1. D. HAMMETT
Hammett was born on a farm in southern Maryland. His parents were an old
Hammett turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.
Appearing primarily in the magazine Black Mask, Hammett's work soon became a favourite with readers. Bringing his real-life detective experience to his writing, he is today regarded as a founding father of the genre, as well as elevating detective fiction to the level of literature.
Many of his stories featured a pudgy, middle-aged operative of the Continental Detective Agency, known only as The Continental Op.
His best-known creation was Sam Spade, the tough, shifty detective of The Maltese Falcon. Spade was based in
Hammett's writing career was short. He produced four novels and almost all of his short stories between 1922 and
He aspired to write mainstream novels that would rival those of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
During the 1950s, Hammett's support of leftist causes brought the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he was called upon to testify. Hammett's refusal to name names resulted:
- in five months behind bars.
- in him to be blacklisted;
- in his books were removed from libraries, and his radio shows cancelled.
He died near-penniless in 1961.
Red Harvest first appeared in the magazine Black Mask, serialized over four issues.
The main character, Continental Op, is also the narrator: first person narration.
There has never been a movie version of Red Harvest, although several movies have used its plot (without giving credit).
It is a clear sample of the hard-boiled tradition, due to:
- the recreation of the war against the lack of morality
- totalitarian ideas of some powerful men.
The responsible ones for the huge number of dead citizens are:
- the corrupted high class
- the police.
There is a strong feeling that a strong ethic code is necessary to face social corruption.
It is a 1930 detective novel, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask. The story has been adapted several times for the cinema.
It is a cult to individual defence against social norms and law since it represents a search for objective narrative.
There are allusions to other media:
- graphic descriptions.
- Use of sounds for descriptions.
- Film script description
Self-defence and social rebellion are justified.
The main character, Sam Spade:
- appears only in this novel and in three lesser known short stories, yet is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard boiled private detective genre – Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade.
- Spade was a departure from Hammett's nameless and less than glamorous detective, The Continental Op.
- Sam Spade combined several features of previous detectives, most notably:
- his cold detachment,
- keen eye for detail,
- and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice. He is the man who has seen the wretched, the corrupt, the tawdry side of life but still retains his "tarnished idealism".
In this novel, Hammett redefines many of the conventions of the "hard boiled" detective genre:
-Spade is a bitter, sardonic character who lets the police and the criminals think he is in with the criminals while he works singlemindedly to catch the crooks.
-Brigid O'Shaughnessy is the classic femme fatale.
-The other crooks are manipulative and self-centered (or merely self-centered) with no concern for anyone's well-being except their own.
However, unlike some other hard-boiled detectives who have a strong sense of idealism underneath the cynical shell, Hammett never provides a clear statement of Spade's notion of morality:
- Although he expresses a strong professional ethic ("When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it") it also has an element of self-interest about it ("[W]hen one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around - bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere").
- It is left unclear whether Spade might have chosen not to turn Brigid in if there was a bigger monetary gain for him ("...a lot more money would have been one more item on your side"), but certain that his emotional attachment to her (however strong that is) is not sufficient to overcome the risks involved with letting her go.
- Spade's blatant calculus of risk, reward and duty with which Hammett ends the novel contains remarkably little trace of morality.