Hammett's legacy as a giant of crime fiction lives on. The stories are gritty and realistic, full of crisp, sparse dialogue. . . . Like the sting of whiskey as it goes down and the pungent smell of a strong cigar, Hammett's stories and characters don't fade quickly." --The Columbus Dispatch

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Smart and tough is the formula for the art of Hammett (The Maltese Falcon; The Thin Man), widely acknowledged as the master innovator of the hard-boiled detective novel. These 20 previously uncollected novellas and short stories feature enigmatic plots of devilish intricacy, rife with fisticuffs and pistol shots, and populated by stiffs, laconic coppers, lowlifes and droll, world-weary detectives. Sam Spade shows up several times, as does the Continental Op, smoking his Fatimas and grilling coy, mendacious women. The delicate balance between extremes of brutality and cleverness makes most of these stories classic studies in suspense. Moods are set with smoky authenticity, and characters are powerful talkers and smooth operators, with dialogue unforgettable for its tough, blunt energy. In "His Brother's Keeper," a story of betrayal and redemption is told through the eyes of a dumb prize-fighter, so that the reader is always a step ahead of the narrator, but is sympathetic toward him. "Ruffian's Wife" is a fine literary exploration of a woman's disillusionment as she discovers her husband's true nature, even as she stands by him. "A Man Named Thin" is a detective, a suave narrator/protagonist whose father is both annoyed at his son's poetry writing and impressed by his creative case-solving. With an informative introduction by William Nolan briefly outlining Hammett's life, this volume offers a broad, exciting selection of seminal works by the robust, quintessentially American godfather of the genre. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It was a big year for Hammett. He was the subject of a TV film as well as an American Masters TV biography. Knopf, his original publisher, gathered 20 early stories, and the Library of America added his complete novels to its prestigious ranks. Long overdue recognition. (Classic Returns, LJ 8/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Presents 20 short stories and novellas by Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), author of /The Maltese Falcon/> and an array of well-crafted detective fiction that is commonly credited with having invented the "hard-boiled" school of literature. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
This collection of 20 stories, most of them out of print for many years, is must reading for hardboiled fans. It doesn't matter a bit that they don't live up to the uncritical claims Hammett biographer William F. Nolan's introduction makes for them, though it would be nice if Hammett handled the heroine's viewpoint in "Ruffian's Wife" with the same cool efficiency as the hero's viewpoint in "One Hour," or made the O. Henryish "Second-Story Angel" into as sharp an anecdote as the noir western "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams." What matters is that the editors have preserved between one set of covers all three Sam Spade short stories, seven heretofore uncollected ones starring the Continental Op, a generous sampling of Hammett's uneven non-series work, and a pair of headliners: the title novella, a fast-moving ode to the city man stranded in the middle of nowhere, and "The First Thin Man," a 50-page fragment that shows Clyde Wynant's murder hooked up to a completely different plot without a trace of Nick or Nora Charles. An answered prayer for Hammett fans, and a revelation for any serious reader of detective fiction—even if the revelation is often of how hard Hammett must have worked to spin his Black Mask straw into the gold of Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Ford -- whitened by desert travel until it was almost indistinguishable from the dust-clouds that swirled around it -- came down Izzard's Main Street. Like the dust, it came swiftly, erratically, zigzagging the breadth of the roadway.
        A small woman -- a girl of twenty in tan flannel -- stepped into the street. The wavering Ford missed her by inches, missing her at all only because her backward jump was bird-quick. She caught her lower lip between white teeth, dark eyes flashed annoyance at the rear of the passing machine, and she essayed the street again.
        Near the opposite curb the Ford charged down upon her once more. But turning had taken some of its speed. She escaped it this time by scampering the few feet between her and the sidewalk ahead.
        Out of the moving automobile a man stepped. Miraculously he kept his feet, stumbling, sliding, until an arm crooked around an iron awning-post jerked him into an abrupt halt. He was a large man in bleached khaki, tall, broad, and thick-armed; his gray eyes were bloodshot; face and clothing were powdered heavily with dust. One of his hands clutched a thick, black stick, the other swept off his hat, and he bowed with exaggerated lowness before the girl's angry gaze.
        The bow completed, he tossed his hat carelessly into the street, and grinned grotesquely through the dirt that masked his face -- a grin that accented the heaviness of a begrimed and hair-roughened jaw.
        "I beg y'r par'on," he said. "'F I hadn't been careful I believe I'd a'most hit you. 'S unreli'ble, tha' wagon. Borr'ed it from an engi -- eng'neer. Don't ever borrow one from eng'neer. They're unreli'ble."
        The girl looked at the place where he stood as if no one stood there, as if, in fact, no one had ever stood there, turned her small back on him, and walked very precisely down the street.
        He stared after her with stupid surprise in his eyes until she had vanished through a doorway in the middle of the block. Then he scratched his head, shrugged, and turned to look across the street, where his machine had pushed its nose into the red-brick side wall of the Bank of Izzard and now shook and clattered as if in panic at finding itself masterless.
        "Look at the son-of-a-gun," he exclaimed.
        A hand fastened upon his arm. He turned his head, and then, though he stood a good six feet himself, had to look up to meet the eyes of the giant who held his arm.
        "We'll take a little walk," the giant said.
        The man in bleached khaki examined the other from the tips of his broad-toed shoes to the creased crown of his black hat, examined him with a whole-hearted admiration that was unmistakable in his red-rimmed eyes. There were nearly seven massive feet of the speaker. Legs like pillars held up a great hogshead of a body, with wide shoulders that sagged a little, as if with their own excessive weight. He was a man of perhaps forty-five, and his face was thick-featured, phlegmatic, with sunlines around small light eyes -- the face of a deliberate man.
        "My God, you're big!" the man in khaki exclaimed when he had finished his examination; and then his eyes brightened. "Let's wrestle. Bet you ten bucks against fifteen I can throw you. Come on!"
        The giant chuckled deep in his heavy chest, took the man in khaki by the nape of the neck and an arm, and walked down the street with him.

Steve Threefall awakened without undue surprise at the unfamiliarity of his surroundings as one who has awakened in strange places before. Before his eyes were well open he knew the essentials of his position. The feel of the shelf-bunk on which he lay and the sharp smell of disinfectant in his nostrils told him that he was in jail. His head and his mouth told him that he had been drunk; and the three-day growth of beard on his face told him he had been very drunk.
        As he sat up and swung his feet down to the floor details came back to him. The two days of steady drinking in Whitetufts on the other side of the Nevada-California line, with Harris, the hotel proprietor, and Whiting, an irrigation engineer. The boisterous arguing over desert travel, with his own Gobi experience matched against the American experiences of the others. The bet that he could drive from Whitetufts to Izzard in daylight with nothing to drink but the especially bitter white liquor they were drinking at the time. The start in the grayness of imminent dawn, in Whiting's Ford, with Whiting and Harris staggering down the street after him, waking the town with their drunken shouts and roared-out mocking advice, until he had reached the desert's edge. Then the drive through the desert, along the road that was hotter than the rest of the desert, with -- He chose not to think of the ride. He had made it, though -- had won the bet. He couldn't remember the amount of the latter.
        "So you've come out of it at last?" a rumbling voice inquired.
        The steel-slatted door swung open and a man filled the cell's door. Steve grinned up at him. This was the giant who would not wrestle. He was coatless and vestless now, and loomed larger than before. One suspender strap was decorated with a shiny badge that said marshal.
        "Feel like breakfast?" he asked.
        "I could do things to a can of black coffee," Steve admitted.
        "All right. But you'll have to gulp it. Judge Denvir is waiting to get a crack at you, and the longer you keep him waiting, the tougher it'll be for you."
        The room in which Tobin Denvir, J.P., dealt justice was a large one on the third floor of a wooden building. It was scantily furnished with a table, an ancient desk, a steel engraving of Daniel Webster, a shelf of books sleeping under the dust of weeks, a dozen uncomfortable chairs, and half as many cracked and chipped china cuspidors.
        The judge sat between desk and table, with his feet on the latter. They were small feet, and he was a small man. His face was filled with little irritable lines, his lips were thin and tight, and he had the bright, lidless eyes of a bird.
        "Well, what's he charged with?" His voice was thin, harshly metallic. He kept his feet on the table.
        The marshal drew a deep breath, and recited:
        "Driving on the wrong side of the street, exceeding the speed limit, driving while under the influence of liquor, driving without a driver's license, endangering the lives of pedestrians by taking his hands off the wheel, and parking improperly -- on the sidewalk up against the bank."
        The marshal took another breath, and added, with manifest regret:
        "There was a charge of attempted assault, too, but that Vallance girl won't appear, so that'll have to be dropped."
        The justice's bright eyes turned upon Steve.
        "What's your name?" he growled.
        "Steve Threefall."
        "Is that your real name?" the marshal asked.
        "Of course it is," the justice snapped. "You don't think anybody'd be damn fool enough to give a name like that unless it was his, do you?" Then to Steve: "What have you got to say -- guilty or not?"
        "I was a little --"
        "Are you guilty or not?"
        "Oh, I suppose I did --"
        "That's enough! You're fined a hundred and fifty dollars and costs. The costs are fifteen dollars and eighty cents, making a total of a hundred and sixty-five dollars and eighty cents. Will you pay it or will you go to jail?"
        "I'll pay it if I've got it," Steve said, turning to the marshal. "You took my money. Have I got that much?"
        The marshal nodded his massive head.
        "You have," he said, "exactly -- to the nickel. Funny it should have come out like that -- huh?"
        "Yes -- funny," Steve repeated.
        While the justice of the peace was making out a receipt for the fine, the marshal restored Steve's watch, tobacco and matches, pocket-knife, keys, and last of all the black walking-stick. The big man weighed the stick in his hand and examined it closely before he gave it up. It was thick and of ebony, but heavy even for that wood, with a balanced weight that hinted at loaded ferrule and knob. Except for a space the breadth of a man's hand in its middle, the stick was roughened, cut and notched with the marks of hard use -- marks that much careful polishing had failed to remove or conceal. The unscarred hand's-breadth was of a softer black than the rest -- as soft a black as the knob -- as if it had known much contact with a human palm.
        "Not a bad weapon in a pinch," the marshal said meaningly as he handed the stick to its owner. Steve took it with the grasp a man reserves for a favorite and constant companion.
        "Not bad," he agreed. "What happened to the flivver?"
        "It's in the garage around the corner on Main Street. Pete said it wasn't altogether ruined, and he thinks he can patch it up if you want."
        The justice held out the receipt.
        "Am I all through here now?" Steve asked.
        "I hope so," Judge Denvir said sourly.
        "Both of us," Steve echoed. He put on his hat, tucked the black stick under his arm, nodded to the big marshal, and left the room.
        Steve Threefall went down the wooden stairs toward the street in as cheerful a frame of mind as his body -- burned out inwardly with white liquor and outwardly by a day's scorching desert-riding -- would permit. That justice had emptied his pockets of every last cent disturbed him little. That, he knew, was the way of justice everywhere with the stranger, and he had left the greater part of his money with the hotel proprietor in Whitetufts. He had escaped a jail sentence, and he counted himself lucky. He would wire Harris to send him some of his money, wait here until the Ford was repaired, and then drive back to Whitetufts -- but not on a whisky ration this time.
        "You will not!" a voice cried in his ear.
        He jumped, and then laughed at his alcohol-jangled nerves. The words had not been meant for him. Beside him, at a turning of the stairs, was an open window, and opposite it, across a narrow alley, a window in another building was open. This window belonged to an office in which two men stood facing each other across a flat-topped desk.
        One of them was middle-aged and beefy, in a black broadcloth suit out of which a white-vested stomach protruded. His face was purple with rage. The man who faced him was younger -- a man of perhaps thirty, with a small dark mustache, finely chiseled features, and satiny brown hair. His slender athlete's body was immaculately clothed in gray suit, gray shirt, gray and silver tie, and on the desk before him lay a Panama hat with gray band. His face was as white as the other's was purple.
        The beefy man spoke -- a dozen words pitched too low to catch.
        The younger man slapped the speaker viciously across the face with an open hand -- a hand that then flashed back to its owner's coat and flicked out a snub-nosed automatic pistol.
        "You big lard-can," the younger man cried, his voice sibilant; "you'll lay off or I'll spoil your vest for you!"
        He stabbed the protuberant vest with the automatic, and laughed into the scared fat face of the beefy man -- laughed with a menacing flash of even teeth and dark slitted eyes. Then he picked up his hat, pocketed the pistol, and vanished from Steve's sight. The fat man sat down.

Meet the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 27, 1894
Date of Death:
January 10, 1961
Place of Birth:
St. Mary, Maryland
Place of Death:
New York
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

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Nightmare Town 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great collection of detective stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quite a thriller, sure to befuddle and amuse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This plot and town just don't seem reasonable enough to make a good story; I was disappointed.