Sunday, February 1, 2015


Finished reading an interesting biography of Dashiell Hammett that my son Thomas gave me for Christmas. Never knew he was a Pinkerton detective. And some of the anecdotes the author attributes to Hammett are really amusing. Hammett was also involved in the Fatty Arbuckle case when that scandal broke. Rather than being on the side of the prosecution he was trying to gather information that would provide the defense more ammo.

Reading about his breaking into writing with all the pulp stories in The Black Mask (later Black Mask) reminded me of the difficulties of getting the words right as well as the characters and the plot, if any. His first stories were vignettes and as well written as a beginner could hope to expect. Later his work achieved some degree of polish until he finally crossed somewhat of a literary milestone when The Maltese Falcon was published.

Reading about how a writer constructed his work as told through the lens of another writer is very difficult for me and I tend to skim that part of the story. What I find interesting is all the ins and outs of his life when not writing. He was the kind of man who wanted to have as much money as he could get (hiring two agents to try to maximize his earnings in both books and movies). The ironic thing about the money part was that he couldn’t or wouldn’t hang on to the cash once he got it.

And when he didn’t have the dough he would skip out on hotel bills or any other IOU that he’d signed.

Hammett was a boozer of the first class and evidently women found him irresistible. One of the females who dumped her husband and became one of Hammett’s best friends was Lillian Hellman. They had a frantic relationship and the rest of the story is interesting but somewhat depressing so it’s not the kind of biography you read for inspiration.