Thursday, August 5, 2010

Detective Stories : Dashiell Hammett

Mostly known for Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and the Thin Man, Hammett was a prolific writer of detective stories. Dying in 1961, he saw quite a lot of fame for his stories. Oddly, Hammett was a left wing activist and communist after WWII and was eventually blacklisted. It seems he was more known for his anti American activity than his stories.
This book was a collection of 17 of his short stories. It was very light reading , perfect for a break as I am also reading Aristotle’s Ethics, but I did not find the same magic as I did in the Sherlock Holmes detecting. Missing was some or much of the deduction, clues and mystery. In a couple of stories, the case was solved, the ending given away prematurely, and the story line was following the characters to a foregone conclusion. The best story involved a detective/mystery writer who was conned and wrote the story of the con. The writers publisher called in 5-6 mystery writers all of whom wrote the same story. They were all conned and wrote about it. The con involved the writer catching a female cat burglar, bribing an arresting police detective in the hopes of getting a wealth of first hand detective crime stories from the burglar only to find the money and the cat burglar gone. The story was the story of the con while the whole time, I thought it would be the story of the detective writer.
No great philosophical or thought provoking writing as was found in The Four Horsemen or Siddhartha. I will include just one example. As our detective writer hears the burglar in the next room, he contemplates overpowering him like he writes in his stories. This burglar was a bit noisy and he was confused.
“Perhaps it was that in the many crook stories he had written, deadliness had always been wedded to skill and the bunglers had always been comparatively harmless and easily overcome, and that he had come to accept this theory as a truth. Afterall, if a man says a thing often enough, he is very likely to acquire some sort of faith in it sooner or later.”
(That last line sounds like our Communist in chief) Still, I like a little mystery.

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