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Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)

Novelist, Short Story Writer and Screenwriter

Hammett missed being the first American hard-boiled detective novelist, to John Carroll Daly, but more than made up for being second with his far superior talent.  Utilizing an extremely stark, minimalist style, his influence on the noir and crime fiction that followed cannot be underestimated.  Two of his major characters, the nameless Continental Op, and Sam Spade, set the standard for all private detectives to come.  Hammet wrote or co-wrote a number of screenplays in Hollywood, but his greatest contribution to film noir is undoubtedly the film adaptations of two of his novels--The Maltese Falcon (Warner Brothers, 1941) and The Glass Key (Paramount, 1942).

Novels

Red Harvest (New York and London: Knopf, 1929)

redharvest.jpg (42174 bytes)  

Ingram
One of Hammett's masterpieces, this is the most vivid and realistic picture of gang war ever written--and one of the most exciting of all suspense novels.

From the Back Cover
"Dashiell Hammett is an original. He is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer." -- Boston Globe

When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty -- even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.

"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

 Red Harvest (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)  Buy this book from Amazon.com

 Red Harvest  Buy the unabridged Audio CD from Amazon.com

 Red Harvest (Isis Series)  Buy the abridged Audio Cassette from Amazon.com

Dufris's boldly interpretive performance in this Hammett classic is breathtaking. He all but disappears into Hammett's rich cavalcade of characters. Man, woman, cynic, lunatic, naif, scoundrel, each personality is utterly realized, full-blooded and idiosyncratic. With expert pacing and emphasis, Dufris also manages to convey their shifts of emotion. His reading becomes every bit as engrossing as the written words themselves. The novel follows the investigations of an audacious, but never named, detective as he sifts through the violence and corruption of a flinty mining town. The novel is peopled with fascinating figures brought vividly to life by a most imaginative reader. M.O. Winner of AUDIOFILE's Earphones Award. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the abridged audio cassette edition.  Dufris is also the performer on the audio CD edition.

 The Maltese Falcon  Buy the DVD now from Amazon.com

The Maltese Falcon  Buy the VHS cassette now from Amazon.com

Still the tightest, sharpest, and most cynical of Hollywood's official deathless classics, bracingly tough even by post-Tarantino standards. Humphrey Bogart is Dashiell Hammett's definitive private eye, Sam Spade, struggling to keep his hard-boiled cool as the double-crosses pile up around his ankles. The plot, which dances all around the stolen Middle Eastern statuette of the title, is too baroque to try to follow, and it doesn't make a bit of difference. The dialogue, much of it lifted straight from Hammett, is delivered with whip-crack speed and sneering ferocity, as Bogie faces off against Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, fends off the duplicitous advances of Mary Astor, and roughs up a cringing "gunsel" played by Elisha Cook Jr. It's an action movie of sorts, at least by implication: the characters always seem keyed up, right on the verge of erupting into violence. This is a turning-point picture in several respects: John Huston (The African Queen) made his directorial debut here in 1941, and Bogart, who had mostly played bad guys, was a last-minute substitution for George Raft, who must have been kicking himself for years afterward. This is the role that made Bogart a star and established his trend-setting (and still influential) antihero persona. --David Chute --This text refers to the VHS Tape edition.      

      

The Dain Curse (New York and London: Knopf, 1929)

Everything about the Leggett diamond heist indicated to the Continental Op that it was an inside job. From the stray diamond found in the yard to the eyewitness accounts of a "strange man" casing the house, everything was just too pat. Gabrielle Dain-Leggett has enough secrets to fill a closet, and when she disappears shortly after the robbery, she becomes the Op's prime suspect. But her father, Edgar Leggett, keeps some strange company himself and has a dark side the moon would envy. Before he can solve the riddle of the diamond theft, the Continental Op must first solve the mystery of this strange family.

Book Description
One of the Continental Op's most bizarre cases, as he is faced with Miss Gabrielle Dain Leggett, who has an unfortunate effect on the people around her - they have a habit of dying violently.

Ingram
This story of wild and crazy Gabrielle Leggett moves from robbery to murder, dope, and a sinister cult in San Francisco. First published in 1928, it is told with all the authenticity of a newspaper report.

 Dain Curse  Buy the hardcover edition from Amazon.com

 The Dain Curse (Vintage Crime)  Buy the paperback edition from Amazon.com

Dufris's boldly interpretive performance of this Hammett classic is breathtaking. He all but disappears into Hammett's rich cavalcade of characters. Man, woman, cynic, lunatic, naif, scoundrel, each personality is utterly realized, full-blooded and idiosyncratic. With expert pacing and emphasis, Dufris also manages to convey their shifts of emotion. His reading becomes every bit as engrossing as the written words themselves. The novel follows the investigations of an audacious, but never named, detective as he seeks to discover why everyone around a peculiar young woman keeps dying. The novel is peopled with fascinating figures brought vividly to life by a most imaginative reader. M.O. Winner of the AUDIOFILE Earphones Award. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the

 The Dain Curse (Isis Series)  Buy the abridged Audio Cassette version from Amazon.com

The Maltese Falcon (New York and London: Knopf, 1930)

The Maltese Falcon (Warner Brothers, 1941)  Click here to see my page with images and posters from the 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's archetypally tough San Francisco detective, is more noir than L.A. Confidential and more vulnerable than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. In The Maltese Falcon, the best known of Hammett's Sam Spade novels (including The Dain Curse and The Glass Key), Spade is tough enough to bluff the toughest thugs and hold off the police, risking his reputation when a beautiful woman begs for his help, while knowing that betrayal may deal him a new hand in the next moment.

Spade's partner is murdered on a stakeout; the cops blame him for the killing; a beautiful redhead with a heartbreaking story appears and disappears; grotesque villains demand a payoff he can't provide; and everyone wants a fabulously valuable gold statuette of a falcon, created as tribute for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Who has it? And what will it take to get it back? Spade's solution is as complicated as the motives of the seekers assembled in his hotel room, but the truth can be a cold comfort indeed.maltese.jpg (25279 bytes)

Spade is bigger (and blonder) in the book than in the movie, and his Mephistophelean countenance is by turns seductive and volcanic. Sam knows how to fight, whom to call, how to rifle drawers and secrets without leaving a trace, and just the right way to call a woman "Angel" and convince her that she is. He is the quintessence of intelligent cool, with a wise guy's perfect pitch. If you only know the movie, read the book. If you're riveted by Chinatown or wonder where Robert B. Parker's Spenser gets his comebacks, read the master. --Barbara Schlieper

Book Description
Sam Spade, a slightly shop-worn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics, stars in Hammett's detective fiction, a novel that has haunted 2 generations of readers.

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Mystery novel by Dashiell Hammett, generally considered his finest work. It originally appeared as a serial in Black Mask magazine in 1929 and was published in book form the next year. The novel's sustained tension is created by vivid scenes and by the pace and spareness of the author's style. The other major attraction of The Maltese Falcon is its colorful cast of characters; they include the antiheroic detective Sam SPADE; Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a deceptive beauty; Joel Cairo, an effete Levantine whose gun gives him courage; the very fat and jovial but sinister Casper Gutman; and Gutman's "gunsel" Wilmer, eager to be feared. All of them are looking for the Maltese falcon, a fabulously valuable 16th-century artifact. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

Ingram
First published in 1930, The Maltese Falcon stands today as one of the classics of both suspense literature and American writing.

From the Back Cover
"Dashiell Hammett. . . is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer." --The Boston Globe

"The Maltese Falcon is not only probably the best detective story we have ever read, it is an exceedingly well written novel."--The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"Hammett's prose [is] clean and entirely unique. His characters [are] as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction."--The New York Time

The Maltese Falcon (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Maltese Falcon (Hardcover edition)

Maltese Falcon (Audio cassette)

The Maltese Falcon (Audio CD)

Perhaps better known as a movie than a book, The Maltese Falcon set a standard for tough-guy detective whodunits. This presentation is more radio dramatization than audiobook reading. The stage is set by the soulful tones of a tenor sax lyrically painting a mournful picture of fog-bound San Francisco, steeped in death and deceit. Reader William Dufris is a one-man band, covering the entire cast of diverse characters with unbelievable ease. His shifts from tough Sam Spade to the damsel in distress to any of a host of bad guys is just short of amazing. Some may find his presentation of the leading lady close to overacting, and he does stretch to find unique voices for the minor players, but, overall, this is a top notch presentation. T.J.M. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

The Maltese Falcon (1941 Film DVD)

The Maltese Falcon (1941 Film VHS)     

Still the tightest, sharpest, and most cynical of Hollywood's official deathless classics, bracingly tough even by post-Tarantino standards. Humphrey Bogart is Dashiell Hammett's definitive private eye, Sam Spade, struggling to keep his hard-boiled cool as the double-crosses pile up around his ankles. The plot, which dances all around the stolen Middle Eastern statuette of the title, is too baroque to try to follow, and it doesn't make a bit of difference. The dialogue, much of it lifted straight from Hammett, is delivered with whip-crack speed and sneering ferocity, as Bogie faces off against Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, fends off the duplicitous advances of Mary Astor, and roughs up a cringing "gunsel" played by Elisha Cook Jr. It's an action movie of sorts, at least by implication: the characters always seem keyed up, right on the verge of erupting into violence. This is a turning-point picture in several respects: John Huston (The African Queen) made his directorial debut here in 1941, and Bogart, who had mostly played bad guys, was a last-minute substitution for George Raft, who must have been kicking himself for years afterward. This is the role that made Bogart a star and established his trend-setting (and still influential) antihero persona. --David Chute --This text refers to the VHS Tape edition.                    

The Glass Key (New York and London: Knopf, 1931)

Ingram
Of Hammett's book, published in 1931, The New York Times wrote "the developing relationships among the characters are as exciting as the unfolding story."

From the Back Cover
"Hammett's prose was clean and entirely unique. His characters were as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction. His gift of invention never tempted him beyond the limits of credibility."-- The New York Times

Sophisticated urbanites move through a tangled gray area between the law and the underworld. Even when one loses track of the plot, the characters remain engaging. William Dufris is almost startling. He doesn't sound like one reader giving each character a distinctive vocal signature. He sounds like a lot of different people. The casual listener might mistake this for an ensemble recording with a cast that includes women. Dufris also handles narrative passages with unusual liveliness. J.N. An AUDIOFILE Earphones Award winner. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the audio cassette edition.

 The Glass Key (Vintage Crime)  Buy the paperback edition from Amazon.com

 The Glass Key  Buy the unabridged Audio CD from Amazon.com

 The Glass Key (Isis Series)  Buy the abridged Audio Cassette edition from Amazon.com

 The Glass Key  Buy the VHS cassette of the 1942 film from Amazon.com

The Glass Key (Paramount, 1942).Click here to see my page with images and posters from the film noir The Glass Key

The Thin Man (New York and London: Knopf, 1934)

Not really noir, either in the book version or in the series of films made, but witty, urbane and still immensely popular.--Mike Cable

The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett's classic tale of murder in Manhattan, became the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and both the movies and the novel continue to captivate new generations of fans.

Nick and Nora Charles, accompanied by their schnauzer, Asta, are lounging in their suite at the Normandie in New York City for the Christmas holiday, enjoying the prerogatives of wealth: meals delivered at any hour, theater openings, taxi rides at dawn, rubbing elbows with the gangster element in speakeasies. They should be annoyingly affected, but they charm. Mad about each other, sardonic, observant, kind to those in need, and cool in a fight, Nick and Nora are graceful together, and their home life provides a sanctuary from the rough world of gangsters, hoodlums, and police investigations into which Nick is immediately plunged.

A lawyer-friend asks Nick to help find a killer and reintroduces him to the family of Richard Wynant, a more-than-eccentric inventor who disappeared from society 10 years before. His former wife, the lush and manipulative Mimi, has remarried a European fortune hunter who turns out to be a vindictive former associate of her first husband and is bent on the ruin of Wynant's family fortune. Wynant's children, Dorothy and Gilbert, seem to have inherited the family aversion to straight talk. Dorothy, who has matured into a beautiful young woman, has a crush on Nick, and so, in a hero-worshipping way, does mama's boy Gilbert. Nick and Nora respond kindly to their neediness as Nick tries to make sense of misinformation, false identities, far-fetched alibis, and, at the center of the confusion, the mystery of The Thin Man, Richard Wynant. Is he mad? Is he a killer? Or is he really an eccentric inventor protecting his discovery from intellectual theft?

The dialogue is spare, the locales lively, and Nick, the narrator, shows us the players as they are, while giving away little of his own thoughts. No one is telling the whole truth, but Nick remains mostly patient as he doggedly tries to backtrack the lies. Hammett's New York is a cross between Damon Runyon and Scott Fitzgerald--more glamorous than real, but compelling when visited in the company of these two charmers. The lives of the rich and famous don't get any better than this! --Barbara Schlieper

Book Description
Nick and Nora Charles are Hammett's most enchanting creations, a rich, glamorous couple who solve crimes in between wisecracks and martinis.

Ingram
Originally published in 1933, The Thin Man is the story of respectable people who are prepared to murder between drinks--and do.

 The Thin Man (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)  Buy the paperback edition from Amazon.com

Amazon.com essential video
The intoxicating chemistry and repartee between the oft-teamed William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles--America's favorite soused detectives--is fully 100-proof in the marvelously witty Thin Man movies. You simply won't find more delightful movie company than Nick and Nora. The title, of course, refers not to Nicky the dick, but to the mysteriously missing scientist he and his lovely partner set out to find. Powell and Loy deliver their sparkling dialog with giddy enthusiasm (and occasionally slurred speech) in this rapid-fire, three-martini suspense comedy directed by famously speedy W.S. Van Dyke and adapted from the novel by Dashiell Hammett. The success of The Thin Man spawned a litter of sequels, including After the Thin Man (featuring a young James Stewart), Another Thin Man (in which a baby is added to the Charles family), Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, and Song of the Thin Man. --Jim Emerson --This text refers to the VHS
edition.

The Thin Man Series  Click here to buy videos from The Thin Man Series at Amazon.com

 

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