Cover image for Complete novels
Title:
Complete novels
Author:
Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.
Uniform Title:
Novels
Publication Information:
New York : Literary Classics of the United States : Distributed to the trade in the United States by Penguin Putnam, Inc., [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
967 pages ; 21 cm.
Language:
English
Contents:
Red harvest -- The Dain curse -- The Maltese falcon -- The glass key -- The thin man.
ISBN:
9781883011673
Format :
Book

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Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Mystery
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Summary

Summary

In a few years of extraordinary creative energy, Dashiell Hammett invented the modern American crime novel. In the words of Raymond Chandler, "Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse. . . . He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes." Beginning as a prolific contributor to the pulp magazines of the 1920s, he succeeded during his brief career in making his kind of crime fiction a crucial part of the fabric of American writing: a genre that did not evade reality but rather embodied the grittiness and harshness of modern urban life.

The five novels that Hammett published between 1929 and 1934, collected here in one Library of America volume, have become part of modern American culture, creating archetypal characters and establishing the ground rules and characteristic tone for a whole tradition of hardboiled writing. Drawing on his own experiences as a Pinkerton detective, Hammett gave a harshly realistic edge to novels that were at the same time infused with a spirit of romantic adventure. His lean and deliberately simplified prose won admiration from such contemporaries as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.

Each novel is distinct in mood and structure. Red Harvest (1929) epitomizes the violence and momentum of his Black Mask stories about the anonymous detective the Continental Op. In this raucous and nightmarish evocation of political corruption and gang warfare in a western mining town (modeled on Butte, Montana) nicknamed "Poisonville," the Op takes Machiavellian pleasure in pitting one faction against another to bring about their mutual destruction. The Op returns in The Dain Curse (1929) to preside over a more ornately melodramatic tale involving jewel theft, drugs, and a mysterious religious cult.

With The Maltese Falcon (1930) and its protagonist Sam Spade, Hammett achieved his most enduring popular success. A tightly constructed quest story with an unforgettable cast of eccentric adventurers, it is at the same time shot through with a sense of disillusionment and the arbitrariness of personal destiny.

The Glass Key (1931), an exploration of city politics at their most scurrilous, traces intricate patterns of loyalty and betrayal in scenes charged with drama. His last novel, The Thin Man (1934), is a ruefully comic tale distinct from the rest of his work. Paying homage to the traditional mystery form, it is best remembered for its protagonists Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies.


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 1

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.


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