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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2006
Aeschylus. The harvest of death is both plentiful and bloody in Dashiell Hammett's marvelous thriller "Red Harvest".
Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, pretty much invented the hard-boiled (U.S.) detective genre. The influence of Hammett's short stories and novels, "Red Harvest", "The Dain Curse", "The Glass Key", "The Thin Man" and "The Maltese Falcon" can be seen in much of the detective fiction writing that followed, including among others Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, James Ellroy, Robert Parker, James Lee Burke, and Michael Connelly. The plot of "Red Harvest", Hammett's first novel, also found its way into movies such as Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", Sergio Leone's "For a Fistful of Dollars", and the Coen brother's "Miller's Crossing".
"Red Harvest" begins with the arrival of the Continental Op, Hammett's trademark "man with no name" in the town of Personville. The client he has been summoned to see is found murdered before the Op can meet him. In short order the Op finds that Personville's nickname, "Poisonville" is well-earned. It is a town filled with small town greed and big time corruption. The Ops arrival coincides with the onset of a turf war for control of the city between rival gangsters. The Op pays a call on the dead man's father, Elihu Willsson. The Op soon determines that the town's descent into a state approaching a low level of hell began when Willsson imported some mobsters to break up a strike. Their stay turned out to be far from a temporary one.
For reasons of his own, perhaps just to be stubborn or perhaps as a matter of some principle or warrior code, the Op decides to stay and clean up the town. His method is simple, pit each gang and its various factions and sub-factions against each other until the dust settles and it is discovered that they have pretty much killed themselves off. The Op is not afraid to pitch in and help the process along.
As noted above, "Red Harvest" was Hammett's first full length book. Perhaps as a result some of the sentences were longer and more `literary' than his later books, by which time he had perfected a leaner, staccato, machine gun style of dialogue. Nevertheless, "Red Harvest" was and remains an impressive and exciting piece of writing.
"Red Harvest" along with just about everything else Hammett ever wrote is well worth reading.
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on 29 September 2011
Red Harvest is acclaimed as one of Dashiell Hammett's best even though the work did not, like The Maltese Falcon, also become a movie classic. Brutal and cynical in conception, it pits a San Francisco detective against a corrupt Midwestern town nicknamed poisonville. The hero, after his client dies on the very evening of his arrival, becomes embroiled in a triangular fight between police, gangsters, and their common, industrialist paymaster. Shifting allegiances, gunfights, and repeated murders pepper the breathtaking contest that ensues. And the plot would not be complete without the involvement of the femme fatale Dinah Brand, the protagonist's beguiling but faithless information supplier.

Red Harvest is breathlessly-paced and highly readable. Still, I came to Hammett after having exhausted Raymond Chandler, and I did not find one quite on the same level as the other. This is a different kind of noir: rawer, punchier, less polished. The Continental Op, the anonymous hero, does not match the self-deprecating Philip Marlowe in complexity. Sultry L.A. has been lost in favour of a more rough-and-tumble setting. And the style of writing reflects this, stripped of Chandler's quirky yet apposite metaphors, of his ironic asides and wry character sketches. I will no-doubt be trying out more Hammett. As this did not match my extremely high expectations, however, I can only give it four stars.
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on 22 January 2004
The story is told by an agent from the Continental Detective Agency. He has been called to the town of Personville or, as he explains, is more aptly named, Poisonville. His client is Donald Willsson, but Willsson is shot and killed before the Continental Op can meet him. He decides to visit Willson's father, Elihu, who until recently ran the town. Elihu Willson winds up hiring the Continental Op to clean up the town by getting rid of the town's 3 criminal bosses. In true gangster-style, the names of the criminals are Max "Whisper" Thaler, Lew Yard and Pete the Finn.
The clean up job becomes the main focus of the rest of the book, although along the way, the Continental Op manages to solve the murder of his original client as well as most other minor crimes that spring up around him. The Continental Op is an interesting character, having no qualms about setting others up, knowingly placing them in mortal danger in order to uncover evidence or confirm his suspicions. He will lie, cheat and double-cross just about anyone.
The deaths come thick and fast and are mentioned off-handedly, almost as an afterthought. Red Harvest is fast moving and entertaining and as hardboiled as they come.
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on 5 October 2010
Red Harvest took a while to get going, so it was a struggle to begin with. I almost stopped reading it, but in the end I perserved and was glad I did. I was expecting Dashiel Hammett to be like Mickey Spillanne or Raymond Chandler, but this book was not in the same league. Perhaps I am being a bit harsh considering that Hammett is credited with creating the Hard-boiled style, so those who followed had the blueprint set out for them.

If you want to read Hammett as his best, read The Maltese Falcon.
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on 2 February 2004
Dashiell Hammett wrote the Maltese Falcon- everyone knows that. What they might not know is that he also wrote other, better books. Red Harvest is my personal favourite. The Op isn't just another square jawed, comfortably hard boiled private dick- calling broads "Shweet'art," He is a deeply enigmatic- at times sinister character- his motives are murky and he is just as coldly manipulative as any villain Sam Spade ever faced down.
You might find a hard-boiled tough talkin' dame here, you'll also find crooked cops. What you won't find is a single flaw or cliché in this remarkable crime-classic.
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on 16 July 1997
For most people, The Maltese Falcon is the first name that enters their mind when you talk about Hammett. But to me, Red Harvest with the Continental Op is the best Hammett ever.

Old gang-town story. Vivid descriptions. Incredibly complicated plot. Action. Drama. Spine chilling twists. Characters. The Language.. oh.. what language. Every phrase designed to excite and to be enjoyed. This book, in a genre that traditional English Depts do not consider as literature, is one of the literary classics of all time.
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on 16 August 1997
The posters for the Bruce Willis blood-fest Last Man Standing credit the original story to Akira Kurosawa's insanely funny destroying-the-town-to-save-it movie Yojimbo (AS IF Bruce Willis had an earthly of filing the blood-and-dust soaked waraji of Mifune). And there, for the majority of movie-goers, no doubt, the story begins and ends.

Unless you know Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. Unless you've ripped through the pages in an agonizing frenzy of suspense and awe, desperate to find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT but hanging on to each page a second longer to savor the impeccable use of words, the flawless balance between economy and imagery, the sheer perfection of the writing.

It's gang warfare in Poisonville, set in motion by the venomous old snake whose bite sickened the town in the first place. Poisonville is an oozing sore ripe for cleaning, and the Continental Op cleans it with a vengeance.

Wolf this one down in one gulp the first time through and then start over again at the beginning and linger over the sweet taste of nastiness made delicious through the brilliance of a master word-chef.

Hammet perfected the hard-boiled private eye genre even as he invented it. The genre would have been complete had no-one ever written another word in it.
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on 17 July 1998
It's hard to overemphasize just how important this book is to modern literature. In one fell swoop, Dashiell Hammett forever upset the world of "nice" genteel adventure and mystery stories, flooding the world in a clipped, tight-lipped, ugly torrent of blood and violence -- and I ain't compaining! Just about all modern novels and films of savagery and violence can be traced back to this crazy-kilter detective story in the sin-burg of Poisonville. I give it four stars instead of the full five only because the narrative, composed of linked but separately published units, doesn't cohere in the same astonishing way that Hammett's follow-ups, "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Glass Key" do. Still a kinetic fix for those interested in the seamier side of classic American literature. Practically adapted lock stock n' barrell by Akira Kurosawa for his Samurai movie "Yojimbo" (which later became "Fistful of Dollars" and "La! st Man Standing" -- the latter coming the closest to Hammett's original setting, making this sequence a huge circle back to the origin of species).
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on 30 May 1999
All those writers that flood the market these days, who cannot write a book of less than 500 pages and who think a "violent" story means also "gross and gruesome;" all those intellectuals that cannot see pith in dime novels, they should be locked up somewhere with this very slim book and not be released until they have learned some facts of literature.This is a gem of a book, from the unforgettable opening paragraph to the final "he gave me merry hell," there is not one word, one comma or one period too many. Hammett can describe a character or a situation in five lines, the way a good painter may draw a human figure or an object with just five strokes of the pencil. The plot is tight, raw and yet elegant; however not to be recommended for people with short attention spans, because it has so many twists and turns, and more characters than a Russian novel. This only adds to the interest, though. I have read this book over and over and always find new things about it.
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on 18 February 2011
The book came in good condition and was posted really fast - just what I wanted as I was in a rush to get it before I studied it in class...
No complaints, I was completely satisfied :)
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