Hammett fans owe Vince Emery a big "Thanks!" for putting this volume together. I spent a lot of delightful time going over this enjoyable book and reconsidering the origins of the detective as the focus for a story . . . rather than the mystery.
As the title of this volume suggests, these are Hammett stories that you cannot easily find elsewhere. Since they are not usually available in complete form, these are obviously not his most famous stories.
There are other available collections of the better known Hammett stories (such as The Big Knockover edited by Lillian Hellman, The Continental Op Short Story Collection edited by Steven Marcus, Nightmare Town edited by Kirby McCauley, Martin H. Greenberg and Ed Gorman, and Dashiell Hammett: Crime Stories and Other Writings edited by Steven Marcus). You'll probably like the stories in those collections better than in Lost Stories.
But after you've finished all of Hammett's novels and short stories, you'll yearn for more. And that's where Lost Stories will become a treasure for you.
This extensive volume also contains a running commentary on Hammett's life and times which will give you a good perspective on his career and family life. . . especially through the lenses of being a soldier, tubercular invalid, new husband and father, private detective, hungry writer, advertising man, famous writer, incorrigible drunk and gambler, script doctor and Communist. I found it helpful to know where he was in his life when each story was written. I also appreciated understanding how his earnings translate into buying power today.
I didn't expect a lot from these stories. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Hammett was always a good writer . . . before he became an astonishingly good writer.
Since many of these stories are quite brief, I won't attempt to describe each one except to note which ones I especially enjoyed. The book begins with Hammett's very first story, The Barber and His Wife, which displays a powerful ability to portray character with a few actions and words. The first published story (for Smart Set) was the anecdote-length tale called The Parthian Shot. Hemingway would have admired such a story.
The Road Home was his first detective story . . . and you can already feel the power of Sam Spade in it.
By 1923, Hammett's skill as a satirist was fully developed in such stories as The Master Mind and The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody. The stories begin to take on a special quality with The Joke on Eloise Morey as he employs stream of consciousness narrative and a dark-tinged sense of humor. Some of the stories seem almost autobiographical like Holiday. Plot lines begin to emerge in stories like The Green Elephant, Laughing Masks, Itchy, Ber-Bulu and This Little Pig that have the germs of full-fledged novels in them.
I particularly commend Laughing Masks, Ber-Bulu and This Little Pig to you. They are the crown jewels of this collection.
Ardent Hammett fans will also cheer for Joe Gores' delightful introduction.
Get these stories!