Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: Dashiell Hammett Man of Mystery by Sally Cline

Dashiell Hammett changed the face of crime fiction. In five novels published over five years as well as a string of stories, he transformed the mystery genre into literature and left us with the figure of the hard-boiled detective, from the Continental Op to Sam Spade—immortalized on film by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon—and the more glamorous Thin Man, also made iconic with the aid of Hollywood.

A brilliant writer, Hammett was a complex and enigmatic man. After 1934 until his death in 1961, he published no more novels and suffered from a writer’s block that both shamed and maimed him. He is identified with his tough protagonists, but his tuberculosis compromised his masculine identity and alcoholism may have been his answer. 

A former Pinkerton detective who valued honesty, he was attracted to women who lied outrageously, most notably Lillian Hellman, with whom he conducted a thirty-year affair. A controversial political activist who stood up for civil liberty, he was also a very private man. 

In this compact new biography, Sally Cline uses fresh research, including interviews with Hammett’s family and Hellman’s heir, to reexamine the life and works of the writer whom Raymond Chandler called “the ace performer.”

Received for review.

I've never been big on Dashiell Hammett's books but I've been intrigued by his influence on the genre so I decided to pick up this latest biography in hopes of gleaning new insight into his work.

After reading this I have to admit that I'm not exactly a fan of Hammett as a person either now.  This is supposed to be a kinder, friendlier version of his life but I still found him to be quite unsympathetic.  He was actually quite a jerk as was evidenced by his thirty year affair.

This was quite well written and clearly very thoroughly researched but I felt the author's attempts to make a decidedly slimy individual seem more sympathetic to be rather unnecessary.

If you're a fan of the subject then you may find this to be an interesting new portrayal.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Becca Lostinbooks said...

I liked The Maltese Falcon, both the book and the film (I'm a big Bogie fan), but I know jack about his life. Too bad he was a jerk!

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