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Subject: "Have you read any Hammett" Previous topic | Next topic
Mesg #90744 "Have you read any Hammett"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 13th 2002
6262 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 01:45 PM
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Mon Apr-23-12 01:46 PMby Weird Jim

I was reading a review of a Lillian Hellman biography, well, glancing at it more, when I came across the following when metioning her relationship with Hammett:

Hellman always credited him with teaching her how to write, showing her how to craft distinctive characters with just a few lines of raffish dialogue.

I'm wondering if there are any Hammett fans here and if they'd agree with this as to his ability to create character. Is he worth a study?

Weird Jim



"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Replies to this topic
RE: Have you read any Hammett, jhmcmullen, Apr 23rd 2012, #1
RE: Have you read any Hammett, CatrinP, Apr 23rd 2012, #3
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Weird Jim, Apr 23rd 2012, #8
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Chevaliersg, Apr 24th 2012, #13
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Erin_M_H, Apr 23rd 2012, #2
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Wandering Author, Apr 23rd 2012, #4
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Erin_M_H, Apr 23rd 2012, #5
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Wandering Author, Apr 23rd 2012, #7
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Weird Jim, Apr 23rd 2012, #10
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Erin_M_H, Apr 24th 2012, #11
RE: Have you read any Hammett, jhmcmullen, Apr 24th 2012, #12
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Wandering Author, Apr 23rd 2012, #6
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Weird Jim, Apr 23rd 2012, #9
RE: Have you read any Hammett, Hudson, May 09th 2012, #14

Mesg #90745 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author jhmcmullen     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 14th 2002
2561 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 02:14 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

Yes, he's certainly worth a study. I'd look at The Thin Man, Red Harvest, and the various Continental Op stories (which at one time were collected into a book called, well, The Continental Op).

I haven't mentioned The Maltese Falcon because the movie (the one with Humphrey Bogart) is almost as good: Huston took large swathes of the book's dialogue almost verbatim when he was writing the screenplay. (Huston lied to Jack Warner about what "gunsel" meant and the lie has taken over the original meaning.)

Since it's been a while since I've read him, I don't know how much of the dialogue depends on contextual knowledge. It might be a lot, it might be a little.

For what it's worth, I think that Hammett and his stories in Black Mask almost single-handedly lifted mystery fiction from the realm of the cozy and into the hard-boiled world. Hammett had been a detective, so he had some idea of how the world worked. (I remember someone...Raymond Chandler, I believe...suddenly discovering that detectives ran their businesses like a business, with estimates and sheets where they wrote down everything that the customer knew. It changed the later Marlowe novels. Hammett never had that problem.)

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Mesg #90747 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author CatrinP     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Dec 05th 2005
2772 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 02:48 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

(Huston lied to Jack Warner about what "gunsel" meant and the lie has taken over the original meaning.)

I hadn't realised this. I love the way that language changes.

  

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Mesg #90752 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 13th 2002
6262 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 05:50 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

gunsel"

Even in some good dictionaries it has the altered meaning. I never heard about the lie, though. It does come across as funny if one thinks the original meaning.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90758 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Chevaliersg     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since May 14th 2005
711 posts
Date Tue Apr-24-12 11:09 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

FYI JC and Jim: Dashiel Hammett was a private detective for a few years before he became a writer. Most of his characters are real life people who he encountered in the mean streets he often walked on his job. His biggest case was one where he investigated the theft of a ferris wheel (I don't have the details, but if someone can find them out I would certainly love to read about it). He and Raymond Chandler often collaborated as Private Eyes, but to my knowledge never collaborated on any written work.

My mom was a huge fan of Hammett, and wss not all that fond of the Thin Man series since they tended to stray away from the original, (though the first movie and book were rather faithful).

I'd start with Red Harvest since, IMHO it's his best work.

Life without honor is life led in vain;


Rem tene; verba sequentur (Grasp the subject; the words will come)


Chev

  

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Mesg #90746 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Apr-23-12 02:28 PM
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Mon Apr-23-12 04:02 PMby Erin_M_H

I have to second the recommendation. I love everything I've ever read by Hammett, and I think studying him will teach you more than dialogue. (Though, yes, if you want to learn dialogue, read The Thin Man!)

I do have to disagree with JHMcmullen's characterization of "lifting" the genre from cozy to hard-boiled. Hammett expanded the genre. There is nothing inferior about the cozy.

-- Erin

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Mesg #90748 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 03:58 PM
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In response to Reply # 2

>I love everything I've ever written by
>Hammett,

Hmmm... you were Hammett's ghostwriter?

(Sorry. That joke was too good to resist.)

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Mesg #90749 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Nov 01st 2003
31746 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 04:02 PM
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In response to Reply # 4

*goes back to edit post*

  

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Mesg #90751 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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1569 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 04:23 PM
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In response to Reply # 2

>I do have to disagree with JHMcmullen's
>characterization of "lifting" the genre
>from cozy to hard-boiled. Hammett expanded
>the genre. There is nothing inferior about
>the cozy.

I have to agree with you on this. Cozy, hard-boiled, police procedural, or the various sub flavours of fantasy and SF, none of them are inherently superior or inferior. On the other hand, whenever any genre (and that most certainly includes hard-boiled detective stories, as I noted in another post) becomes popular, a lot of mediocre writers will start churning it out, and the result will not be pretty. Popularity may not destroy a genre, but it certainly floods it with a lot of examples that can scare off the uninitiated.

I prefer well told stories in genres I'm not as inclined to read to drivel in genres I'm naturally well disposed toward. I do think there are readers whose tastes reflect other factors, but I suspect that at least some reader preferences are driven more by the quality of what they picked up first.

As someone who reads fast and sometimes runs out of reading material, and has thus spent time reading whatever I could get my hands on, I've proven the truth of this to my own satisfaction. Romance is not a genre I typically seek out, but I have a small collection of books in that genre I've not only read and enjoyed, but keep on my shelves. On the other hand, when I've been rushed in a bookstore, and grabbed the first book I haven't read in various genres I do seek out, I've found myself stuck with books I couldn't finish. Not to mention others I barely got through that got tossed out five seconds later to make room for something decent.

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Mesg #90755 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Apr-23-12 11:41 PM
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In response to Reply # 2

(Though, yes, if you want to learn dialogue, read The Thin Man!)

It's not so much the dialogue, but the use of it for characterisation that interests me.


Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90756 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Tue Apr-24-12 06:17 AM
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In response to Reply # 10

Sorry I wasn't clearer; yes, I think dialogue for characterization is something he does well.

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Mesg #90757 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author jhmcmullen     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Tue Apr-24-12 09:08 AM
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In response to Reply # 2

>I do have to disagree with JHMcmullen's
>characterization of "lifting" the genre
>from cozy to hard-boiled. Hammett expanded
>the genre. There is nothing inferior about
>the cozy.

Okay, the verb "lift" was poorly chosen, because, although I prefer the hard-boiled subgenre to the cozy subgenre, I prefer a well-written one of either to a poorly-written one of either.

What I meant--and I may bollix this up more and give more offense, but I'll try not to--was that at the time the mystery genre was the cozy, as I understand it. The most famous writers I can think of were Milne (and I've only ever heard of one of his) and Christie.

The work that Hammett did (and the rest of the Black Mask authors, I suppose) was to create a new thing. It was mystery, yes--the question of whodunnit was pretty clearly at the heart of each story or novel--but it didn't hew to lots of the conventions that existed at the time.

Yup, "lifting" was the wrong verb. No offense was intended to those who like and approve of cozies or any of the other mystery subgenres.

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Mesg #90750 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Apr-23-12 04:04 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

Mon Apr-23-12 04:08 PMby Wandering Author

Unlike many other writers of "hard boiled" mysteries at the same time, Hammett's work is still worth reading. (It can be a real education to get your hands on some of the more obscure books you can track down at a used bookstore. In the past, I've bought box loads. There was a reason they were sold so cheap, too. Every period, every genre, has their obscure writers who would churn out crap, barely palatable to those seeking a contemporary tale, but forgotten ten minutes later. Yes, even the "golden age of SF" saw some real stinkers published. Those may not be the ones you hear discussed now, but they were there. Dig deep enough and you'll find them. On the other hand - although some genres or sub-genres may not suit an individual's taste - there are examples in every niche of good writing.)

I mention the context because a few years back, I found myself reading - skimming, really - through a stack of hard boiled detective fiction from the thirties. Most of it was as awful as anything you'll ever find in any genre. They tried to imitate Hammett, but failed, because they used the conventions of the genre to cover up the fact they didn't know how to tell a good story. Hammett did. And if you can't tell a good story, no genre will seem appealing in your hands. I'm not sure if there were others writing such stories before Hammett, but whether he was first or not, he made that type of story popular because he knew how to write a good story and keep the reader interested. Most of his "competitors" had no idea.

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Mesg #90754 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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6262 posts
Date Mon Apr-23-12 11:38 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

Amazon has a good selection, and ABE Books has plenty of secondhand copies available. I'm thinking of getting a volume of his short work as I used to enjoy short mystery mags. The only thing that makes me cringe a bit is the shipping charge of $6.50 when the book is only $1.05. Maybe I should check out some local second hand stores first.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90830 "RE: Have you read any Hammett"
Author Hudson     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 10th 2005
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Date Wed May-09-12 09:26 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

there's some apocalyptic about the whole novel Red Harvest that I just love. The recurrent dreams, and the way Hammett never really gives any answers in regards to characterization.

  

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