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):


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.

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