Tag Archives: Dashiell Hammett

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

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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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The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett

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The last three books I reviewed were a little heavy on the brain so I decided to read something purely for fun. Fun for me is old school noir. The genre is fascinating because the writing in some cases is both masterful and cheesy. The masterpiece of cheese I picked up was The Dain Curse by the granddaddy of hardboiled crime, Dashiell Hammett. The story is about a detective who is called in to solve the case of missing diamonds. It starts off pretty slow and I’m expecting a straightforward detective read. Our guy meets Gabrielle, a beautiful young woman with an addiction for the occult and morphine, and suddenly it’s like this straitlaced book decided to drop a couple hits of acid and fill body bags like Christmas stockings.

The plot gets crazy. New characters and plot twists are fired at you with inhuman speed. Hammett pushes the story to the point of disintegration then pulls it off incredibly every time. The tough guy talk and longwinded confessions by the villains were all there. Everyone had a gun in his book. I think even a dog accidently shot a key witness. Yet with all this madness going about, Hammett keeps a straight face the entire time which makes it hilarious. Mind you this book isn’t a comedy, just like old kung-fu flicks weren’t made to be funny—and yet, there they are. Even the racism is so over the top that I couldn’t help laughing out loud.

I couldn’t see the hand that was exploring my inside coat-pocket, nor the arm that came down over my shoulder; but they smelled of the kitchen, so I knew they were brown.”

I literally dropped my taco and felt guilty for stealing this wonderful book, especially since I had just received my welfare check.

This book may come off a little bizarre to some of the noir purists, and rightfully so. As for me, I see the early roots of pulp in this blood soaked gem. It’s sort of a hybrid between vintage crime and pulp. Hammett is better known for his work, The Maltese Falcon. I can honestly say I enjoyed this one better.

 

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