Author Rating: A

Hammett was cited by Donald E. Westlake in an interview as an influence on his own work, so I picked up Hammett’s Complete Novels at the library.

There are indeed similarities in their writing styles but, unfortunately, Hammett’s writing career was not to be as long as Westlake’s, his first novel, Red Harvest, published in 1929 and his last, The Thin Man, published in 1934.

(Petri Liukkonen) Hammett’s first short story appeared in the magazine Black Mask on 1 October 1923, and his fiction writing career as novelist ended in 1934. In Black Mask Hammett became along with Erle Stanley Gardner one of its most popular writers. Under the pseudonym Peter Collinson, Hammett introduced a short, overweight, unnamed detective employed by the San Francisco branch of the Continental Detective Agency, who became known as The Continental Op. In the three dozen stories between 1929 and 1930, featuring the tough and dedicated Op, Hammett gave shape to the first believable detective hero in American fiction. Drawing on his Pinkerton experiences, Hammett created a private eye, whose methods of detection are completely convincing, and whose personality has more than one dimension.

The Thin Man (read 4/2/08) Highly recommended

The Thin Man is the lightest of the five short novels, and features Nick Charles, a hard drinking retired detective, and his wife Nora, a wealthy heiress. It is the basis for the six Thin Man movies, a 1940s radio series, a 1950s television series and an unsuccessful 1991 musical.

Red Harvest (read 4/3/08) Highly recommended

Murder, mayhem and public corruption. The son of a local industrialist contacts the Continental Detective Agency but is murdered before the Continental Op can meet with him. Competing gangs, invited by the industrialist to help “resolve” a labor dispute, threaten to take the whole town down.

The Dain Curse (read 4/4/08) Recommended

Murder and a corrupt religious cult.

The Maltese Falcon (read 4/6/08) Highly recommended

Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are hired to follow a man who has allegedly ran off with the under-age sister of their client, but both Archer and the man turn up dead, and Spade is the chief suspect. His troubles don’t end there. It seems that the client is involved with some shady people trying to find a figurine worth millions.

From The Maltese Falcon:

The life he knew was a clean orderly, sane, responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.”

The Glass Key (read 4/6/08) Highly recommended

First published in 1931, gambler and racketeer Ned Beaumont’s devotion to crooked political boss Paul Madvig leads him to investigate the murder of a local senator’s son as a potential gang war brews.