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Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels (Library of America) [Hardcover]

Dashiell Hammett , Steven Marcus
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct 1999 Library of America (Book 110)
Complete in one volume, the five books that created the modern American crime novel

In a few years of extraordinary creative energy, Dashiell Hammett invented the modern American crime novel. In the words of Raymond Chandler, "Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.... He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes."

The five novels that Hammett published between 1929 and 1934, collected here in one volume, have become part of modern American culture, creating archetypal characters and establishing the ground rules and characteristic tone for a whole tradition of hardboiled writing. Drawing on his own experiences as a Pinkerton detective, Hammett gave a harshly realistic edge to novels that were at the same time infused with a spirit of romantic adventure. His lean and deliberately simplified prose won admiration from such contemporaries as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.

Each novel is distinct in mood and structure. Red Harvest (1929) epitomizes the violence and momentum of his Black Mask stories about the anonymous detective the Continental Op, in a raucous and nightmarish evocation of political corruption and gang warfare in a western mining town. In The Dain Curse (1929) the Op returns in a more melodramatic tale involving jewel theft, drugs, and a religious cult. With The Maltese Falcon (1930) and its protagonist Sam Spade, Hammett achieved his most enduring popular success, a tightly constructed quest story shot through with a sense of disillusionment and the arbitrariness of personal destiny. The Glass Key (1931) is a further exploration of city politics at their most scurrilous. His last novel was The Thin Man (1934), a ruefully comic tale paying homage to the traditional mystery form and featuring Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies.

Frequently Bought Together

Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels (Library of America) + The Big Sleep and Other Novels (Penguin Modern Classics) + The Lady in the Lake and Other Novels (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price For All Three: 43.54

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 967 pages
  • Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line (Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883011671
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883011673
  • Product Dimensions: 20.7 x 13.6 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Steven Marcus, a distinguished literary critic and cultural historian, is George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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I FIRST heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 5 Oct 2011
Couldn't disagree more with the other reviewer. I am a huge fan of Chandler and Hammett - and to say that Chandler "exerts supreme control over his plots and is perfectly-honed" in comparison to Hammett is just wrong. The Big Sleep and Lady in the Lake have the most ridiculously over complicated, confusing storylines, but the point is with Chandler you don't care about the story, you read for the characters and the dialogue. With Hammett you get more atmosphere. Red Harvest and The Glass Key are brilliantly dark and raw, nasty novels. The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are the quintessential, cool, stylish detective novels. It's only The Dain Curse which hits an awkward dud note, which feels like what it is; some cobbled together short stories to make one rather tenuous novel. These books are unmissable.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hammett's Novels 17 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I first became interested in Dashiell Hammett after seeing Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" this book contains that story from which the screenplay was taken almost word for word. The other novels it contains are equally well written, and I am enjoying reading them.
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11 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very rough diamond 21 Feb 2010
By Bougain
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This volume of the complete novels of Dashiell Hammett is published by the Library of America. In the sleeve notes Hammett's work is considered as one of 'America's best and authoritative writing'. I finally got round to sample this supposedly great proponent of the detective novel after having been an ardent fan of Raymond Chandler's writing for many years. But I am rather disappointed with Hammett. While Chandler exerts supreme control over his plots and its perfectly-honed, minimalist sentences that carry a unique punch, Hammet's text at times appears crudely crafted and his plots are convoluted and confused. However, as Hammet's work precedes that of Chandler by nearly ten years, it also leaves the powerful impression of representing the perfect maquette for Chandler's subsequent efforts of condensing and compressing that original, primitive, rough-hewn effort. Maybe the historians of literature know more about this.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Hardback Anthology of Great Noir Fiction. 23 July 2004
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
This is a nice compact hardback edition of Dashiell Hammett's five novels, which he wrote between 1929 and 1934. A veteran of Pinkerton detective agency in several cities, Hammett turned his intimate familiarity with crooks, low-lives, and the seedier side of life into hard-boiled, hard-hitting detective stories. This was a time when urban corruption was the rule, and private detectives, journalists, and police officers shared information. Two of these novels, "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Glass Key" are American classics. Another, "The Thin Man", inspired one of Hollywood's best-loved movie franchises. Hammett's novels lift the veil of propriety from the subcultures in which they take place, laying bare violence, corruption, and pervasive cynicism. But they're not dreary. The sharp prose crackles, and the heroes stand apart from the corruption while swimming in it, steadfast in their own codes of conduct, their iconoclastic ideologies rooted securely in realism. These five novels all appeared as serials in magazines prior to being published as novels. "The Thin Man" appeared first in "Redbook", the others in "Black Mask".

"The Maltese Falcon" (1930) and "The Glass Key" (1931) are flawless. "The Maltese Falcon" features private detective Sam Spade, a irresistible femme fatale, and the ruthless pursuit of an ancient gold statuette. The last pages of the book are some of the most hard-hitting and cynical in all of noir fiction. And they're brilliant. "The Glass Key" explores political corruption that leads to personal tragedy in an unnamed American city. Oddly, the detective is the right-hand man of a crime boss. "Red Harvest" (1929) features the adventures of Hammett's most popular detective, the Continental Op, in a town called Personville, or Poisonville to those who know it better. The always unnamed detective for the Continental Detective Agency finds himself responsible for cleaning up a mining town that is ruled by violence and mob warfare. The novel's opening paragraph deserves to be read several times. "The Thin Man" (1934) is an attempt at humor among New York's blue-blooded, cold-blooded upper crust. Hard-boiled humor is interesting in concept. But I find the characters in this novel more pitiful than funny, and Hammett's style was in decline at this point. At least his characteristic cynicism wasn't. "The Dain Curse" (1929) is another Continental Op novel. This one is melodramatic, absurd, and not up to Hammett's usual standards. Hammett fans shouldn't miss it, but others may find it pointless. I described the novels in order of descending quality. "Complete Novels" organizes them chronologically.

Five novels is a lot to pack into one book. But "Complete Novels" doesn't resemble a door stop. It's a handy size actually. The print is not too small, but the pages are quite thin. Editor Stanley Marcus, a literary critic and frequent admirer of Hammett's work, has included a Chronology of Hammett's life and several pages of notes on the novels in the back of the book. The chronology is informative and provides all of the apparently significant events in Hammett's life. The notes are mostly definitions of colloquialisms used in the novels, which are useful. The notes also contain an introduction to "The Maltese Falcon", written by Hammett in 1934, in which he explains the origins of that novel's characters. It's quite interesting. For those who prefer to own these novels separately, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard hs published some handsome trade paperback editions. But if you want hardback and don't mind all five novels in one volume, this is quite a nice book.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic crimes 7 Sep 2003
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid view of the depression and prohibition eras 25 July 2002
By Neal C. Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
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.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Mysteries 15 Mar 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Dashiell Hammett's novels have fascinating mystery plots and the essential elements of film noir: dangerous dames, wise-cracking "ops" (= operative = P.I.), cagey crime orgasnisers, and trigger-happy "muggs".
Hammett's novels include The Maltese Falcon (#3) and The Thin Man(#5), which are great films but they are missing some of the intrigue of the real stories. For instance, there's another angle of Sam Spade involving Iva Archer that doesn't quite make it to the film version . . . .
The Red Harvest (#1) reveals shocking corruption in city politics as the Continental Op (literally) wades through bootleg liquor and tries to keep track of the soaring body count.
The Dain Curse (#2) is a confusing compound of drug use, a religious cult, and a family's vicious criminal record. It isn't a neat, fictionalised detective story, but rather the slough of deceit Hammett must have seen while working for Pinkerton.
The Glass Key (#4) also deals with city-level political corruption, but there's another message: think of trying to use a glass key . . . .
When fortifying myself for a six hour layover and a trans-Atlantic flight, I stumbled upon this book quite by accident, but I couldn't have made a better choice. Hammett's novels make excellent reading: interesting plots, clever wording and some of those "lines" film noir can't do without. I can't resist giving an example "line" (from The Glass Key):
"'A copper found you crawling on all fours up the middle of Colman Street at three in the morning leaving a trail of blood behind you.'
'I think of funny things to do,' Ned Beaumont said."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Hammett 5 Jun 2001
By "mellyduck" - Published on Amazon.com
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...
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