Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Tip of the Fedora to Hammett

One hundred and sixteen years ago today, a birth occurred on a tobacco farm in southern Maryland that would alter the course of crime fiction’s development. Born on that day was Samuel Dashiell Hammett, who would go on to work with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and then use that experience (short though it was) to bring new vitality and a sense of realism to the aborning field of detective-fiction writing. In addition to creating the hard-boiled agency sleuth known only as The Continental Op, Hammett also gave to readers no-nonsense San Francisco private eye Sam Spade, the imbibing and investigating couple of Nick and Nora Charles, and even the radio dick Brad Runyon (aka the Fat Man).

As Raymond Chandler remarked in his famous 1940s essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” Hammett “gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish.”

If you’d like to use this occasion to learn more about Dashiell Hammett’s history and contributions to the genre we all love, start with January Magazine’s multi-part tribute to the author, published on the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon’s release in book form. Check out The Thrilling Detective Web Site’s Hammett biography, and then proceed to the Internet Archive’s Old Time Radio collection of episodes from The Adventures of Sam Spade, a post-World War II radio drama series starring Howard Duff (at least in most of the episodes).

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