Day 266-- Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett

The 'holy trinity' of crime authors had their varying strengths. Raymond Chandler was a master at his craft, wielding descriptions and dialogue like a champion fencer would a foil. James M. Cain was blunt, his bleak stories painting the oft-guilty narrators without a shred of sympathy. Dashiell Hammett, in many ways the grandfather of all things pulp and noir and detective story, was immediate in his writing; he never beat around the bush, his dialogue as brief and punchy as the action.

While the Maltese Falcon is his well-known novel (the Thin Man right behind it), Hammett's Red Harvest has been getting an increasing amount of acclaim over the past few decades. (The novel was written in 1929.)

The plot is something of a fix-up, tying three similar short stories together into one novel. The novel is narrated by reoccurring Hammett character the Continental Op, a nameless and amoral private detective based out of San Francisco. After being summoned to Personville (Poisonville to the inhabitants), the Op is caught up in the investigation of the murder of his client. Seeing how deep-rooted the corruption in the city is, he forges ahead and creates a four-way war between the various criminal elements and warped police department. The result is utter bloodshed. The Op wouldn't have it any other way.

Hammett is a good writing, sticking to a meat-and-potatoes approach. Brevity is key here, and the short blurbs of dialogue or description hit like a sledge. This works well with the Op's internal monologues--they're more like snippets of thoughts, brief mullings that lead into verbal sparring or bullet dodging.

The Op is an interesting character; he's so damaged by his job that his actions--which fall heavily in gray areas--don't seem to register to him until he pauses to have a drink or fall asleep. He exists in a very moral world, but in a spectrum that most readers aren't used to.

This said, while Red Harvest felt in some ways like a fluff novel, it wasn't; like Hammett's other novels, it's too smart, too realistic and in some ways too honest. It may be tough as hard-boiled leather, but it's at least more enjoyable (warning! The book--while not graphic--is VERY violent)

P.S.-- the list of movies influenced or inspired by this novel are endless: Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, the Coen's Miller's Crossing (one of my favorites), Last Man Standing, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, and so on and so on.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 5/29/2007 06:43:00 PM,


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