Sunday 29 August 2010

Dashiell Hammett

I like this blog to range widely in the crime genre, and to cover ‘forgotten’ books and authors as well as the big names. One of the stars whose name I’ve rarely mentioned is Dashiell Hammett, but that isn’t because I don’t admire his work. On the contrary.

I’ve read, I think, all his books, and I have to say that one I definitely enjoyed was The Dain Curse, which is sometimes dismissed by critics as a bit of a mess (perhaps the reason for this is that it was originally written for ‘The Black Mask’ as a series of novelettes, before being put together as a single novel)

I’ve just acquired, from an excellent Yorkshire bookseller, Mark Sutcliffe, a book edited by Christopher Metress, The Criticial Response to Dashiell Hammett. There is a lot of stuff in here that is rather interesting (including reviews of The Dain Curse from when it first came out, in 1929) and even where one doesn’t agree with the critics’ opinions, they are generally worth considering.

I also bought from Mark a shorter book about Hammett, written by Julian Symons, who much admired the American author. Acerbic as ever, Symons is dismissive of The Dain Curse (and says that Hammett himself described it as ‘silly’). But by and large he gives an extremely positive set of insights into Hammett’s craft, whilst providing a sober account of the man’s life, which ended with a spell in prison, illness, and an inability to write. Very sad.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Sounds as thought you've gotten a fine read. I like Hammett, too, and I'm sure you've enjoyed learning more about him, despite his unhappy story.

Anonymous said...

My favourite Hammet novel is RED HARVEST. I read it a few years back, having been grabbed by the opening paragraph. I love the Continental Op short stories, and am surprised that they've never been adapted for TV.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Anon. I've not read the Op shorts, I must confess.