Woman in the Dark (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – 1 Sep 1989
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From the Inside Flap
A young, frightened, foreign woman appears at the door of an isolated house. The man and woman inside take her in. Other strangers appear in pursuit of the girl. Menace is in the air.
Originally published in 1933, Hammett's Woman in the Dark shows the author at the peak of his narrative powers. With an introduction by Robert B. Parker, the author of the celebrated Spenser novels.
About the Author
Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story Tulip, which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the Op, a nameless detective (or operative ) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold a bit like Hammett himself."
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A lovely young woman stumbles to a smalll house with an injured foot. It turns out the inhabitant of the house is Brazil, an ex-criminal who did time for killing a man in a brawl. A thug arrives to bring the girl, Luise, back to the man she is living with -- except Brazil punches him out. Now they're both in trouble... and in danger... and on the lam.
"Woman in the Dark" isn't a particularly thrilling thriller. Hammett's heart didn't seem to be in this tale; it's slow and wandering, and the grand showdown is somehow anticlimactic. What's more, it's very rushed -- it almost feels like Hammett scribbled it out with the intent of expanding it into a full-length novel.
Hammett's gritty, somewhat minimalist writing is a little awkward this time around. "One of the men pulled off his cap -- it was a gray tweed, matching his topcoat -- and..." is only one example of the unusually choppy style. But his sense of atmosphere is still unparalleled, with all the grime, grease and smoke of his urban backdrop.
The characterizations are sketchy at best. Brazil is much like Hammett's other anti-heroes, with a tough-guy attitude over some very intense feelings. Love interest Luisa is a walking paper doll, a typical exotic kept woman who falls for our anti-hero -- although it's never quite clear why they do fall in love.
"Woman in the Dark" is an unusually flat, sketchy novel by a classic mystery author. One of Hammett's few misfires, this is a curiosity but nothing worth getting excuted about.
Whatever the case, it's worth reading just because it's Hammett. It tells the story of a guy who got a bad rap the first time around, and just a few weeks after getting out of jail, he finds himself in danger of going back. There's a feeling of hopelessness here and the ending seems a bit ambiguous.
It's a good crime adventure short, but far from the best Hammett. It's still worth having in your collection.
Woman in the Dark is certainly not a novel; at best it's a novella and even then it feels more like the outline for a longer work. The woman of the title is Luise Fischer, the Swiss-born kept woman of a wealthy thug named Kane Robson. Having walked out on him one evening, she twists her ankle and stops for help at cottage occupied by Brazil, a phlegmatic ex-con, who once killed a man in a barroom brawl. When Robson shows up with a henchmen to demand that Luise come back to him, Brazil punches the other man who bangs his head, perhaps fatally, on the fireplace mantle. Now both Brazil and Luise have a reason to take it on the lam :
He emptied his glass and went to the front door, where he made a pretense of looking out at the night.
As he turned from the door he caught her expression, though she hastily put the frown off her face. His smile, voice were mockingly apologetic : 'I can't help it. They had me away for a while--in prison, I mean--and it did that to me. I've got to keep making sure I'm not locked in.' His smile became more twisted. 'There's a name for it--claustrophobia--and that doesn't make it any better.'
'I am sorry,' she said. 'Was it--very long ago?'
'Plenty long ago when I went in,' he said dryly, 'but only a few weeks ago that I got out. That's what I came up here for--to try to get myself straightened out, see how I stood, what I wanted to do.'
'And?' she said softly.
'And what? Have I found out where I stand, what I want to do? I don't know.' He was standing in front of her, hands in pockets, glowering down at her. 'I suppose I've just been waiting for something to turn up, something I could take as a sign which way I was to go. Well, what turned up was you. That's good enough. I'll go along with you.'
So much for the set up, in the two sections that follow, the police track them down and Brazil is shot, but the ending suggests that everything may work out for the two who have by now fallen in love.
It's tempting to read the story autobiographically. Two interesting and seemingly dynamic characters meet up and embark on an exciting though fairly implausible love affair, but then their story just kind of tails off into ambiguous and unconvincing anticlimax. Despite periodic flashes of Hammett's trademark hardboiled style, the book is generally disappointing. The conclusion of the story in particular is a far cry from the great final scene of The Maltese Falcon. Ultimately, the book is interesting chiefly as an indicator of where Hammett was headed just before he stopped writing, but if it's an accurate indication, we didn't miss much.
GRADE : C
It is not so much that anything is wrong with this novella. It is just completely forgettable. Nothing sticks to the ribs. Sure the story is good - a dame runs away from her guy, thugs are in pursuit, with the `hero' bringing his own rough justice to day. But it is not the story that makes a book good, but rather the nuance that an author brings to it.
Hammett here is just going through the motions. I found myself discussing Hammett recently with a friend and, when he mentioned that he had never heard of WOMAN IN THE DARK, I could only think that there was a reason for that. In the catalogue of an author's work, this one should have remained lost behind the bookshelf.