Appreciating all that makes America special

Writer: Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon is Dashiell Hammett's most famous book, but it may not be his best. Uploaded by

Every now and again, one person comes along who changes the tide of a literary genre. Dashiell Hammett took the genteel mystery novel (think Sherlock Holmes) and created what’s come to be known as the “hard-boiled detective.” The great Dorothy Parker described Dashiell Hammett this way: “Dashiell Hammett is as American as a sawed-off shotgun . . . It is true that he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn.”

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If you know Hammett for anything, it’s probably for the book that became even more famous as a movie: The Maltese Falcon (Great American Things, Sept. 30, 2009). The novel that earned him the most money during his lifetime also became a popular film series: The Thin Man (Great American Things, April 29, 2010).

However, it was Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, that changed the detective/mystery genre. Hammett based it on his own experience as a detective working for the Pinkerton Agency. Here’s how PBS’s American Masters described the book in its profile of Hammett: “Red Harvest was a psychological thriller narrated in a voice both penetrating and off-the-cuff. It was the raw, unadorned style of Red Harvest that would come to be known as ‘hard boiled.’” In 2005, Time Magazine’s critics included the book as one of the 100 best novels since 1923.

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