Saturday, March 30, 2019


CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website (link in sidebar):


majikwoids

Previously, I listed the six most influential author's of detective stories. This week's post continues the biographies of those writers.



Dashiell Hammett
(1894 - 1961)



Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born near Baltimore, Maryland, on May 27,1894. His family was plagued with poverty. At 14 he left school and began working to help support the household. At 18 he wrangled a job with Pinkerton's Detective Agency. Eventually, he was sent to Montana to help mine owners suppress striking workers. He found his sympathies were with the miners. He had served briefly in the ambulance corps during the first world war, but was discharged due to tuberculosis. This disease and his childhood poverty would haunt the remainder of his life.

He wrote only four novels, the last in 1936. The Glass Key was considered his best work, though The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man were more successful commercially. Hollywood purchased the rights to both of the latter novels, and Hammett moved to Los Angeles to work on the scripts.

The remainder of his life until his death in 1961 was a matter of drunkenness, bouts of tuberculosis, irresponsibility, some serious efforts to effect political change, and a spell in prison for his support of left wing and communist organizations. He contributed to the plays of his partner Lillian Hellman, did some movie and radio work, but no more books were forthcoming despite a consistent nagging from his publishers.

Sam Spade, the main character in The Maltese Falcon, would serve as the model for the hard boiled detective for decades to come. Hammett's journalistic style also became de rigueur. The protagonist in The Thin Man became associated autobiographically with Hammett himself. Ironically, the title referred to the murdered victim in the novel, not Nick Charles, the detective; but a series of films based on the novel fixed the notion that the thin man was the detective. The lifestyle of Nick and Nora Charles was taken wholesale from the lifestyle of Hammett and playwright Lillian Hellman.

In the end, Hammett came to regret his creation of Sam Spade. Writers of various abilities were churning out copy after copy. Few were as compelling as the original.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website (link in sidebar):


majikwoids

Previously, I listed the six most influential author's of detective stories. This week's post continues the biographies of those writers.



Rex Stout
(1886 - 1975)

Rex Todhunter Stout, born in 1886 and a published writer by 1920, was best known for creating what are generally considered the most refined and sophisticated detective fiction of his time. Nero Wolfe, his reclusive sleuth, worked as hard on cultivating orchids and his palate as he did at solving murders. His foil, Archie Goodwin, served as Wolfe's factotum and more. No longer the somewhat obtuse friend as Conan Doyle and Christie had portrayed Watson and Hastings, Goodwin became an equal with the fat man.

And it is with Archie Goodwin that some first steps are taken towards the creation of the hard boiled detective to come. When Wolfe needs to circumvent the law, it is Goodwin who beaks and enters. It is Goodwin who carries the gun. It is Goodwin who throws the punch. He may be suave and witty, but the veneer is thin and beneath lurks the tough guy who doesn't hesitate to do what needs to be done.

Like Doyle and Collins, Stout worked a variety of jobs in order to support himself while he wrote. He stopped writing for several years as he found earning a living and writing too daunting. His decision was to work and save until he could support himself as a writer. Fortunately, he sold a banking system designed primarily for schools to various institutions, and the income from the sale freed him to resume his writing.

Stouts first four novels, not mysteries, found publishers and moderate sales. He had written several short detective stories, and in the early 1930s made the decision to concentrate on that genre. Fer-de-Lance, published in 1934, brought Nero Wolfe to the reading public. Stout, though not exactly a model for Wolfe---always rather thin and outgoing himself --- did imbue the detective with his passion for fine food and gardening. The top floor of Wolfe's fictional brownstone in New York City had been converted to a potting room, work room, and green house. Besides Goodman, the household consisted of Theodore, who looked after the 10,000 orchids, and Fritz Brenner, the master chef, who catered to Wolfe's appetite.



Fer-de-Lance sold well and Stout began churning out a new Wolfe story every year. He also found time for political activism, supporting various democratic organizations. He was a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and won numerous awards including a nomination by an international panel as the foremost writer of the genre.

He died at his home in Danbury, Connecticut.