BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hunter and Other Stories’: Vintage Dashiell Hammett Stories Still Entertain — and Will Introduce a New Generation to One of America’s Greatest Writers

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
 BOOK REVIEW: 'The Hunter and Other Stories': Vintage Dashiell Hammett Stories Still Entertain -- and Will  Introduce a New Generation to One of America's Greatest Writers
Decades before Quentin Tarantino used the aliases Mr. White, Mr. Brown, etc. in his 1992 debut movie “Reservoir Dogs”, Dashiell Hammett used similar names in his story “On the Make” — included in a collection of Hammett short fiction writing,  “The Hunter and Other Stories” edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett,  (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic,  256 pages, $25.00).
The dozen never-before-published stories, the five seldom-seen short fiction narratives and the three motion picture treatments are of particular interest to Hammett scholars — and anyone interested in good, insightful  and very entertaining writing. If you’re a Hammett geek, this book is a must-read, because it shows the Maryland-born writer can handle just about any situation. If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ll learn a lot about the art from one of the all-time masters.

The three screen treatments: “The Kiss-Off”, an unpublished story that formed the basis of the 1931 Paramount movie starring Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper  “City Streets”; “On The Make,” the basis for the  1935 Universal movie “Mr. Dynamite”,  and “Devil’s Playground”, unpublished and unproduced, are of particular interest to film buffs. “City Streets” and “Mr. Dynamite” were recently shown on Turner Classic Movies, one of my cultural addictions. (Happy 75th birthday, a day late, Ted Turner, born in Cincinnati Nov. 19, 1938; I beat you by a few weeks, born, South Haven, MI, Oct. 2, 1938! Blessings upon you for starting TCM!)

All the stories and treatments are greatly enhanced for the 2013 reader by the wonderful commentaries by Julie M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter and literary executor, who clearly loves her grandfather’s writing and who provides context for contemporary readers.

One caution for contemporary readers: Hammett used stereotypes that are beyond the pale for most writers today, with exceptions for P.J. O’Rourke and a few others like Irish writer Ken Bruen.  On Page 285, in the “lost Spade” story “A Knife Will Cut for Anybody,” Dundy, a  San Francisco policeman, says of a horrific knife slaying of a young woman from Argentina: “I guess we’re safe in calling it a spick job. They like knives.”

And in the story “Faith” about migratory packing house workers, Hammett says (on Page 90) “The man who had chuckled went to work in the process-room, where half a dozen Americans and as many Polacks cooked the fresh canned tomatoes in big iron kettles.”

The short stories  included in this book are grouped in three categories: “Crime”, which includes the title story “The Hunter”; “Men”, which includes “Faith” and seven other stories; and “Men and Women”, five stories, plus — as in the other sections — an illuminating commentary by  Rivett.

“On the Make” features a private detective, Gene Richmond, who is much more flexible in the ethics department than Sam Spade. Richmond never misses an opportunity to take advantage of his clients, particularly if they’re obscenely rich like Pomeroy in this story. Like Sam Spade, Gene Richmond has “assets” on both sides of the law, to use an espionage term, and the oddly likeable  — at least for me — Richmond is right up there with Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in grabbing a reader by the throat and not letting go! Richmond is destined to go beyond the bounds of the corrupt times he lives in, but you can be sure he’ll end up driving a Cord roadster — the 1920s or ’30s equivalent of a Corvette or Dodge Viper.

Like the screen stories from “Return of the Thin Man,” edited by Layman and Rivett and reviewed by me on Nov. 2, 2012: link: www.huntingtonnews.net/48389 — the publication of the present book and “Return of the Thin Man” are due to the passion of Julie M. Rivett,  a well-regarded Hammett scholar, as well as Richard Layman, the author of the first full-length biography of Hammett, “Shadow Man”, the definitive bibliography, and other works. Rivett and Layman are trustees for Hammett’s literary estate and have co-edited two previous Hammett volumes: “Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett” and “Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers”.

About Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, screenplay writer, and political activist. He created enduring characters including Sam Spade (“The Maltese Falcon”), Nick and Nora Charles (“The Thin Man”), and the Continental Op (“Red Harvest” and “The Dain Curse”).

 
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