Cover image for Nightmare town : stories
Nightmare town : stories
Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvii, 396 pages ; 25 cm
Nightmare town -- House dick -- Ruffian's wife -- The man who killed Dan Odams -- Night shots -- Zigzags of treachery -- The assistant murderer -- His brother's keeper -- Two sharp knives -- Death on pine street -- The second-story angel -- Afraid of a gun -- Tom, Dick, or Harry -- One hour -- Who killed Bob Teal? -- A man called Spade -- Too many have lived -- They can only hang you once -- A man named Thin -- The first thin man.
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Material Type
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Williamsville Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Twenty long-unavailable stories by Dashiell Hammett, the author ofThe Maltese Falconand the incomparable master of detective fiction. In the title story, a man on a bender enters a small town and ends up unraveling the dark mystery at its heart. A woman confronts the brutal truth about her husband in the chilling story "Ruffian's Wife." "His Brother's Keeper" is a half-wit boxer's eulogy to the brother who betrayed him. "The Second-Story Angel" recounts one of the most novel cons ever devised. In seven stories, the tough and taciturn Continental Op takes on a motley collection of the deceitful, the duped, and the dead, and once again shows his uncanny ability to get at the truth. In three stories, Sam Spade confronts the darkness in the human soul while rolling his own cigarettes. And the first study forThe Thin Mansends John Guild on a murder investigation in which almost every witness may be lying.   InNightmare Town, Dashiell Hammett, America's poet laureate of the dispossessed, shows us a world where people confront a multitude of evils. Whether they are trying to right wrongs or just trying to survive, all of them are rendered with Hammett's signature gifts for sharp-edged characters and blunt dialogue. Hammett said that his ambition was to elevate mystery fiction to the level of art. This collection of masterful stories clearly illustrates Hammett's success, and shows the remarkable range and variety of the fiction he produced.

Author Notes

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on May 27, 1894 in St Mary's County, Maryland. Raised in Baltimore and Philadelphia, he attended Baltimore Polytechnic until he was 13 years old, but was forced to drop out and work a series of jobs to help support his family.

At the age of 21 Hammett was hired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative. After a stint in the United States Army during World War II, he married a nurse named Josephine Annas Dolan, whom he met when he fell ill with tuberculosis.

In 1922, Hammett began writing for Black Mask magazine. Using his background in detective work, he created the tough guy detective characters Sam Spade and the Continental Op, as well as debonair sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. By 1927, Hammett had written the Poisonville series, which later became the novel Red Harvest. He wrote more than 85 short stories and five novels during his lifetime. The novels include The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Thin Man, and The Maltese Falcon, which was later adapted into a classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart. He also wrote an autobiography entitled Beams Falling: The Art of Dashiell Hammett.

After his marriage faltered in the late 1920s, Hammett met Lillian Hellman, then a married 24-year-old aspiring playwright. In 1930, Hellman left her husband for Hammett. Eventually they both divorced their spouses and, although the two never married, they remained together until Hammett's death on January 10, 1961.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"Emotions are nuisances during business hours." It takes a dose of the real thing to remind us what the hard-boiled style was all about, at least in the beginning. Today's so-called hard-boiled heroes have personal lives, express doubts constantly, and turn introspective at the hint of a quiet moment. Not so Hammett's Continental Op, who along with Sam Spade, revolutionized our conception of the detective hero by emphasizing the details of the job and by describing people and places with unyielding precision. In this collection of mostly early Hammett stories (including three Spades and several Ops), the lean prose and realistically portrayed mean streets are immediately apparent, especially in the fine title piece, which anticipates the novel Red Harvest. Most of the stories were written in the early and mid-1920s, and none appear in either The Big Knockover or The Continental Op, the two currently available collections of Hammett's short work. Hammett is sometimes at his best in the short form, as in "The Assistant Murderer," a no-frills piece in the Op style starring a fascinating sleuth called Alex Rush, notable for his ugliness ("His head was squatly pear-shaped."); at other times, though, the whodunit puzzle dominates the action, overwhelming the reader with too much detection in too little space. It was Hammett, after all, who taught us that the physical, often messy process of sleuthing can be more interesting than abstract, Holmesian ratiocination. There's enough of that messy reality on view here to please Hammett fans, many of whom will never have encountered these long-unavailable stories. As a whole, this collection isn't quite top-shelf Hammett, but its publication certainly qualifies as a literary event. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Smart and tough is the formula for the art of Hammett (The Maltese Falcon; The Thin Man), widely acknowledged as the master innovator of the hard-boiled detective novel. These 20 previously uncollected novellas and short stories feature enigmatic plots of devilish intricacy, rife with fisticuffs and pistol shots, and populated by stiffs, laconic coppers, lowlifes and droll, world-weary detectives. Sam Spade shows up several times, as does the Continental Op, smoking his Fatimas and grilling coy, mendacious women. The delicate balance between extremes of brutality and cleverness makes most of these stories classic studies in suspense. Moods are set with smoky authenticity, and characters are powerful talkers and smooth operators, with dialogue unforgettable for its tough, blunt energy. In "His Brother's Keeper," a story of betrayal and redemption is told through the eyes of a dumb prize-fighter, so that the reader is always a step ahead of the narrator, but is sympathetic toward him. "Ruffian's Wife" is a fine literary exploration of a woman's disillusionment as she discovers her husband's true nature, even as she stands by him. "A Man Named Thin" is a detective, a suave narrator/protagonist whose father is both annoyed at his son's poetry writing and impressed by his creative case-solving. With an informative introduction by William Nolan briefly outlining Hammett's life, this volume offers a broad, exciting selection of seminal works by the robust, quintessentially American godfather of the genre. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hammett's star is on the rise. His masterpiece The Maltese Falcon appeared on last year's Modern Library list of the 20th century's 100 best novels, and he was also the subject of a recent A&E cable film as well as an American Masters TV biography. Knopf, his original publisher, here gathers 20 early stories that do not appear in any other Hammett collections and one, "The First Thin Man," that has never before been included in a book. This long-overdue Library of America volume collects his five novels, which feature such signature characters as Sam Spade, the Continental Op, and Nick and Nora Charles. Hammett elevated the American hard-boiled PI mystery from the province of hacks to the heights of literature, and his stories are still among the best the genre has to offer. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



A Ford -- whitened by desert travel until it was almost indistinguishable from the dust-clouds that swirled around it -- came down Izzard's Main Street. Like the dust, it came swiftly, erratically, zigzagging the breadth of the roadway. A small woman -- a girl of twenty in tan flannel -- stepped into the street. The wavering Ford missed her by inches, missing her at all only because her backward jump was bird-quick. She caught her lower lip between white teeth, dark eyes flashed annoyance at the rear of the passing machine, and she essayed the street again. Near the opposite curb the Ford charged down upon her once more. But turning had taken some of its speed. She escaped it this time by scampering the few feet between her and the sidewalk ahead. Out of the moving automobile a man stepped. Miraculously he kept his feet, stumbling, sliding, until an arm crooked around an iron awning-post jerked him into an abrupt halt. He was a large man in bleached khaki, tall, broad, and thick-armed; his gray eyes were bloodshot; face and clothing were powdered heavily with dust. One of his hands clutched a thick, black stick, the other swept off his hat, and he bowed with exaggerated lowness before the girl's angry gaze. The bow completed, he tossed his hat carelessly into the street, and grinned grotesquely through the dirt that masked his face -- a grin that accented the heaviness of a begrimed and hair-roughened jaw. "I beg y'r par'on," he said. "'F I hadn't been careful I believe I'd a'most hit you. 'S unreli'ble, tha' wagon. Borr'ed it from an engi -- eng'neer. Don't ever borrow one from eng'neer. They're unreli'ble." The girl looked at the place where he stood as if no one stood there, as if, in fact, no one had ever stood there, turned her small back on him, and walked very precisely down the street. He stared after her with stupid surprise in his eyes until she had vanished through a doorway in the middle of the block. Then he scratched his head, shrugged, and turned to look across the street, where his machine had pushed its nose into the red-brick side wall of the Bank of Izzard and now shook and clattered as if in panic at finding itself masterless. "Look at the son-of-a-gun," he exclaimed. A hand fastened upon his arm. He turned his head, and then, though he stood a good six feet himself, had to look up to meet the eyes of the giant who held his arm. "We'll take a little walk," the giant said. The man in bleached khaki examined the other from the tips of his broad-toed shoes to the creased crown of his black hat, examined him with a whole-hearted admiration that was unmistakable in his red-rimmed eyes. There were nearly seven massive feet of the speaker. Legs like pillars held up a great hogshead of a body, with wide shoulders that sagged a little, as if with their own excessive weight. He was a man of perhaps forty-five, and his face was thick-featured, phlegmatic, with sunlines around small light eyes -- the face of a deliberate man. "My God, you're big!" the man in khaki exclaimed when he had finished his examination; and then his eyes brightened. "Let's wrestle. Bet you ten bucks against fifteen I can throw you. Come on!" The giant chuckled deep in his heavy chest, took the man in khaki by the nape of the neck and an arm, and walked down the street with him. Steve Threefall awakened without undue surprise at the unfamiliarity of his surroundings as one who has awakened in strange places before. Before his eyes were well open he knew the essentials of his position. The feel of the shelf-bunk on which he lay and the sharp smell of disinfectant in his nostrils told him that he was in jail. His head and his mouth told him that he had been drunk; and the three-day growth of beard on his face told him he had been very drunk. As he sat up and swung his feet down to the floor details came back to him. The two days of steady drinking in Whitetufts on the other side of the Nevada-California line, with Harris, the hotel proprietor, and Whiting, an irrigation engineer. The boisterous arguing over desert travel, with his own Gobi experience matched against the American experiences of the others. The bet that he could drive from Whitetufts to Izzard in daylight with nothing to drink but the especially bitter white liquor they were drinking at the time. The start in the grayness of imminent dawn, in Whiting's Ford, with Whiting and Harris staggering down the street after him, waking the town with their drunken shouts and roared-out mocking advice, until he had reached the desert's edge. Then the drive through the desert, along the road that was hotter than the rest of the desert, with -- He chose not to think of the ride. He had made it, though -- had won the bet. He couldn't remember the amount of the latter. "So you've come out of it at last?" a rumbling voice inquired. The steel-slatted door swung open and a man filled the cell's door. Steve grinned up at him. This was the giant who would not wrestle. He was coatless and vestless now, and loomed larger than before. One suspender strap was decorated with a shiny badge that said marshal. "Feel like breakfast?" he asked. "I could do things to a can of black coffee," Steve admitted. "All right. But you'll have to gulp it. Judge Denvir is waiting to get a crack at you, and the longer you keep him waiting, the tougher it'll be for you." The room in which Tobin Denvir, J.P., dealt justice was a large one on the third floor of a wooden building. It was scantily furnished with a table, an ancient desk, a steel engraving of Daniel Webster, a shelf of books sleeping under the dust of weeks, a dozen uncomfortable chairs, and half as many cracked and chipped china cuspidors. The judge sat between desk and table, with his feet on the latter. They were small feet, and he was a small man. His face was filled with little irritable lines, his lips were thin and tight, and he had the bright, lidless eyes of a bird. "Well, what's he charged with?" His voice was thin, harshly metallic. He kept his feet on the table. The marshal drew a deep breath, and recited: "Driving on the wrong side of the street, exceeding the speed limit, driving while under the influence of liquor, driving without a driver's license, endangering the lives of pedestrians by taking his hands off the wheel, and parking improperly -- on the sidewalk up against the bank." The marshal took another breath, and added, with manifest regret: "There was a charge of attempted assault, too, but that Vallance girl won't appear, so that'll have to be dropped." The justice's bright eyes turned upon Steve. "What's your name?" he growled. "Steve Threefall." "Is that your real name?" the marshal asked. "Of course it is," the justice snapped. "You don't think anybody'd be damn fool enough to give a name like that unless it was his, do you?" Then to Steve: "What have you got to say -- guilty or not?" "I was a little --" "Are you guilty or not?" "Oh, I suppose I did --" "That's enough! You're fined a hundred and fifty dollars and costs. The costs are fifteen dollars and eighty cents, making a total of a hundred and sixty-five dollars and eighty cents. Will you pay it or will you go to jail?" "I'll pay it if I've got it," Steve said, turning to the marshal. "You took my money. Have I got that much?" The marshal nodded his massive head. "You have," he said, "exactly -- to the nickel. Funny it should have come out like that -- huh?" "Yes -- funny," Steve repeated. While the justice of the peace was making out a receipt for the fine, the marshal restored Steve's watch, tobacco and matches, pocket-knife, keys, and last of all the black walking-stick. The big man weighed the stick in his hand and examined it closely before he gave it up. It was thick and of ebony, but heavy even for that wood, with a balanced weight that hinted at loaded ferrule and knob. Except for a space the breadth of a man's hand in its middle, the stick was roughened, cut and notched with the marks of hard use -- marks that much careful polishing had failed to remove or conceal. The unscarred hand's-breadth was of a softer black than the rest -- as soft a black as the knob -- as if it had known much contact with a human palm. "Not a bad weapon in a pinch," the marshal said meaningly as he handed the stick to its owner. Steve took it with the grasp a man reserves for a favorite and constant companion. "Not bad," he agreed. "What happened to the flivver?" "It's in the garage around the corner on Main Street. Pete said it wasn't altogether ruined, and he thinks he can patch it up if you want." The justice held out the receipt. "Am I all through here now?" Steve asked. "I hope so," Judge Denvir said sourly. "Both of us," Steve echoed. He put on his hat, tucked the black stick under his arm, nodded to the big marshal, and left the room. Steve Threefall went down the wooden stairs toward the street in as cheerful a frame of mind as his body -- burned out inwardly with white liquor and outwardly by a day's scorching desert-riding -- would permit. That justice had emptied his pockets of every last cent disturbed him little. That, he knew, was the way of justice everywhere with the stranger, and he had left the greater part of his money with the hotel proprietor in Whitetufts. He had escaped a jail sentence, and he counted himself lucky. He would wire Harris to send him some of his money, wait here until the Ford was repaired, and then drive back to Whitetufts -- but not on a whisky ration this time. "You will not!" a voice cried in his ear. He jumped, and then laughed at his alcohol-jangled nerves. The words had not been meant for him. Beside him, at a turning of the stairs, was an open window, and opposite it, across a narrow alley, a window in another building was open. This window belonged to an office in which two men stood facing each other across a flat-topped desk. One of them was middle-aged and beefy, in a black broadcloth suit out of which a white-vested stomach protruded. His face was purple with rage. The man who faced him was younger -- a man of perhaps thirty, with a small dark mustache, finely chiseled features, and satiny brown hair. His slender athlete's body was immaculately clothed in gray suit, gray shirt, gray and silver tie, and on the desk before him lay a Panama hat with gray band. His face was as white as the other's was purple. The beefy man spoke -- a dozen words pitched too low to catch. The younger man slapped the speaker viciously across the face with an open hand -- a hand that then flashed back to its owner's coat and flicked out a snub-nosed automatic pistol. "You big lard-can," the younger man cried, his voice sibilant; "you'll lay off or I'll spoil your vest for you!" He stabbed the protuberant vest with the automatic, and laughed into the scared fat face of the beefy man -- laughed with a menacing flash of even teeth and dark slitted eyes. Then he picked up his hat, pocketed the pistol, and vanished from Steve's sight. The fat man sat down. Excerpted from Nightmare Town: Stories by Dashiell Hammett All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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