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Nightmare Town: Stories [Hardcover]

Dashiell Hammett


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Book Description

20 April 2001
Elevating mystery fiction to the level of art, Hammett is one of the finest writers of the twentieth century: Nightmare Town is a stunning collection of twenty short stories with an introduction by Colin Dexter. In the title story, a man on a bender enters a small town and ends up unravelling the dark mystery at its heart. In three stories, Sam Spade confronts the darkness in the human soul while rolling his own cigarettes. A woman confronts the brutal truth about her husband in the chilling story, 'Ruffian's Wife'. And the first study for The Thin Man sends John Guild on a murder investigation in which almost every witness may be lying. In Nightmare Town Hammett shows us a world where people confront a multitude of evils...

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"'Hammett was spare, hard-boiled, but he did over and over what only the best writers can ever do. He wrotes scenes that seemed never to have been written before' Raymond Chandler"

About the Author

Dashiell Hammett was born in Maryland in 1894. He worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and served in both the Great War and the Second World War. He turned to writing in the late 1920s and his novels include The Thin Man, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collection Spans Hammett's Career & Narrative Techniques. 16 Aug 2004
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Nightmare Town" is a collection of 20 stories written by Dashiell Hammett between 1924 and 1934, spanning nearly his entire writing career. Seven of the stories feature the indomitable Continental Op: "House Dick", "Night Shots", "Zig Zags of Treachery", "Death on Pine Street", "Tom, Dick, or Harry", "One Hour", and "Who Killed Bob Teal". "Zig Zags of Treachery", about the apparent suicide of a prominent San Francisco surgeon, is superb, perhaps the best story in this collection. The Continental Op is a character rooted in realism whom Hammett based on a fellow detective from his days at Pinkerton Detective Agency, Jimmy Wright, and on himself. Hammett's second most famous detective, Sam Spade, hero of his novel "The Maltese Falcon", is featured in 3 stories: "A Man Called Spade", "Too Many Have Lived", and "They can only Hang You Once". These are the only short stories Hammett wrote about Spade, who was in some ways the flip side of the Continental Op. At first glance, the two detectives have more in common that not, but where the Op represents the way detectives of the era really were, Sam Spade represents the way they wanted to be.

The stories in this anthology demonstrate the variety of writing techniques that Hammett applied to hard-boiled detective fiction. "His Brother's Keeper" and "A Man Named Thin" feature first-person narration, but are otherwise divergent in style. "A Man Named Thin" is narrated by a poet who is a reluctant detective. I can't say that I like the ornate prose style, but it suits the narrator. "The Second-Story Angel" shows that Hammett wasn't above making fun of himself. The last story in this collection is the first ten chapters of a story that Hammett wrote in 1930 and never finished. The editors have called it "The First Thin Man". Hammett apparently intended the story to be called "The Thin Man", but by the time that novel was published in 1934, he had reworked it entirely. The only resemblance this story bares to the later novel is that one of characters is named "Wynant". "The First Thin Man" is interesting, though. It introduces a new detective, John Guild of the Associated Detective Bureau, Inc. Guild's manner is smoother than than Hammett's earlier detectives. The story is pretty good; it's a shame it wasn't completed. Hammett may have intended to make a novel out of it, but it lends itself well to a novella, which would have taken little further work.

"Nightmare Town" offers a broad selection of Dashiell Hammett's short stories, representing a variety of narrative techniques. All but one ("A Man Named Thin") are from the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, which Hammett invented and perhaps perfected. Hammett biographer William F. Nolan has written an informative introduction to the book. So this is an excellent collection for Hammett fans and and a good introduction for newcomers as well. If you have other Hammett short story collections and are wondering what might be repeated in this one: Nothing from the two Vintage Crime collections, "The Continental Op" and "The Big Knockover", is found in "Nightmare Town". Four short stories plus the novel fragment "The First Thin Man" in "Nightmare Town" are also found in the Library of America's "Hammett: Crime Stories and other Writings".
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nightmare Town 26 Feb 2000
By "blackjewel" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We are jaded. At the end of the twentieth century, our society has lost sight of the horrors of crime; we listen idly to reports of yet another school shooting, yet another cross-burning. Somehow, we have come to equate crime with visible, tangible violence, and we demand an ever-growing level of gore to deem an act criminal. The true measure of a crime, however, lies in its effects upon society, not in the amount of bloodshed. We have forgotten that real crime requires subtlety, alacrity, cunning. Dashiell Hammett's Nightmare Town, however, a collection of stories from early in the author's career, reminds us that crime is not only visible violence; it is the hidden schemes of the villainous, the ones that may never come to light, which contain the frightening truth of evil.
At first, the reader might find some details predictable. But if such tropes have become conventional now, it is thanks to Hammett's masterful creation of them. Hammett, once an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, understood the inner workings of the nefarious underworld. Writing during Prohibition, he delved into the machinations of the criminal mind. His tales fail to privilege gore and mindless violence; rather, he constructs a constant battle of wits between the calculating crook and the equally crafty detective.
In Nightmare Town's eponymous first story, Steve Threefall has no qualms about staying in a dreary desert outpost town, even after watching one businessman pull a gun on another. An innocent man dies in "Zigzags of Treachery," but while the detective knows the murderer and the motive, the issue is left to resolve itself when the primary mystery¡Va tale of extortion¡Vis solved. For Hammett, violence was not a problem in itself, but rather an indication of deeper evil lurking beneath. He repeatedly leads us down a winding path of calculations and conjectures, based on an intimate knowledge of the crook's modus operandi, into a world where no one really knows the good from the wicked. And while today we may have become cynical enough to believe that its ubiquity and violence have made crime less detrimental to society, Hammett's stories chill us into remembering that the most serious crimes remain invisible - and there lies the true horror of evil.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stories from a Private Detective 9 Aug 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
These stories were printed in the 1920s by "Black Mask" magazine, one of the monthly pulp magazines that entertained America before radio and television. Some of the stories were repeated in later works ("Who Killed Bob Teal") and never reprinted in Samuel Dashiell Hammett's lifetime. The stories are still entertaining today, and also provide a glance at a life that few of us know.
SDH worked as a Pinkerton detective for years, seeking fun, travel, adventure. The stories reflect his life as a private detective would see it: a world of crime and corruption. Would this work damage an operative expecially when de didn't have a normal family and home life? Does this reoccur today?
4.0 out of 5 stars Twenty Detective Stories 15 Jun 2010
By Acute Observer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Nightmare Town, Dashiell Hammett

William F. Nolan wrote the `Introduction' to this largest collection of Hammett's short stories. It gives a short history of Hammett's life and problems. None of these short stories in "The Continental Op" or "The Big Knock-Over" are included here. Six of these stories are in the "Crime Stories & Other Writings". Nolan wrote three novels with a character named "Dashiell Hammett": "The Black Mask Murders", "The Marble Orchard", and "Sharks Never Sleep". You can read echoes of these stories in Hammett's later novels. Raymond Chandler also used some of his short stories for his later novels.

"Nightmare Town" is the small hamlet in the desert that mines and transports a chemical. There is trouble in this rough boom town from corruption and crime. Is there an incredible amount of horror here? "House Dick" tells of a short-time job in a hotel of the better sort. Then three dead men are found in a closet, they weren't robbed. There were no clues, but they got a list of hotel guests to investigate. "Ruffian's Wife" is a story about a man who travels to foreign lands but leaves his wife behind. One day a man comes looking for him. "The Man Who Killed Dan Odoms" escaped from jail and stole a horse to carry him far away. Will they catch him? "Night Shots" were fired at a sick and wealthy old man. A detective is hired to stay and watch. The old man had many enemies. Another shooting wounded his nurse. The mystery is solved.

"Zigzags of Treachery" begins with a mysterious suicide. But the wife was arrested for the murder. Her attorney hires a detective. The truth is discovered at last. Then there is a final act of treachery. "The Assistant Murderer" describes a job for a private detective to find out who is following a young woman. This leads to incredible complications. "His Brother's Keeper" is about boxing. Does one fighter need more experience? How will he do against a better boxer? "Two Sharp Knives" tells about the arrest of a man wanted for murder. After his suicide in jail they learn the wanted circular was a forgery. This man's wife had earlier disappeared without a trace. Now she shows up. "Death on Pine Street" (or "Women, Politics and Murder") tells about the shooting death of a politically connected contractor. If no one was seen at the crime scene who did it?

"The Second-Story Angel" is about a failed burglary in a writer's apartment. Can a burglar provide material for new stories? "Afraid of a Gun" is the story of that man and what he learned one day in the street of a rural town. Was it too late? "Tom, Dick or Harry" tells of an investigation of a home robbery. The robber disappeared somewhere in the building. Can he be caught? "One Hour" is about a stolen car that ran down and killed a man. Can a detective solve the crime quickly by discovering the motive? "Who Killed Bob Teal?" is about the death of a Continental detective. He was shadowing a real estate developer suspected of embezzlement. After gathering information they solved the crime.

"A Man Called Spade" received a call from a client, but Sam found him dead when he arrived. The investigation solves the crime. "Too Many Have Lived" is about the search for a missing poet. When his body is found Sam Spade questions the acquaintances to solve the crime. "They Can Only Hang You Once" begins when Sam Spade tries to meet Timothy Binnett. There are two shooting before Spade solves the mystery. "A Man Called Thin" is a private detective called to a robbery for an insurance company. After questioning the witnesses they quickly solve the crime. "The First Thin Man" was the start of a novel that was later re-written in its final form. It is similar to the short stories, but has no ending.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sam spade 2 Feb 2010
By Larry D. Zmolik - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
this was the cheapest way to get the three short stories written on Sam Spade.
if you liked The Maltese Falcon, you will enjoy this.
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