Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

842004

Nightmare Town is a collection of short stories from the originator of the hard-boiled crime genre, Dashiell Hammett. As a private eye for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco during the Prohibition Era, Hammett experienced shootouts, knifings, stakeouts, and cold-blooded murder for cash. These experiences convinced him of one thing: everyone is a suspect. He began writing short stories based on his detective work for pulp fiction magazines.

Nightmare Town is a book of high-quality stories punctuated by brilliant gems. This book shows Hammett as a versatile writer able to work in any area concerning crime. He can use the first or second person perspective and put readers in foggy city streets or little desert towns with a whole cast of psychologically-unique characters.

Several stories break away entirely from the detective backdrop. “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” centers on an escaped convict hunted across a barren countryside. He’s wounded and desperate, and nobody is going to take him in alive. This story has the life-or-death feeling of John Steinbeck. “His Brother’s Keeper” is told in the first person perspective of a young boxer who just can’t figure out the deadly plot closing in on his brother. “Afraid of a Gun” lays out the naked fear of a gangster with a phobia of guns.

The stories range from crimes of passion to bone splintering violence. In every instance, there are tightly-drawn plots unfolding at an exciting pace. The dialogue is original and enjoyable. Hammett’s prose is economical, achieving the greatest impact and solidity with the least number of words possible. He tells complex mysteries in a barebones style.

Nightmare Town is a great book because it gives lowbrow subject matter a literary-grade treatment. For all the pulp, noir, and crime readers out there, get back to your roots with these hard-boiled masterpieces.

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