He's known best for the creation of Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon. But Dashiell Hammet was responsible for a lot more -- the hardboiled crime novel as we know it today, with femme fatales, charmingly sinister crooks and cynical antiheroes.
"Red Harvest" introduces the Continental Op, cool-as-a-cucumber private detective who arrives in Personvilles (often pronounced "Poisonville") for a client, Donald Wilson, who has been suddenly murdered. Soon the Continental Op finds himself being hired by Donald's father Elihu to clean up Personville. To do so, he'll have to fight fire with fire, and play dirty with the many dangerous crooks.
"The Dain Curse" starts off with an ordinary diamond heist where things don't seem quite right. It soon leads the Continental Op to Gabrielle Leggett, a young woman with a drug habit, an attachment to a cult, a bizarre family secret, and who is convinced in the "Dain Curse" that has supposedly slain her entire family. The Op sets out to discover the origins of the cult and cure Gabrielle of her drug use...
"The Maltese Falcon" starts with a simple case, in which a young woman asks the private investigators Sam Spade and Miles Archer to trail her sister's lover. Except not only does she not have a sister, but she's wrapped up in a bizarre hunt for the priceless, elusive Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade must unravel a tangle of lies and murder to find out who killed Miles, and what is going on with the Falcon.
"The Glass Key presents Ned Beaumont, a gambler-turned-murder-investigator who has to start investigating when a Senator's son is murdered. What he uncovers is more than murder, but deception, desperate political games, gangsters and money.
"The Thin Man" brings us Nick and Nora Charles, wealthy and dysfunctional New Yorkers who seem like unlikely detectives. When a friend reintroduces Nick to the family of eccentric genius Richard Wynant, they find a confusing web spun around Wynant (the Thin Man). His ex-wife has married a bitter rival, and his kids aren't being forthright. Who is the Thin Man, and what has he done?
Hammett's writing style is spare and to-the-point, but is shockingly vivid when it needs to be (such as the human sacrifice scene in "Dain Curse"). His leading men are hardened, cynical, and live by their own sense of justice, but surprisingly deep and human. The supporting characters are also good: sighing femme fatales, cultured obese gangsters, accursed damsels, charismatic cult leaders, frightened young girls, and corrupt politicians.
There's a certain amount of narrative awkwardness in some of the books; "Curse" reads like three novellas, and "Harvest" is virtually impossible to understand at first. Some of the books may need to be read multiple times to really absorb the story, so that their complexity and twisting storylines can be fully appreciated.
Only a handful of authors have managed to do what Dashiell Hammett did for the crime novel. His complete novels are a searing, twisting, deliciously noir read. Highly recommended.
on July 25, 2002
I have reviewed each of these books separately. Having them all together in one volume is invaluable. And reading these consecutively is hardly boring, because there's a world of difference between them.
RED HARVEST featuring the Continental Op is a real romp through a completely corrupt town which gets what's coming to it because a corrupt police official makes the middle aged fat man protagonist mad. There's an underlying theme of corruption as a true poison.
THE DAIN CURSE is again the Continental Op, and here you see glimpses of a tender side to a character who is basically completely self controlled. And in this, you see the very weak female character turn into an admirably strong woman.
THE MALTESE FALCON is of course the true classic, a study of greed and deception. Sam Spade's story of a character named Flitcraft gives the reader the author's perspective on the randomness of life.
THE GLASS KEY gives a sleazy view of politics and makes a couple of points about friendship.
THE THIN MAN appears lightweight after the first four, but a second reading reveals a portrait of a very able person who allowed passion to leave his life, and is slowly going down the drain.
Crime fans will especially love this collection, but there is a whole lot of value concerning human nature and the framework of society here.
on June 18, 2001
I had read some Raymond Chandler and found him to be too dense and boring (at least his early stories). Hammett went beyond detective fiction; his dialogue and descriptions of characters are first rate and should be the envy of writers everywhere. While some of the detective plots tend to get a little out of hand, they always resolve well.
His last novel "The Thin Man" is his weakest work. Again, the dialogue is crisp, and the descriptions of characters fantastic. The only problem is that the plot makes no sense and seems to ramble on forever with very little to tie anything together. The final ending doesn't resolve a lot of the open plot issues, and the book is a failure for this reason.
I recently saw the film made out of the book with William Powell. The screenwriters were left with the horrible task of making the plot make sense and resolve it cleaning. They chopped the book to pieces, but they had no choice. If the film did show all the plot points in the book, the film would have been a massive failure.
Why did Hammett cease to write? I think one of the causes is his last novel "The Thin Man". It seems that because of his serious drinking problem, he couldn't develop plots that made sense anymore. If you think about it, Nick and Nora (in the book and film) are both alcholics (they go way beyond social drinking).
Another reason he stopped writing was that he helped out his wife Lillian Hellman a great deal of the time with her plays. In a sense, he sacrificed his writing career to hers.
With all this in mind, I would buy the book. Except to be confused and impatient with his plot in "The Thin Man".
on July 13, 2001
The Thin Man was a popular series of films starring the unforgettable Myrna Loy and the talented William Powell. The films starred a wire fox terrier that played the couples' dog, Asta. I think it is important to note that in Hammett's novel, Asta is actually a schnauzer. Also, the Thin Man in the films refers to Powell's character, and in the book it refers to one of the other characters. In any case, Hammett's novels are as fresh and as entertaining today as any top-notch detective writer. I think Patricia Cornwell should read some Hammett and learn how to inject a little levity into Scarpetta. That is one uptight woman!
on June 5, 2001
Wow. Finally the publishers are making what needs to be made more often.
Hammett reinvents the hard-boiled and hard-boiled is forever changed. With his tight yet elegant prose that recalls Hemingway, Hammett leads us head-first through a maze of corruption and murder with genius that is only matched later by Raymond Chandler. Hammett never trusts the reader, much to the reader's delight: the endings are stunning yet not fantastic (as was Poirot). The only reason for which you shouldn't read this book would be to give other authors a fighting chance on your bookshelf...
on December 27, 2001
during early Depression America. Each of these five classics shed light on the human condition,corruption, nastiness,and sometimes,redemption, and are as good now as 65-plus years ago. The most famous THE MALTESE FALCON, and THE THIN MAN have been made into several classic films over the years. RED HARVEST seems to have a corrupt town as it's main character,a town called PERSONVILLE, but usually pronounced POISONVILLE. The GLASS KEY is also a classic,if less known film.THE DAIN CURSE rounds out the series. Simply, not to be missed!
on October 1, 1999
roll over in his grave - forgive the cliche. To think that anyone would ever want to prissy up the crass, hard-boiled writings of Dashiell Hammett by combining them all into one, glossy, spit-polished volume.... If you want to read Hammett the way Hammett is meant to be read, go to a used book store. Find the most beat up, tired copies that you can, and, for effect, tear off the front covers and burn the page edges.
But, regardless of your method, read Hammett, read everything by Hammett.
on September 9, 1999
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this book. If you're a Hammett fan, it's worth investing in. Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and The Thin Man are gathered in this real cloth-bound book. The book stays open, flat. It even has a satin ribbon bound in to hold your place. It sounds a bit strange to gush over the bookmaking, but I think this volume is a worthy container for the classic content inside.
on December 4, 2013
While I have been a keen consumer of quality crime writing since the mid '60's, I was only vaguely aware of Hammett (while being familiar with the film of the Maltese Falcon). The tone of both Cheyney and Chandler's crime novels owe much to this earlier master. Additionally, this volume is printed on long lasting paper with a quality binding that enhances the pleasure of reading this complete set of
on December 5, 2002
Hammett was the best writer ever to take to crime fiction. All his writing is lean and elegant.
The Dain Curse (his first novel) is not very good, but the other 4 are superb. The Maltese Falcon is even better than the Bogart film. Hammett's feeling for mood and atmosphere shows in that these books have inspired great movies: The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man series, Yojimbo (from Red Harvest).