A compilation, notes, and chronology by Literary Classics of the United States
Red Harvest 1928
The Dane Curse 1929
The Maltese Falcon 1930
The Glass Key 1933
The Thin Man 1934
Do I read these one at a time and move from currently written novels or all at once and get into the era and language of the time? I did the latter and stayed with the book and read them all at one time.
Like any classics, they have to be able to stand the test of time to be considered classics. Whether all of these novels do that or not is up to the reader. My favorite of the five was The Maltese Falcon. This probably is due to the move starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. The movie, if you have seen it, follows the book almost completely. At least from what I can remember. It has been a long time since I’ve seen it. John Huston did add the line “the things dreams are made of,” to the movie and I felt the book unfinished without it. That is what movie adaptations can do to a novel. Some are better, some are worse. I learned from the book that the John Huston version was the third movie made of the book. Who knew.
What held me during the readings was the language. People don’t talk that way anymore. Maybe most didn’t. An example from “The Maltese Falcon” ;
She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face. She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said: “There’s a girl wants to see you. Her name’s Wonderly.”
“I guess so. You’ll want to see her anyway: she’s a knock-out.”
This is what I mean. I am there watching in black and white. Later I realize that the term “sunburned” meant the girl was tanned from the sun. Hammett used the same description in other books also, so, I pretty sure of the meaning.
Of the five I found The Thin Man the hardest to relate to. The amount of drinking that was considered acceptable in the story is way overboard, even for someone who has been known to go overboard at times. Child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and even borderline pedophilia, run throughout the story, and are made considered problems. These just made the it hard for me to relate. Maybe these were common at the time and just let go as everyday events.
Whether this is true or not but most from the novels point of view most policemen at the time were basically hired guns or thugs. Any real investigation into crimes was done by private investigative firms or individual sleuths. Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Company. This could be a reason for his views of the policeman and city government officials.
Remember,these novels were written during the time of Prohibition. Although from the stories there seems no lack of alcohol availability. Although the quality was questionable. Drugs like morphine and cocaine were common and could be purchased over the counter from a druggist. Maybe they weren’t so backward after all.
Each of the novels has stood alone and does not need any help from the others. They were not written as sequels, like a lot of the books that I read. Hammett did try to write other Sam Spade books and also the Thin Man books, however none of the sequels were as good and many the Movie Studio’s rewrote what they wanted and what radio shows were made used basically the Hammett name for advertising.
There is a chronology of Hammett’s life included in the book and from that chronology you can see that his lifestyle, which was destructive, lots of drinking and poor health, could have caused his later attempts or sequels to be poorly written or not completed.
These novels don’t compare to current novels and I probably should not try to make that comparison. I enjoyed the books. It is one time where the reader has to let their mind go into the settings and be taken back to a time before information was instant and all was still in black and white. Lets face it, they were not the good old days.
Next up; The Ark, by Boyd Morrison copyright 2009/2010 originally released as and e-book then released in hardcover.
Until then read something you usually wouldn’t you might find something great.