Friday, 22 November 2013


A weird coincidence, this. No sooner had I finished reading -- and loving -- Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse than a discussion sprang up about the guy on a site I regularly visit, The Book Corner on Kindleboards. And it's great to see ebook readers taking such an interest in the fellow, because Dash Hammett is something of a hero of mine. Not only was he a terrific writer, he was a fascinating individual into the bargain.

As has already been pointed out, he served in both wars, and is buried at Arlington as a result. According to his long-term on-off partner, the playwright Lillian Hellman (whose memoir Pentimento is well worth a look as well) army life quite suited his temperament. Unlike the vast majority of crime writers, Hammett actually was a professional private detective before he hit the typewriter, one of the top agents for Pinkerton's, so adept at his job that he once demonstrated to a reporter how to follow someone not from behind but from in front. Sheesh! He finally quit that job and took up writing when Pinkerton's started getting into strike-breaking, which went heavily against his principles.

He served time in jail during the McCarthy era for refusing to cooperate with HUAC. And such was the respect the man commanded that the prison guards didn't call him 'pinko' or suchlike, they called him 'sir.' And he wrote screenplays as well as novels and short stories, earning himself a small fortune in a bare couple of years.

If you want to know more about him, then I heavily recommend Shadow Man: the Life of Dashiell Hammett by Richard Layman. And if you ever find yourself in San Fran, you can go on a genuinely enjoyable Dashiell Hammett Tour. DH wasn't a perfect human being by any means, and would never claim to be so. But he was a far more interesting man than any other half a dozen writers you could put in the same room.

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