About the Author
Date of Birth:May 27, 1894
Date of Death:January 10, 1961
Place of Birth:St. Mary, Maryland
Place of Death:New York
Education:Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
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By Dashiell Hammett
Random HouseDashiell Hammett
All right reserved.
A WOMAN IN GREEN
AND A MAN IN GRAY
I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.
Using one of the phones in that station, I called the Herald, asked for Donald Willsson, and told him I had arrived.
"Will you come out to my house at ten this evening?" He had a pleansantly crisp voice. "It's 2101 Mountain Boulevard. Take a Broadway car, get off at Laurel Avenue, and walk two blocks west."
I promised to do that. Then I rode up to the Great Western Hotel, dumped my bags, and went out to look at the city.
The city wasn't pretty. Most of its builders had gone in for gaudiness. Maybe they had been successful at first. Since then the smelters whose brick stacks stuck up tall against a gloomy mountain to the south had yellow-smoked everything into uniform dinginess. The result was an ugly city of forty thousand people, set in an ugly notch between two ugly mountainsthat had been all dirtied up by mining. Spread over this was a grimy sky that looked as if it had come out of the smelters' stacks.
The first policeman I saw needed a shave. The second had a couple of buttons off his shabby uniform. The third stood in the center of the city's main intersection-Broadway and Union Street-directing traffic, with a cigar in one corner of his mouth. After that I stopped checking them up.
At nine-thirty I caught a Broadway car and followed the directions Donald Willsson had given me. They brought me to a house set in a hedged grassplot on a corner.
The maid who opened the door told me Mr. Willsson was not home. While I was explaining that I had an appointment with him a slender blonde woman of something less than thirty in green crepe came to the door. When she smiled her blue eyes didn't lose their stoniness. I repeated my explanations to her.
"My husband isn't in now." A barely noticeable accent slurred her s's. "But if he's expecting you he'll probably be home shortly."
She took me upstairs to a room on the Laurel Avenue side of the house, a brown and red room with a lot of books in it. We sat in leather chairs, half facing each other, half facing a burning coal grate, and she set about learning my business with her husband.
"Do you live in Personville?" she asked first.
"No. San Francisco."
"But this isn't your first visit?"
"Really? How do you like our city?"
"I haven't seen enough of it to know." That was a lie. I had. "I got in only this afternoon."
Her shiny eyes stopped prying while she said:
"You'll find it a dreary place." She returned to her digging with: "I suppose all mining towns are like this. Are you engaged in mining?"
"Not just now."
She looked at the clock on the mantel and said:
"It's inconsiderate of Donald to bring you out here and then keep you waiting, at this time of night, long after business hours."
I said that was all right.
"Though perhaps it isn't a business matter," she suggested.
I didn't say anything.
She laughed-a short laugh with something sharp in it.
"I'm really not ordinarily so much of a busybody as you probably think," she said gaily. "But you're so excessively secretive that I can't help being curious. You aren't a bootlegger, are you? Donald changes them so often."
I let her get whatever she could out of a grin.
A telephone bell rang downstairs. Mrs. Willsson stretched her green-slippered feet out toward the burning coal and pretended she hadn't heard the bell. I didn't know why she thought that necessary.
She began: "I'm afraid I'll ha-" and stopped to look at the maid in the doorway.
The maid said Mrs. Willsson was wanted at the phone. She excused herself and followed the maid out. She didn't go downstairs, but spoke over an extension within earshot.
I heard: "Mrs. Willsson speaking. . . . Yes. . . . I beg your pardon? . . . Who? . . . Can't you speak a little louder? . . . What? . . . Yes. . . . Yes. . . . Who is this? . . . Hello! Hello!"
The telephone hook rattled. Her steps sounded down the hallway-rapid steps.
I set fire to a cigarette and stared at it until I heard her going down the steps. Then I went to a window, lifted an edge of the blind, and looked out at Laurel Avenue, and at the square white garage that stood in the rear of the house on that side.
Presently a slender woman in dark coat and hat came into sight hurrying from house to garage. It was Mrs. Willsson. She drove away in a Buick coupe. I went back to my chair and waited.
Three-quarters of an hour went by. At five minutes after eleven, automobile brakes screeched outside. Two minutes later Mrs. Willsson came into the room. She had taken off hat and coat. Her face was white, her eyes almost black.
"I'm awfully sorry," she said, her tight-lipped mouth moving jerkily, "but you've had all this waiting for nothing. My husband won't be home tonight."
I said I would get in touch with him at the Herald in the morning.
I went away wondering why the green toe of her left slipper was dark and damp with something that could have been blood.
I walked over to Broadway and caught a street car. Three blocks north of my hotel I got off to see what the crowd was doing around a side entrance of the City Hall.
Thirty or forty men and a sprinkling of women stood on the sidewalk looking at a door marked Police Department. There were men from mines and smelters still in their working clothes, gaudy boys from pool rooms and dance halls, sleek men with slick pale faces, men with the dull look of respectable husbands, a few just as respectable and dull women, and some ladies of the night.
On the edge of this congregation I stopped beside a square-set man in rumpled gray clothes. His face was grayish too, even the thick lips, though he wasn't much older than thirty. His face was broad, thick-featured and intelligent. For color he depended on a red windsor tie that blossomed over his gray flannel shirt.
"What's the rumpus?" I asked him.
He looked at me carefully before he replied, as if he wanted to be sure that the information was going into safe hands. His eyes were gray as his clothes, but not so soft.
"Don Willsson's gone to sit on the right hand of God, if God don't mind looking at bullet holes."
"Who shot him?" I asked.
The gray man scratched the back of his neck and said:
"Somebody with a gun."
I wanted information, not wit. I would have tried my luck with some other member of the crowd if the red tie hadn't interested me. I said:
"I'm a stranger in town. Hang the Punch and Judy on me. That's what strangers are for."
"Donald Willsson, Esquire, publisher of the Morning and Evening Heralds, was found in Hurricane Street a little while ago, shot very dead by parties unknown," he recited in a rapid sing-song. "Does that keep your feelings from being hurt?"
"Thanks." I put out a finger and touched a loose end of his tie. "Mean anything? Or just wearing it?"
"I'm Bill Quint."
"The hell you are!" I exclaimed, trying to place the name. "By God, I'm glad to meet you!"
I dug out my card case and ran through the collection of credentials I had picked up here and there by one means or another. The red card was the one I wanted. It identified me as Henry F. Neill, A. B. seaman, member in good standing of the Industrial Workers of the World. There wasn't a word of truth in it.
I passed this card to Bill Quint. He read it carefully, front and back, returned it to my hand, and looked me over from hat to shoes, not trustfully.
"He's not going to die any more," he said. "Which way you going?"
We walked down the street together, turned a corner, aimlessly as far as I knew.
"What brought you in here, if you're a sailor?" he asked casually.
"Where'd you get that idea?"
"There's the card."
"I got another that proves I'm a timber beast," I said. "If you want me to be a miner I'll get one for that tomorrow."
"You won't. I run 'em here."
"Suppose you got a wire from Chi?" I asked.
"Hell with Chi! I run 'em here." He nodded at a restaurant door and asked: "Drink?"
"Only when I can get it."
We went through the restaurant, up a flight of steps, and into a narrow second-story room with a long bar and a row of tables. Bill Quint nodded and said, "Hullo!" to some of the boys and girls at tables and bar, and steered me into one of the green-curtained booths that lined the wall opposite the bar.
We spent the next two hours drinking whiskey and talking.
The gray man didn't think I had any right to the card I had showed him, nor to the other one I had mentioned. He didn't think I was a good wobbly. As chief muckademuck of the I. W. W. in Personville, he considered it his duty to get the low-down on me, and to not let himself be pumped about radical affairs while he was doing it.
That was all right with me. I was interested in Personville affairs. He didn't mind discussing them between casual pokings into my business with the red cards.
What I got out of him amounted to this:
For forty years old Elihu Willsson-father of the man who had been killed this night-had owned Personville, heart, soul, skin and guts. He was president and majority stockholder of the Personville Mining Corporation, ditto of the First National Bank, owner of the Morning Herald, and Evening Herald, the city's only newspapers, and at least part owner of nearly every other enterprise of any importance. Along with these pieces of property he owned a United States senator, a couple of representatives, the governor, the mayor, and most of the state legislature. Elihu Willisson was Personville, and he was almost the whole state.
Back in the war days the I. W. W.-in full bloom then throughout the West-had lined up the Personville Mining Corporation's help. The help hadn't been exactly pampered. They used their new strength to demand the things they wanted. Old Elihu gave them what he had to give them, and bided his time.
In 1921 it came. Business was rotten. Old Elihu didn't care whether he shut down for a while or not. he tore up the agreements he had made with his men and began kicking them back into their pre-war circumstances.
Of course the help yelled for help. Bill Quint was sent out from I. W. W. headquarters in Chicago to given them some action. He was against a strike, an open walk-out. He advised the old sabotage racket, staying on the job and gumming things up from the inside. But that wasn't active enough for the Personville crew. They wanted to put themselves on the map, make labor history.
The strike lasted eight months. Both sides bled plenty. The wobblies had to do their own bleeding. Old Elihu hired gunmen, strike-breakers, national guardsmen and even parts of the regular army, to do his. When the last skull had been cracked, the last rib kicked in, organized labor in Personville was a used firecracker.
But, said Bill Quint, old Elihu didn't know his Italian history. He won the strike, but he lost his hold on the city and the state. To beat the miners he had to let his hired thugs run wild. When the fight was over he couldn't get rid of them. He had given his city to them and he wasn't strong enough to take it away from them. Personville looked good to them and they took it over. They had won his strike for him and they took the city for their spoils. He couldn't openly break with them. They had too much on him. He was responsible for all they had done during the strike.
Bill Quint and I were both fairly mellow by the time we had got this far. He emptied his glass again, pushed his hair out of his eyes and brought his history up to date:
"The strongest of 'em now is probably Pete the Finn. This stuff we're drinking's his. Then there's Lew Yard. He's got a loan shop down on Parker Street, does a lot of bail bond business, handles most of the burg's hot stuff, so they tell me, and is pretty thick with Noonan, the chief of police. This kid Max Thaler-Whisper-had got a lot of friends too. A little slick dark guy with something wrong with his throat. Can't talk. Gambler. Those three, with Noonan, just about help Elihu run his city-help him more than he wants. But he's got to play with 'em or else-"
"This fellow who was knocked off tonight-Elihu's son-where did he stand?" I asked.
"Where papa put him, and he's where papa put him now."
"You mean the old man had him-?"
"Maybe, but that's not my guess. This Don just came home and began running the papers for the old man. It wasn't like the old devil, even if he was getting close to the grave, to let anybody cop anything from him without hitting back. But he had to be cagey with these guys. He brought the boy and his French wife home from Paris and used him for his monkey-a damned nice fatherly trick. Don starts a reform campaign in the papers. Clear the burg of vice and corruption-which means clear it of Pete and Lew and Whisper, if it goes far enough. Get it? The old man's using the boy to shake 'em loose. I guess they got tired of being shook."
"There seems to be a few things wrong with that guess," I said.
"There's more than a few things wrong with everything in this lousy burg. Had enough of this paint?"
I said I had. We went down to the street. Bill Quint told me he was living in the Miners' Hotel in Forest Street. His way home ran past my hotel, so we walked down together. In front of my hotel a beefy fellow with the look of a plain-clothes man stood on the curb and talked to the occupant of a Stutz touring car.
"That's Whisper in the car," Bill Quint told me.
I looked past the beefy man and saw Thaler's profile.
Excerpted from Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
"An acknowledged literary landmark." NY Times Book Review.
"Dashiell Hammett is an original. He is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer." Boston Globe
"Hammett's prose [is] clean and entirely unique. His characters [are] as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction."
The New York Times
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"A sweet mess" is how the unnamed San Francisco Op refers to the mining (lying, stealing, blackmailing, killing)town of Poisonville (Personville). And what a mess it is. I lost count of the bodies at 17, about two-thirds the way through the book. What a tight, well-written and (despite the escalating body count) realistic book. The protagonist fears for his life, every woman doesn't automatically disrobe and sit on his face, he loses fights, gets outsmarted, admits he's 40 and out of shape. What a freaking breath of fresh air! And I only had to travel back to 1929 to get away from today's hard drinking, black belt, sniper trained, jet pilot, computer savvy superheroes who are somehow governed by their own, peculiar laws of physiology and physics. Here's one example from Hammett's hero: "There is nothing in running down streets with automobiles in pursuit. I stopped, facing this one. It came on." Reading this book I felt as if I were being written to, rather than written down at. Hammett is the man for all the right reasons.
Welcome to the town Personville or better known as Poisonville where everyone is crooked and bad and all of them kill each other in the end.Still its fun to reach such kind of books once in a while.
The great grand-daddy of all crime novels, Red Harvest was Dashiell Hammett's first commercial success, and laid the ground work for his later novels such as The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon. It created a new genre of protagonist, the hard-boiled, quick-tongued, and street-smart man who got by on a combination of wits and near-prescience.Red Harvest was by legend the inspiration for Akira Kurasawa's Yojimbo. While this has never been confirmed, it seems obvious by the themes explored. That film was later made into Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis, although by then the story bore little resemblance to the original. The idea of playing both sides of a political struggle to one's own ends was retained throughout the generations of film.The original story follows the efforts of an un-named protagonist working for the Continental Detective Agency of San Francisco, told in first person. He has been summoned to the small western industrial town of Personville to assist in the dealings of a local banker, discovering upon arrival that his employer has been murdered. Discovering the motivation behind the murder also uncovers the criminal dealings of "Poisonville," a situation that both demands results and offers the protagonist a chance to accomplish more than anyone expected.Naturally, the murder is only the tip of the iceberg, and involves two gangs as well as a corrupt police department. Allying himself with whomever is convenient at the time, the "Continental Op" works to uncover the truth while avoiding constant threats on his life.Thoroughly enjoyable and addicting, Red Harvest is a great read for anyone who wonders where the detective genre came from and the resultant glut of films and jargon. The protagonist may seem unrealistic, but one must keep in mind that Hammett based this story on his time spent as a union-buster for the Pinkerton Detective Agency after World War 1.
I have always enjoyed mystery and crime novels, but I can't say I'm an avid fan of either genre. I've read a fair amount of Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe as well as some Victorian Gothic fiction. I've read some Agatha Christie and other early/mid-20th century mystery/crime novels. I'd paid attention in history class and had a basic idea of life in and around the Prohibition era in America and the world of gangsters and bootleggers. And despite all of that, I wasn't entirely prepared for what to expect from Red Harvest.The general style of the novel was intriguing from the onset. We're dropped into a gritty first person narration from an unnamed character as he wanders the streets of `Poisonville¿ to meet some unknown client and then, later, to solve the murder of that client.I really enjoyed the way the details of the story were presented. The writing was very detailed and the narrator conveyed his thoughts and perceptions very well. With the tight first person narration, the mystery for the characters was just as much a mystery to us. Even simple details such as names and places seemed to come on a "need to know basis." Thus, there existed the mystery of the crime to be solved, as well as the mystery of what details were being withheld from the reader and why.As the story progressed, I grew attached to the protagonist as a cynical hard-nosed detective of the sort who "always gets his man." When he solved the murder, I was impressed by the logic involved and by his way of seeing through the prejudices and smokescreens around the case. The way the case was solved was quite unlike a Holmesian solution in that there weren't any telltale clues at the crime scene or analysis of fingerprints or paper fibers. Instead, the Continental Op made a logical supposition and then through manipulative and threatening speech worked enough of a confession out of the killer to close the case. It reminded me of the intimidation tactics seen in so many of the crime movies and TV shows today.I expected the confession to be incorrect since so much of the novel was left unread. Instead of letting the murder unravel, the plot took a different turn that I rather enjoyed. The corrupt "head" of Poisonville asks the Op to clean up the town and gives him carte blanche to do so.The resulting manipulative method of setting crook against crook was a lot of fun. What was interesting to me, as the city grew more and more corrupt, was that our protagonist had become an antihero. Instead of the altruistic detectives of other early crime novels, the Continental Op was secretive, manipulative, vengeful and dishonest. He had an end goal in mind and he planned to achieve it at any cost. While he wasn't actually running a bootlegging or gambling operation himself, he largely became as corrupt as those he hunted. He compromised those around him who may be innocent or, at least, less corruptible.Finally, he fell beyond the point of no return and concluded his downward spiral. At that point, I had no idea whether or not the story would allow the Op to be redeemed or if he would simply succeed in cleaning up Poisonville and then leave it a tainted and broken operative, ready to take his cynicism to the next case. While the Op did end the novel a bit more hardened and broken than when he started, the resolution did lighten some of his burden and return his respectability.I definitely enjoyed my experience with this book. Looking to the few books I¿ve read from the Victorian era, I can see numerous stark differences. The dialog was much harsher than that of a Sherlock Holmes story and the violence was more over the top and graphic than the Victorian Gothic novels I¿ve read. The mystery was tight and well organized, but the clues were extracted more through force and intimidation than through insight and deduction.What is even more striking to me is the pacing of the novel. While it did have vivid descriptions and various scenes of thought
In ¿Red Harvest¿ Dashiell Hammett¿s inimical hard-boiled hero, the Continental Op, returns but this time it¿s for a full length story with twists, turns and more gun play than you can shake a gin bottle at. Mr. Hammett¿s prose is pithy, his characters astute and the novel is oh so enjoyable. Red Harvest was definitely mined for ideas, not as salaciously as the Maltese Falcon was but I can see the plots of at least a half-dozen movies were lifted from Mr. Hammett¿s sagacious pen. The action and suspense is extraordinary, virile and has an "oh so modern" flair. Even though it was written close to seventy years ago, age seems only to potentiate Mr. Hammet's work.
I really enjoy Hammett's prose (and The Maltese Falcon is one of my favorite mysteries ever) but the vast array of characters speaking in near-cryptic slang made it nearly impossible for me to follow along! As far as I was able to make out, some things happened and people died and then more things happened. I think.
This book is uniquely written, containing two or three mysteries in one story. Dashiell Hammett made another success with his "hard-boiled detective" novel and is sure to please any mystery fan with this story. However, it was slightly gruesome, seeing that half the characters are killed.
A slow starter that was nothing to get excited about even once it got moving.¿
Excellent book. Hammett writes in a manner that's just like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey-- he gives you enough information to keep going, but keeps you in the dark just the right amount. This book was hard to put down. The names got a little confusing at times (a lot of characters), but overall it was pretty simple to keep up with what was happening. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this book!
Red Harvest is one of those books that, if you're a fan of the Noir or Hardboiled genre, you absolutely *have* to read. Hammett is the original author wisecracking, tough-nosed detective fiction. He practically invented the detective story as we know it today. But at the same time, it isn't the best out there. Don't get me wrong--it's still an entertaining story, and I wasn't disappointed in any way. But the story meanders at times, and only gets going again once Hammett gives the plot a kick in the pants.And speaking of the plot, it involves the unnamed "Continental Op" who travels to the mining town of Personville (known as "Poisonville" to its more cynical residents) to speak with a new client. Before he arrives, the client is murdered and the Continental Op sets out on to discover the hows and the whys. In his investigation he learns about several warring criminal factions in Poisonville and subsequently decides to serve as the one-man wrecking crew to tear it all down--all against the agency's orders.Hammett does a good job exploring the protagonist's downward into the maelstrom. As the body count starts to grow, the Continental Op begins to almost enjoy the bloodshed, and his companions start to question his motives.Hammett also amazes me with his ability to paint vivid pictures of his characters even with his minimal style. It encourages the reader to read between the lines and make conclusions not just on what was said or how the narrator felt, but also on what is *not* said. This style of narration aids in making the story a true mystery and encourages the reader to play along. And if you're a mystery fan, I'd encourage you to play along with Hammett. Even if it isn't the most entertaining book you've ever read, it's still fascinating (in this reader's opinion) to see where it all started.
If this book seems familiar, its because so much of it has been ripped on and ripped off in both novels and in film. It should have just been titled, "How to write."
Awesome. One of my favorites. A book that casual readers will love for all the action, and die hard literary critics will love for the thematic content. Cover to cover action, highlighted heavily with humorous and sarcastic dialogue.
Not his best work; lots of action and speculation, no proof. The logic is there but it is a moving target. Enjoy.
This novel does not stack up well compared to Hammett’s classics like The Thin Man or The Dain Curse. It has a couple of moments where the hero, The Continental Op, surprises us by pinning one of the many murders on someone I at least never suspected. But mostly this is the tale of a terribly corrupt town and the hero’s efforts to clean it up. I was about two-thirds of the way through the book before I decided for certain that I didn’t really like it so it probably is owed another half star.
Fun, gory, unpredictable noir hackery written with a flair uncommon in the time. No pretentiousness here. No fluff or filler.
Noir greatness! It has it all, the hard nosed smart detective, the dame, the multiple bad guys, a mystery or two to solve along the way and don't forget the grit and gore. I loved the story where our hero is one step ahead of his enemies and the reader. You never know what is happening next you just know you want to. I read this book because of it's link to Butte, MT and of course it's plot and style is linked to some of the best films in history and it did not disappoint. If you like noir it's a must read, if you want to sample what noir is all about this is a great place to start. I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from Hammett.
I was trying to read it but pages were missing
"Red Harvest," Dashiell Hammett's first published novel (in 1929), reveals a world of venality, mayhem and revenge that set the tone for detective novels half a century into the future. A Continental Detective Agency Op is summoned from California to "Poisonville," Mont. by aged newspaper owner and banker Elihu Willsson. Elihu's criminal enterprise of imported thugs threatens to turn on him. The aged banker gives the Op enough of information to let our nameless narrator work his way through a host of evil-doers: Bill Quint, an affable old IWW member; corrupt police chief Noonan; greedy Dinah Brand, who has scandalous information on everyone; jealous bank clerk Robert Albury; hoodlum Max "Whisper" Thaler; and other evil-doers who run the town and its rackets. The first question is "Who killed Elihu's son?" The Op sets about pitting the factions against each other, saying, "Plans are all right sometimes. And sometimes just stirring things up is all right." This "stir-it-up novel" is filled with offhanded shootings, explosions, and murder by icepick. The carnage is colorfully expressed in passages where the Op says, "We bumped over dead Hank O'Meara's legs and headed for home" and "Be still while I get up or I'll make an opening in your head for brains to leak in." Don't expect plausibility, but do look for the snappy dialogue, strong characters (especially in the Op), and writing style that moves fast. Time magazine included "Red Harvest" in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1922 to 2005. Literary critic Andre Gide also called the novel "the last word in atrocity, cynicism and horror." Hammett's "Red Harvest" has given us a sub-genre of the crime/adventure/detective novel that might be termed "the man with no name." "Red Harvest" can lay claim to being the successor to the classic Western - not the Sherlock Holmes "whodunit." The novel's amazing power and plotting led movie director Akira Kurosawa to create "Yojimbo," focusing on a freelance samurai who confronts town's warring factions. Look for thematic vestiges of Hammett's novel also in Sergio Leone's "spaghetti Westerns" with Clint Eastwood and in John Sturges's "The Magnificent Seven." "Red Harvesst" is the novel that started an epic genre.