Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels

Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels


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Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels by Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus

In a few years of extraordinary creative energy, Dashiell Hammett invented the modern American crime novel. In the words of Raymond Chandler, “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse. . . . He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.” Beginning as a prolific contributor to the pulp magazines of the 1920s, he succeeded during his brief career in making his kind of crime fiction a crucial part of the fabric of American writing: a genre that did not evade reality but rather embodied the grittiness and harshness of modern urban life.

The five novels that Hammett published between 1929 and 1934, collected here in one Library of America volume, have become part of modern American culture, creating archetypal characters and establishing the ground rules and characteristic tone for a whole tradition of hardboiled writing. Drawing on his own experiences as a Pinkerton detective, Hammett gave a harshly realistic edge to novels that were at the same time infused with a spirit of romantic adventure. His lean and deliberately simplified prose won admiration from such contemporaries as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.

Each novel is distinct in mood and structure. Red Harvest (1929) epitomizes the violence and momentum of his Black Mask stories about the anonymous detective the Continental Op. In this raucous and nightmarish evocation of political corruption and gang warfare in a western mining town (modeled on Butte, Montana) nicknamed “Poisonville,” the Op takes Machiavellian pleasure in pitting one faction against another to bring about their mutual destruction. The Op returns in The Dain Curse (1929) to preside over a more ornately melodramatic tale involving jewel theft, drugs, and a mysterious religious cult.

With The Maltese Falcon (1930) and its protagonist Sam Spade, Hammett achieved his most enduring popular success. A tightly constructed quest story with an unforgettable cast of eccentric adventurers, it is at the same time shot through with a sense of disillusionment and the arbitrariness of personal destiny.

The Glass Key
 (1931), an exploration of city politics at their most scurrilous, traces intricate patterns of loyalty and betrayal in scenes charged with drama. His last novel, The Thin Man (1934), is a ruefully comic tale distinct from the rest of his work. Paying homage to the traditional mystery form, it is best remembered for its protagonists Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781883011673
Publisher: Library of America
Publication date: 08/28/1999
Series: Library of America Series
Pages: 967
Sales rank: 505,521
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.15(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), a master of the hard-bolied detective fiction, was the author of The Maltese FalconThe Thin Man, and the Continental Op stories, among other celebrated works.

Steven Marcus, volume editor, is George Delacorte Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus, at Columbia University. A distinguished cultural historian and literary critic, he is the author of many books, including The Other Victorians and Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class. He is also the editor of the historic collection of Hammett stories, The Continental Op.

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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Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels (Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, The Thin Man) (Library of America) 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
CGinSeattle More than 1 year ago
great novels, and while the movies are wonderful, it's really interesting to read the originals and see the differences.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Sam Spade, a slightly shop-worn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grifter named Joel Cairo, a fat man named Gutman, and Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime.¿ (Publisher¿s notes from The Maltese Falcon, 1929.) Dashiell Hammett, a most unlikely-looking gumshoe ¿ was prematurely white-haired, stood 6¿2¿ and weighed140 pounds. However the former Pinkerton detective is hailed as the `father of modern detective stories.¿ According to famed author Dorothy Parker, his most popular character Sam Spade was a private eye ¿so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn.¿ Born Samuel Dashiell Hammett in Maryland in 1894, Hammett grew up in Baltimore and Philadelphia. After leaving school at fourteen he held various jobs including newsboy, clerk, and stevedore. In 1915 he became a Pinkerton Detective working a tough urban beat. Hammett later used James Wright, a short, squat, tough-talking Pinkerton dick, as the inspiration for the detective character in The Continental Op, written under the pseudonym Peter Collinson. Hammett enjoyed sleuthing, but enlisted in the army in 1918 during World War I. Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis and was medically discharged within a year. He then resumed his Pinkerton work in San Francisco and began writing. By the late 1920s he was hailed as the master of American detective-story fiction. His most famous private eye, Sam Spade, was introduced in his 1930 book, The Maltese Falcon. Another memorable sleuth, Nick Charles, materialized in his novel, The Thin Man (1932). More successful books followed: Red Harvest (1929) The Dain Curse (1929) and The Glass Key (1931). When war beckoned again, Hammett again answered the call, serving as an Army sergeant in World War II. Although a fierce opponent of Nazism, he joined the American Communist Party in the 1930s. Although he did not accompany Hemingway and other writers to Spain in 1936 to participate in the Civil War, he did assist returning veterans. By 1934 after publishing The Thin Man, his writing career nearly ended. During these years, he began a tumultuous relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman (The Children's Hour, 1934 Little Foxes, 1939). Hellman was a devoted leftist and the couple concerned themselves with radical causes. The political pendulum took a conservative swing after WWII, and Hammett was called before the House on Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. When he refused to testify, in spite of his faithful military service and failing health, he was sentenced to prison for several months. His excellent detective novels were banned by the State Department. Hellman, also ordered to testify, assailed the HUAAC and was blacklisted. Hammett never wrote another novel, although he created a comic strip entitled Secret Agent X-9, an endeavor that proved fruitless. Instead he wrote a few pieces for radio, enjoyed some success through film versions of his novels, and spent ten years teaching creative writing in New York. He died penniless of lung cancer in January 1961. During his career, Hammett also published many short stories in popular pulp fiction magazines like ¿Black Mask¿. His brilliant vignettes include The Parthian Shot and The Road Home in 1922, and Arson Plus in 1923. Encouraged by ¿Black Mask¿ editor Captain Joseph Shaw, Hammett became a pulp fiction star. Some of Hammett¿s characters are based on real people he knew as a Pinkerton detective. Perhaps that is why his characters are so compelling. Most of his plots save for The Thin Man, spin around tough-talking, hard-drinking, solitary men. Yet those of us old enough to remember smile at the whimsical intrigues of Nick and Nora Charles, the delightful and happily-married high-society sleuths portrayed in the wildly successful Thin Man film series. Still others remember Humph
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a classic set of detective novels from one of America's most famous detective writers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dashiell Hammett's novels rank among the best of detective fiction. This well-made volume is a must for fans of the genre. My favorites are 'The Maltese Falcon', 'The Glass Key' and 'The Dain Curse'. But these are all great novels, nicely collected, in a handsome volume. Highly recommended.