Category: Dashiell Hammett

My Book Notes: “Arson Plus” (1923) a short story by Dashiell Hammett

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20891405Dashiell Hammett memorably burst on the crime lit scene in 1923 with the publication in The Black Mask of the first of his Continental Op stories (for a fascinating, very detailed look at these stories as puzzles see Mike Grost’s analysis of them).  Hammett’s three earliest Op tales, published within two weeks of each other, are “Arson Plus,” “Slippery Fingers” and “Crooked Souls.”  All three works are straightforward detective stories. (Source: The Passing Tramp)

The first Op story, “Arson Plus”, shows the routine of a private investigator for a large detective agency. He interviews suspects and witnesses, inspects the scene of the crime, cooperates with the local police, and has operatives in other cities run side investigations. The story is low key and with an atmosphere of “realism”: it looks like a major attempt to show the realistic investigative technique of a p.i. in detail. Later Hammett works, such as “The Scorched Face” (1924), continue in this vein. These stories strongly recall the realistic police work of Freeman Wills Crofts, then at the peak of his influence and prestige. “Arson Plus” contains other features the recall Crofts and the Realist school of which he was a leader: the plot centers around that Croftsian standard, the alibi, and is implemented through that Realist school technique, the “breakdown of identity”. The last third of Crofts’ best known novel, The Cask (1920), is dominated by the sleuthing of an English private investigator, but most of Crofts’ books feature the police. Hammett’s stories look like an attempt to do for the private investigator what Crofts did for the police. The detective technique of Hammett’s hero, consisting of interviewing witness after witness, often fairly blindly, hoping to turn up clues after accumulating a mass of random details, also has roots in Crofts’ books, where his policemen do the same thing. This technique was preserved and expanded in Hammett’s successor Raymond Chandler, and has become a staple of today’s p.i. novels. (Source: Mike Grost)

My encounter with this two quotes perhaps serves to explain my sudden interest for  “Arson Plus” by Dashiell Hammett, the story that introduced the world to the Continental Op, was first published in the 1 October, 1923, issue of Black Mask under the pseudonym Peter Collinson. The story can be summarised as follows: “Suspecting insurance fraud, the Op investigates the burning of an isolated farmhouse and its reclusive inhabitant.”

My take: Extremely fascinating reading as a link between two apparently opposite schools, the Golden Age of Detention and the Hard-boiled.

About the Author: Dashiell Samuel Hammett (1894–1961) 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.

“Incendio provocado”, un breve relato de Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett irrumpió memorablemente en la escena del crimen en 1923 con la publicación en The Black Mask del primero de sus relatos protagonizados por El Agente de la Continental (para una visión fascinante y muy detallada de estos relatos como enigmas vean el análisis que hace  Mike Grost de ellos). Los tres primeros relatos de Hammett, publicados con dos semanas de diferencia, son “Arson Plus”, “Slippery Fingers” y “Crooked Souls”. Los tres son relatos policiacos sencillos. (Fuente: The Passing Tramp)

El primer relato “Incendio provocado”, en inglés “Arson Plus”, muestra la rutina de un investigador privado de una gran agencia de detectives. Entrevista a sospechosos y testigos, inspecciona la escena del crimen, coopera con la policía local y hace que otros agentes de otras ciudades realicen averiguaciones paralelas. La historia tiene un tono discreto con cierta atmósfera de “realismo”: parece como un gran intento de mostrar la técnica de investigación real de un investigador privado en detalle. Obras posteriores de Hammett, como “The Scorched Face” (1924), continúan por esta línea. Estos relatos recuerdan firmemente el trabajo policial con tinte realista de Freeman Wills Crofts, entonces en la cima de su influencia y de su prestigio. “Incendio provocado” contiene otras características que recuerdan a Crofts y la escuela realista que lideraba: la trama se centra alrededor de ese estándar croftsiano, la coartada, y se implementa a través de esa técnica de la escuela realista, la “pérdida de la identidad”. El último tercio de la novela más conocida de Crofts, The Cask (1920), está dominado por la investigación de un investigador privado inglés, pero la mayoría de los libros de Crofts están protagonizados por policias. Los relatos de Hammett parecen un intento de hacer por el investigador privado lo que Crofts hizo por el policía. La técnica de investigación del héroe hammettiano, consistente en entrevistar testigo tras testigo, a menudo bastante a ciegas, con la esperanza de encontrar pistas tras acumular una gran cantidad de detalles aleatorios, también tiene sus raíces en los libros de Crofts, donde sus policías hacen lo mismo. Esta técnica se conservó y expandió en el sucesor de Hammett, Raymond Chandler, y se ha convertido en un elemento básico de las novelas del investigador privado de hoy en día. (Fuente: Mike Grost)

Mi encuentro con estas dos citas quizás sirva para explicar mi repentino interés por “Incendio provocado” de Dashiell Hammett, el relato que mostró al mundo a El Agente de la Continental, se publicó por primera vez en la edición del 1 de octubre de 1923 de Black Mask con el seudónimo de Peter Collinson. La historia se puede resumir de la siguiente manera: “Sospechando del fraude de un seguro, el agente de la Continental investiga el incendio de una granja aislada y de su habitante solitario”.

Mi opinión: Lectura extremadamente fascinante como un vínculo entre dos escuelas aparentemente opuestas, la Edad de Oro de la Novela Policiaca y la Hard-boiled.

Ver la reseña de “Incendio Provocado” en Leer sin prisa.

Sobre el autor: Dashiell Samuel Hammett (1894–1961) nació en St. Mary’s County. Creció en Filadelfia y Baltimore. Hammett dejó la escuela a la edad de catorce años y realizó todo tipo de trabajos a partir de entonces: mensajero, vendedor de periódicos, oficinista, operario y estibador, y finalmente se convirtió en agente de la Agencia de detectives Pinkerton. El trabajo como investigador se adaptó al joven Hammett, pero la Primera Guerra Mundial se interpuso, interrumpiendo su trabajo y dañando su salud. Cuando el sargento Hammett fue dado de alta del último entre distintos hospitales, reanudó su trabajo como investigador. Pronto se dedicó a escribir, y a finales de la década de 1920 Hammett se convirtió en el maestro incuestionable de la novela policiaca en los Estados Unidos. En The Maltese Falcon (1930), dio a conocer por primera vez a su famoso investigador privado, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) nos brindó otro detective inmortal, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929) y The Glass Key (1931) se encuentran entre sus novelas de mayor éxito. Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Hammett nuevamente sirvió como sargento en el Ejército, esta vez durante más de dos años, la mayoría de los cuales los pasó en las islas Aleutianas. La vida posterior de Hammett estuvo marcada en parte por problemas de salud, alcoholismo, un período de encarcelamiento relacionado con su presunta afiliación al Partido Comunista, y por su prolongada relación con la escritora Lillian Hellman, con quien tuvo una convivencia muy inestable. Su tentativa de novela autobiográfica perdura en la historia “Tulip”, que figura en su colección póstuma The Big Knockover (1966, editada por Lillian Hellman). Otro volumen de sus relatos, The Continental Op (1974, editado por Stephen Marcus), presenta al personaje por antonomasia de Hammett: El Agente de la Continental, un detective anónimo que muestra poco de su personalidad, convirtiéndolo en un clásico tipo duro en el molde del hard-boiled, un poco como el propio Hammett.

Review: The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett

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This entry is my third contribution to Crimes of the Century a meme at Past Offences. This month the year under review is #1930.

The Murder Room;, 2014. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 1026 KB. Print length: 226 pages. First serialised in Black Mask, between September 1929 and January 1930. The hardback edition became available in February 1930. ASIN: B00N20V112. ISBN: 978 1 4719 1768 4.

isbn9780752865331Synopsis: Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderly to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderly is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

My take: An attractive young lady, who identifies herself as Wonderly arrives at Spade & Archer, a detective agency at San Francisco. She wants to find out the whereabouts of her sister, five years her junior. She fled from New York with a fellow named Floyd Thursby. Now they are in San Francisco. He’s a married man. Miss Wonderly wants to find her and return back home before her parents may realise what happened. It seems a straightforward issue, though Sam Spade doesn’t believe a single word of what she’s telling him. Miss Wonderly has a date tonight with Thursby, what may provide them an opportunity of following him so that he can lead them till her sister. Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner, has volunteered to perform the tracking. But that same night Spade receives a phone call. Archer has been found dead by a point-blank shot. Shortly after, Thursby dies after being shot in front of his hotel. The police suspect that Thursby, killed Archer and that Spade shot Thursby out of revenge. The situation worsens when it is discovered that Spade was having an affair with Iva, Archer’s wife. But, finally, Spade’s doubts are confirmed when Wonderly confides him her true identity. She’s really Brigid O’Shaughnessy. At this point, the action acquires a dizzy pace and Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo –an effeminate Greek, sometimes named the Levantine, and Casper Gutman –a Fat Man often accompanied by a bully youngster called Wilmer Cook, end up trying to trace an ancient statuette extremely valuable, shaped like a falcon that gives its title to the novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Some times I wonder myself why I waited so long to read this book? And I have no answer. Perhaps, it didn’t help me having seen the film so many times. A superb film, incidentally, directed by John Huston in 1941 and starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. In any case, the novel has met or even exceeded, all my expectations. It’s, undoubtedly, a true masterpiece. The story is just great and is very well told. The pace is well chosen and the characterisation is excellent. It’s probably one of the best crime fiction books ever written. It is certainly not the first hard-boiled novel, but it served to lay the rules by which all the subsequent novels will be judged. Hammett’s style is completely innovative, and I would like to suggest reading the following article: Characterization Through Description in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, 1930. Hammett is also singular in using new words and expressions, which  makes it difficult to translate.  In this regard, I would recommend reading Getting away with murder: The Maltese Falcon’s specialized homosexual slang gunned down in translation by Daniel Linder, here.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was born in Maryland and worked in a number of menial jobs until he became an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. His experiences as private detective served him well to develop his writing career. His work includes Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, The Thin Man and some eighty short stories, mostly published in Black Mask magazine. For the film version you may check out here my film notes; The Maltese Falcon entry at the American Film Institute, AFI, is here; and the Wikipedia page here

What others have said: The whole book had the feel of a good play – tight, closed sets with a handful of well-drawn characters in each scene that riff off each other through verbal sparring, violence and seduction, with plenty of melodrama and tension, and the story twisting and turning as it works its way to a satisfying conclusion. (The View from the Blue House).

Wonderful stuff, not as complex as The Glass Key, nor as funny as The Thin Man, but a great book to read.(Past Offences)

You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”

Does he mean it? Who knows. It’s hard to say with Sam Spade as we are not privy to his thoughts. None of the characters thoughts are shared. We are only left with facial expressions and conversations. Despite my complaints about the pacing, I enjoyed the story very much. There weren’t many shocks or surprises. While reading, my mind would conjure up Bogart as Spade and I’ve never seen the movie. With lines like the one above and plenty of others, it definitely makes me want to read more Hammett. (Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog)

…I love The Maltese Falcon, that it induces just as chilling an effect in the reader as doesThe Glass Key, and that I regard it as at least as great a book. (I’d also suggest that The Maltese Falcon‘s greatness is so universally acknowledged that the novel may simply be taken for granted in discussions of the best crime novel ever.) (Detectives Beyond Borders)

The Orion Publishing Group publicity page

Black Lizard publicity page

The Dashiell Hammett website

Dashiell Hammet at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

Let’s talk about the black bird by J. Kingston Pierce

El halcón maltés de Dashiell Hammett

Sinopsis: Sam Spade es contratado por la fragante Miss Wonderly para localizar a su hermana, que se ha fugado con un canalla llamado Floyd Thursby. Pero Miss Wonderly es, de hecho, la hermosa y traicionera Brigid O’Shaughnessy, y cuando el socio de Spade Miles Archer recibe un disparo, mientras sigue el rastro de Thursby, Spade se convierte tanto en cazador como en cazado: ¿Podrá localizar al pájaro incrustado de joyas, un tesoro por el que vale la pena matar, antes de que lo encuentre el hombre gordo?

Mi opinión: Una mujer joven y atractiva, que se identifica como Wonderly llega a Spade & Archer, una agencia de detectives de San Francisco. Quiere averiguar el paradero de su hermana, cinco años menor que ella. Ella huyó de Nueva York con un tipo llamado Floyd Thursby. Ahora están en San Francisco. Él es un hombre casado. La señorita Wonderly quiere encontrarla y volver a casa antes de que sus padres se den cuenta de lo que pasó. Parece un asunto sencillo, aunque Sam Spade no cree una sola palabra de lo que le está diciendo. La señorita Wonderly tiene una cita esta noche con Thursby, lo que les puede ofrecer la oportunidad de seguirlo para que pueda conducirlos hasta su hermana. Miles Archer, el socio de Sam Spade, se ha ofrecido para realizar el seguimiento. Pero esa misma noche Spade recibe una llamada telefónica. Archer ha sido encontrado muerto de un disparo a quemarropa. Poco después, Thursby muere tras recibir un disparo frente a su hotel. La policía sospecha que Thursby, mató a Archer y que Spade disparó a Thursby por venganza. La situación se agrava cuando se descubre que Spade estaba teniendo una aventura con Iva, la esposa de Archer. Pero, finalmente, las dudas de Spade se confirman cuando Wonderly le confía su verdadera identidad. Ella es realmente Brigid O’Shaughnessy. En este punto, la acción adquiere un ritmo vertiginoso y Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo –un afeminado griego, a veces llamado el levantino, y Casper Gutman –una hombre gordo a menudo acompañada de un joven matón llamado Wilmer Cook, terminan tratando de localizar una antigua estatuilla de gran valor, con forma de halcón que da título a la novela, El halcón maltés. 

Algunas veces me pregunto, ¿por qué esperé tanto tiempo a leer este libro? Y no tengo respuesta. Tal vez, no me ayudó  haber visto muchas veces la película. Una película excelente, por cierto, dirigida por John Huston en 1941 y  protagonizada por Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet y Elisha Cook En cualquier caso, la novela ha alcanzado o incluso superado todas mis expectativas. Es, sin duda, una verdadera obra maestra. La historia es simplemente genial y está muy bien contada. El ritmo está bien elegido y la caracterización es excelente. Es, probablemente, uno de los mejores libros que se han escrito de novela negra. Ciertamente, no es la primera novela hard-boiled, pero sirvió para sentar las bases por las que se juzgará a todas las novelas posteriores. El estilo de Hammett es totalmente innovador, y me gustaría sugerir la lectura del siguiente artículo: Characterization Through Description in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, 1930. También Hammett es singular en la utilización de nuevas palabras y expresiones, lo que, indudablemente, hace difícil su traducción. En este sentido, recomiendo la lectura de Getting away with murder: The Maltese Falcon’s specialized homosexual slang gunned down in translation por Daniel Linder aquí.

Mi calificación: A + (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) nació en Maryland y realizó una serie de trabajos de poca monta hasta que se convirtió en un operativo de la Agencia de Detectives Pinkerton. Sus experiencias como detective privado le sirvieron para desarrollar su carrera de escritor. Su trabajo incluye Cosecha roja, El halcón maltés, La llave de cristal, El hombre delgado y unos ochenta cuentos, la mayoría publicados en la revista Black Mask. Sobre la versión de la película puede ver aquí mis notas de cine; La entrada sobe El halcón maltés en el American Film Institute, AFI, está aquí; y la página de Wikipedia aquí.

Serie Negra publicity page

The Continental Op

Ever heard of a writer named Carroll John Daly, or a character named Terry Mack?  Most people haven’t, but Daly’s “Three Gun Terry” is generally recognized as the very first hard-boiled detective story.  Debuting in the pulp pages of Black Mask in May 1923, Terry Mack was more cartoon than believable character. Using any or all of his three pistols, Terry never hesitated to blow away anyone who crossed him.  Oddly enough, this psychotic behavior never seemed to have any legal consequences.

A few months later, in the October 1, 1923 issue, readers of Black Mask were introduced to a different kind of private detective: far from the ultramacho antics of Terry Mack, this detective was short, plump and middle aged, and was more interested in gathering clues than keeping the bullet manufacturers in business.  The story was called “Arson Plus,” and was written by a fellow calling himself Peter Collinson. In reality “Collinson” was Dashiell Hammett, former operative of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  The character was an instant hit, and soon Hammett began writing under his own name.  

The fat little detective’s true name name was never revealed; sometimes referred to as “The Continental Detective,” or “The Man from Continental,” the moniker that finally stuck was “The Continental Op” (short for operative).

The Op had no personal stake in his cases; he investigated for one reason only:  he’d been hired to, and he wanted to give the clients their money’s worth.  

Between 1923 and 1930 there were 36 Continental Op stories published, almost all in Black Mask. Four of these stories were combined and reworked to become Hammett’s first hardback novel, Red Harvest. Four others were retooled to become The Dain Curse, Hammett’s next novel.  Since these eight stories have never been reprinted in their original form, it would probably be more accurate to say that there are 28 stories and two full-length novels. (Source: The Dashiell Hammett Website)

Other essential links about the Continental Op are:

The Continental Op at The Thrilling Detective Web Site 

The Continental Op Page

In Spanish Leer sin Prisa here also provides a list of The Continental Op short stories

Any information about other websites on the subject not listed above, will be appreciated,

Review: Red Harvest (1929) by Dashiell Hammett

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Orion, 2014. Format: Kindle. File Size: 1070 KB. Print Length: 226 pages. ISBN: 978 1 4719 1770 7. ASIN:B00MW23DL2.

isbn9781409138082 Believe or not, this has been my first encounter with Dashiell Hammett’s narrative. I’ve seen hundreds of times the film The Maltese Falcon, but I’ve not read it so far, though this is something to which I’ll put remedy soon. Consequently I thought I should not let pass the opportunity, offered to me by Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences, to read Red Harvest. Each month. he selects a year, to participate in a meme called, Crimes of the Century. This month the year under review is #1929. However, I must honestly say that Red Harvest appeared previously as a serialized publication in the pulp magazine Black Mask: Part 1: “The Cleansing of Poisonville”, Black Mask, November 1927; Part 2: “Crime Wanted—Male or Female”, Black Mask, December 1927; Part 3: “Dynamite”, Black Mask, January 1928; and Part 4: “The 19th Murder”, Black Mask, February 1928. (Source: Wikipedia).

Dashiell Hammett’s significance is well known all over the world. He is unanimously considered the father of a new style of crime fiction, the hardboiled. The style was pioneered by Carroll John Daly in the mid-1920s, popularized by Dashiell Hammett over the course of the decade, and refined by James M. Cain and by Raymond Chandler beginning in the late 1930s; its heyday was in 1930s–50s America. (Source: Wikipedia).

I personally prefer to make a distinction between hardboiled and noir fiction -see my post here-, but my understanding is that Hammett stories have characteristics which allow him to be included in both subgenres. In a certain sense both subgenres have a common origin, and this origin is Hammett. 

The opening lines of Red Harvest are extremely well-known, but I cannot refrain to repeat them here:

‘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.’

The story is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator. And soon we know the reason who brought him there.

‘I’m a Continental Detective Agency operative, San Francisco branch.’ I told him. ‘A couple of days ago we got a check from your son and a letter asking that a man be sent here to do some work for him. I’m the man. He told me to come out to his house last night. I did, but he didn’t show up. When I got downtown I learned he had been killed.’

The man with whom he’s talking is Elihu Willsson, the father of Donald Willsson, the man who had brought him there from San Francisco. If you already know the story, I need not to add anything more. If you don’t know the story, I think I do the right thing by not adding anything more. But allow me to add a snippet of Hammett’s style:

I followed him down to the department garage, where the engines of half a dozen cars were roaring. The chief sat beside his driver. I sat in the back with four detectives.

Men scrambled into the others cars. Machine-guns were unwrapped. Arm-loads of rifles and riot-guns were distributed, and packages of ammunition.

The chief’s car got away first, off with a jump that hammered our teeth together. We missed the garage door by half an inch, chased a couple of pedestrians diagonally across the sidewalk, bounced off the curb into the roadway, missed a truck as narrowly as we had missed the door, and dashed out King Street with our siren wide open.

Panicky automobiles darted right and left, regardless of traffic rules, to let us through. It was a lot of fun.

I looked back, saw another police car following us, a third turning into Broadway. Noonan chewed a cold cigar and told the driver:

‘Give her a bit more, Pat.’

Pat twisted us around a frightened woman’s coupé, put us through a slot between street car and laundry wagons – a narrow slot that we couldn’t have slipped through if our car hadn’t been so smoothly enameled – and said:

‘All right, but the brakes ain’t no good.’

‘That’s nice,’ the gray-mustached sleuth on my left said. He didn’t sound sincere.

Red Harvest is a fast-paced absorbing reading, I’ve enjoyed immensely. Perhaps the plot is a bit convoluted and, given the number of characters, the story is not always easy to follow, but it’s worthwhile to embark on this kind of reading. Red Harvest bears all the hallmarks of what we call hard boiled. And certainly, its publication begun a new approach to what we call crime fiction. If only for that reason, one should read this book. But I’m convinced there much more incentives to read it. Probably, I have nothing to add that has not been said before. My only regret is not having read this book before and I strongly recommend it. 

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

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. (Source: Knopf Doubleday)

Red Harvest has been reviewed at The Hat Rack, Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Crime Fiction Lover, Spinetingler Magazine, and January Magazine, among others. 

The Orion Publishing Group publicity page

Knopf Doubleday Black Lizard publicity page

The Thrilling Detective: Dashiell Hammett

Audiobook sample

Red Harvest at Detectives Beyond Borders

Cosecha Roja de Dashiell Hammett

Lo crean o no, este ha sido mi primer encuentro con la narrativa de Dashiell Hammett. He visto cientos de veces la película El halcón maltés, pero yo no lo he leído hasta ahora, aunque esto es algo a lo que voy a poner remedio pronto. En consecuencia pensé que no debería dejar pasar la oportunidad, que me ofrece Rich Westwood en su blog Past Offences, para leer Cosecha roja. Cada mes. se selecciona un año, para participar en un meme llamado Crimes of the Century. Este mes, el año a exámen es el #1929. Sin embargo, debo decir sinceramente que Cosecha roja apareció previamente publicada por entregas en la revista pulp Black Mask: Primera parte: “La limpieza de Poisonville“, Black Bask, noviembre 1927; Segunda parte: “Se busca delito, varón o mujer“, Black Mask, diciembre 1927; Tercera parte: “Dynamite“, Black Mask, enero 1928. y Cuarta parte: “El decimonoveno asesinato”, Black Mask, febrero de 1928. (Fuente: Wikipedia).

La importancia de Dashiell Hammett es bien conocida en todo el mundo. Está considerado por unanimidad el padre de un nuevo estilo de la novela negra, la hardboiled. El estilo fue iniciado por Carroll John Daly a mediados de la década de 1920, popularizado por Dashiell Hammett a lo largo de la década, y refinado por James M. Cain y por Raymond Chandler a partir de finales de 1930; tuvo su apogeo entre los años 1930 y 1950 en América. (Fuente: Wikipedia).

Yo personalmente prefiero hacer una distinción entre noir y hardboiled -ver mi entrada aquí, pero entiendo que las historias de Hammett tienen características que les permiten ser incluidas en los dos subgéneros. En cierto sentido, ambos subgéneros tienen un origen común, y este origen es Hammett.

Las primeras líneas de Cosecha roja son muy bien conocidas, pero no puedo evitar repetirlas aquí (La traducción es de Eduardo Iriarte, 2012 publicada en RBA):

La primera vez que oí dar a Personville el nombre de Poisonville fue a un tipo pelirrojo llamado Hickey Dewey en el Big Ship de Butte. También pronunciaba de esa manera otras palabras con erre, así que no le di más vueltas a lo que había hecho con el nombre de la ciudad. Luego se lo oí pronunciar igual a otros hombres que se apañaban bien con las erres. seguí sin ver en ello sino la clase de humor sin pies ni cabeza que lleva a los maleantes a desfigurar palabras como “diccionario” para darles un significado despectivo. Unos años más tarde fui a Personville y ví a qué se referían.

La historia está contada en primera persona por un narrador anónimo. Y pronto conoceremos la razón que lo llevó hasta allí.

     – Soy agente de la Agencia de Detectives Continental, de la sucursal en San Francisco –le informé- . Hace un par de días recibims un cheque de su hijo acompañado de una carta en la que solicitaba que le enviaran a un hombre para un trabajo. Ese hombre soy yo. Me dijo que fuera a su casa anoche. Lo hice, pero no apareció. Cuando regresé al centro me enteré de que lo habían asesinado.

El hombre con quien está hablando es Elihu Willsson, el padre de Donald Willsson, el hombre que lo había llevado desde San Francisco hasta allí. Si ya conoce la historia, no necesito añadir nada más. Si no conoce la historia, creo que hago lo correcto al no añadir nada más. Pero permítanme añadir un fragmento del estilo de Hammett:

Lo seguí hasta el garaje de la comisaría, donde bramaban los motores de media docena de vehículos. El jefe se sentó al lado de su conductor. Yo me senté detrás con cuatro detectives.

Más hombres se montaron en tropel en otros coches. Sacaraon las metralladoras de sus fundas. Se distribruyeron rifles y aramas antidisturbios a brazadas, así como cajas de munición.

El coche del jefe fue el primero en salir, dando una sacudida que resonó en nuestras dentaduras como un martillazo. Estuvimos a un par de centímetros de llevarnos por delante la puerta del garage, perseguimos en diagonal por la acera a un par de viandantes, rebotamos en el bordillo, esquivamos una camioneta por tan escaso margen como la puerta y enfilamos la calle King a toda velocidad con la sirena a todo volúmen.

Automóviles nerviosos se apartaban veloces a derecha e izquierda, sin hacer caso a las normas de tráfico, para dejarnos paso. Fue de lo más divertido.

Volví la vista y vi otro coche de policía que venía detrás y un tercero que giraba hacia Broadway. Noonan, que mascaba un puro frío, le dijo al conductor:

– Métele gas, Pat.

Pat nos hizo esquivar a una mujer aterrada, nos llevó por un hueco entre el tranvía y la furgoneta de una lavandería – una rendija tan estrecha que no podríamos haber pasado de no ser porque el coche llevaba una capa de esmalte bien pulida – y dijo:

– Vale, pero los frenos no van muy bien.

– Estupendo –comentó el sabueso de bigote entrecano a mi izquierda. No me pareció sincero.

Cosecha roja es una lectura absorbente de ritmo trepidante que he disfrutado inmensamente. Tal vez la trama resulta un poco complicada y, dado el número de personajes, la historia no siempre es fácil de seguir, pero vale la pena embarcarse en este tipo de lectura. Cosecha roja reúne todas las características de lo que llamamos hardboiled. Y, desde luego, su publicación dió un nuevo enfoque a lo que llamamos novela negra. Aunque sólo sea por eso, uno debe leer este libro. Pero estoy convencido de que hay muchos más incentivos para leerlo. Probablemente, no tengo nada que añadir que no se haya dicho antes. Lo único que lamento es no haber leído este libro antes y lo recomiendo encarecidamente.

Mi calificación: A + (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Dashiell Hammet (Maryland, EE UU, 1894-Nueva York, 1961) Novelista estadounidense. Trabajó en una agencia de detectives privados antes de participar en la Primera Guerra Mundial, de la que regresó gravemente enfermo. A partir de 1934 participó activamente en la política de izquierdas de su país, motivo por el cual en 1951, durante la era McCarthy, fue condenado a prisión. Inició su carrera literaria con algunas novelas cortas, publicadas desde 1924 y reunidas bajo el título de El gran golpe (1966). En 1929 publicó la novela Cosecha roja, a la que siguieron El halcón maltés (1930), El hombre delgado (1934) y La llave de cristal (1931), entre otras. Con estas obras, que reflejan con toda crudeza los aspectos más violentos de una sociedad corrupta e inmersa en una lucha sin tregua por el poder y el dinero, se apartó del modelo típico de novela policíaca y creó un nuevo género: la novela negra (hardboiled).

Ver las dos reseñas de Cosecha Roja en Leer sin prisa aquí y aquí.

RBA página de publicidad

Serie Negra

Saturday Film Noir: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 film based on novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. Written and directed by John Huston, the movie stars Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his femme fatale client, Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut, and Peter Lorre.
The film was Huston’s directorial debut and was nominated for three Academy Awards. The Maltese Falcon has been named as one of the greatest films of all time by Roger Ebert and Entertainment Weekly, and was cited by Panorama du Film Noir Américain, the first major work on film noir, as the first film of that genre.

For more information:
Wikipedia
IMDb