Kayt’s #CBR5 Review #07: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

ImageRed Harvest is an  excellent detective novel, one of many Dashiell Hammett wrote in the genre. It’s a complicated, intriguing story, and the book at times reads like a screenplay for a great film noir. The dialogue is so clever, and so sharp you can’t just read it normally. I had to picture Humphrey Bogart puffing a cigarette, or sipping a scotch while delivering the lines. Hammett creates an entire corrupt, mysterious, world and pulls you into the smoky noir setting of the crooks and cops in Red Harvest’s Personville.

Hammett uses the narrative framing device of a Continental Op traveling to Personville (pronounced “Poisonville” by anyone who knows it), summoned by the last honest man, Donald Willsson, who is murdered before they ever get to meet. While investigating the murder, the Op encounters Willsson’s father Elihu, who strikes a deal with him to clean up Personville. Elihu tries to call it off, but the Op has his heart set on punishing the guilty, and cleaning the streets, even if he has to take on the entire town.

Throughout the story he encounters many colorful characters: the mysterious Max “Whisper” Thaler, the shameless Dinah Brand, the corrupt police chief Noonan, and many more. The Op works with, and against, these people trying to rid the city of crime. The prose and dialogue are sharp and strong, and the story is gloriously bloody, boasting a body count in the high teens. The Coen brothers film Blood Simple is even named after a line in the book in which the Op complains that the corruption and endless murder in this town is turning him “blood-simple”. There are twists and turns and murders all along the way as he tries to execute his elaborate plan to clean up Personville.

To reveal more of the plot would diminish the joy and suspense of actually reading the book, but rest assured it is worth your time. This is a classic story, an exploration of corruption in America, a superb novel, and just a damn fun crime story.

Shucks Mahoney’s #CBR5 Review #3: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

 I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to see me. She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes, the result was satisfactory. “Aren’t you Nick Charles?” she asked.

I’ve seen The Thin Man movie from 1934 starring my imaginary husband William Powell and possessor of cinema’s greatest hair, Myrna Loy, and remembered next to nothing of the plot. You don’t come to Hammett for delicately crafted twists and turns, you come for speakeasies called The Pigiron Club, characters who are ‘mean medicine’, and lines like those opening ones above. The lingo hasn’t even dated very much, and the combination of New York City, the golden couple of Nick and Nora, bushels of money, and a supporting cast of grade-A noir scuzz, screwballs, and shysters, is still irresistible.

Just don’t try to drink along. The Thin Man contains so much hooch the reader is in danger of second-hand hangovers (or that could just be my reaction to Nick’s preferred breakfast of chicken livers and gin).