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Red Harvest [Paperback]

Dashiell Hammett
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 17 1989 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty--even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.

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From Library Journal

The Continental Op, hero of this mystery, is a cool, experienced employee of the Continental Detective Agency. Client Donald Wilson has been killed, and the Op must track down his murderer. Personville, better known as Poisonville, is an unattractive company town, owned by Donald's father, Elihu, but controlled by several competing gangs. Alienated by the local turf wars, the Op finagles Elihu into paying for a second job, "cleaning up Poisonville." Confused yet? This is only the beginning of an incredibly convoluted plot. Hammett's exquisitely defined charactersDthe shabby, charming, and completely mercenary lady-of-the-evening; the lazy, humorous yet cold and avaricious police chief; and especially the tautly written, gradual disintegration of the Op's detached personalityDmake this a compelling read. In addition, William Dufris's performance is outstanding. Each character has his/her own unique vocal tag composed of both tonal inflections and speech patterns suited to his/her persona. Wonderful! The only flaw is the technical difficulty of cueing the "track book marked" CD format. An exceptional presentation of a lesser classic from the golden age of the mystery genre. Recommended for all but the smallest public and academic libraries.DI. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


"An acknowledged literary landmark."  --NY Times Book Review.

"Dashiell Hammett is an original. He is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer." -- Boston Globe

"Hammett's prose [is] clean and entirely unique. His characters [are] as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction."

--The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Between 1915 and 1922, Dashiell Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, initially from Baltimore's Continental Building office and later in Washington State and California. His experiences for the firm provided the background and the name for the Continental Detective Agency that features in most of his stories and in two of his novels (including "Red Harvest"), and Pinkerton operative James Wright served as the model for the "fat, middle-aged, hard-boiled, pig-headed guy" referred to only as the Continental Op.
In "Red Harvest," the Op is summoned to Personville (known locally as Poisonville), where he is engaged by newspaper publisher Donald Willson, who is murdered before the agent has an opportunity to meet him. At first the novel feels like a traditional murder mystery; in its first half there are two homicides (among more than two dozen gangland-style assassinations) whose clues are scattered for the reader--and the Op--to solve.
Yet the two whodunits are red herrings meant to distract--and entertain--the reader (and crime novel aficionados will figure both of them out within a few paragraphs). Not just a murder mystery, "Red Harvest" pursues broader themes: how corruption and greed poisons the inhabitants of Poisonville, how the Op is able to thwart the ambitions of various criminals by playing their own unprincipled game, and how his own abandonment of professional code nearly destroys the detective himself.
Most of the crooks are stock figures from noir central casting, but the novel's femme fatale, Dinah Brand, is the most memorable.
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"Red Harvest" was author Dashiell Hammett's first novel. The material was not entirely original; it first appeared in serial form in "Black Mask" magazine in 1927-1928 under the title "The Cleansing of Poisonville". Hammett reworked the story into novel form, and "Red Harvest" was published in 1929. This is also the first of Hammett's popular "Continental Op" novels, which feature an unnamed private detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency of San Francisco. "Red Harvest"'s narrator and veteran Continental operative defies any idea of a glamorous or attractive crime fighter. He's short, pot-bellied, alcoholic, and resolutely cynical. He's living in an immoral world, where success comes to those who fight fire with fire. Like all of Hammett's protagonists, he has little use for the law, but lives by a personal code to which he strictly adheres. That doesn't make him especially ethical, only principled. But Hammett's characters, like Hammett himself, are coping in their own way with the widespread corruption that ruled America's cities in the 1920s and 1930s.
"Red Harvest"'s opening paragraph is one of the best hooks I've ever read in a novel. It's fantastic. We are sucked into the mind of our narrator, the unnamed Continental operative, and we want only to read more about this man of such blunt wit. The Continental Op has been called to a town named Personville by the owner of the town's newspaper, Donald Willsson. He doesn't know what the job is, but before he can find out, the client is murdered. So the first order of business is to solve the murder. In doing so, our detective discovers how Personville got its nickname, Poisonville. Everything and everyone in this town is corrupt.
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By Nobody!
Dashiell Hammett's first novel, Red Harvest, is an enjoyable book to read because it is entertaining, but, at the same time, worthy of analysis. An anonymous "continental operative," a detective, is summoned to Poisonville on a secret mission by the owner of the town's newspaper and isn't to find out what the reason is until he gets to town. The man that summoned our narrator, the detective, is killed, however, before we or he ever get to figure out what job he is supposed to do. But, because Willsson is dead, the narrator has a job, anyway. In solving this murder, the narrator begins to find more and more crime. Behind one crime there is another, and, after that, another and another. Everywhere he looks there is more scandal and corruption, and in only person in town, a prostitute, can he even find a friend. The book is pretty entertaining, but it kind of fades out on the last twenty pages or so and loses your attention, at times. It's nice reading books, though, where the characters actually go places and do things--Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest is a wonderful alternative to Virginia Woolf.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Vastly Underrated! July 7 2003
This was the first novel featuring Hammett's short story character, The Continental Op, and it's well worth reading. The Op is sent from his home in San Francisco to Personville, Montana on the request of a client. The fact that Personville is pronounced posionville by its residents will tell you the kind of town he enters. The violence is so bad that the Op never actually sees his client alive, but he sticks around to avenge his death. The deep plot is as convoluted as any detective novel, but the basic plot of a man playing two sides against each other proved to be important in the history of film even more so than literature.
The Op was the original Man With No Name. Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western borrows both the stranger concept and the plot from Red Harvest. Though the credit is usually given to Akira Kurosawa for his film Yojimbo, both films actually borrow their essence from Hammett.
It's not necessary to have seen either film to enjoy this story. Overshadowed by the classic Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest deserves more ink than it gets. It's here with Hammett that the noir detective novel was born. The romantic notion of a poor detective who would rather live up to his own standards of justice than take a big payoff is a very American outlook. I can only figure that such a character comes from the many assignments that Hammett got working for the Pinkerton detective agency and the many times that Hammett wasn't allowed to do the right thing. Our detective is so virtuous under the standards of his own ethics that you admire him even when he is creating a bloodbath.
The most surprising thing is how well the whole book flows and quickly I read it. Hammett has a great way of leaving each chapter with enough questions that you want to immediately read the next one.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best novels of all-time
Red Harvest is my first taste of Dashiell Hammett. And I'm going back for more. This story had me hooked by the first couple of pages and left me always wanting more. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Shawn Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars High Body Count to Clean Up a 'Factory Town'
Red Harvest is from Dashiel Hammet's "Continental Op" series. The Roaring 1920s. Floozies and bootleggers in California. Read more
Published 20 months ago by microfiche
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick, Sharp, and Still the Best
The best thing about Dashiell Hammett books is that they are usually readable within 48 hours and yet still contain enough interesting content to prove satisfying. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars The Continental Op Cleans Up
The story is told by an agent from the Continental Detective Agency. He has been called to the town of Personville or, as he explains, is more aptly named, Poisonville. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2003 by Untouchable
4.0 out of 5 stars Blood, mayhem, and amorality in a mining town!
This is a hard tale of a hard guy, a nameless private detective, who arrives in the western mining town of Personville (called "Poisonville" by many of its criminal... Read more
Published on Dec 16 2002 by Stuart W. Mirsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic novel pits lone PI against the odds.
Dashiell Hammett took the mystery story out of the drawing room and put it squarely into the American street with his stories of his nameless Continental Detective Agency Private... Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2002 by Steven R. Harbin
3.0 out of 5 stars LIVE BY THE SWORD
Despite what Europeans say, Americans do have a culture all their own. This is proven by the existence of our own myths, legends, tall tales, archtypes. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by Sesho
5.0 out of 5 stars Both superior crime novel and incisive social commentary
The Continental Op is, as far as I'm concerned, the most interesting of Dashell Hammett's characters. Read more
Published on July 22 2002 by Neal Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another Hammett masterpiece
This is not my favorite Dashiell Hammett book, but there is no such thing . . . well, I was going to say that there was no such thing as a bad Dashiell Hammett book, but then I... Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2001 by Robert Moore
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