Dashiell Hammett

By: Luc Sante
May 27, 2009

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DASHIELL HAMMETT (1894-1961) invented the crime novel — as distinct from the whodunit or the police procedural — and he came up with a case-hardened, all-weather prose that can be read with pleasure by people of every degree of relative literacy. Each of his distinct five novels spawned a separate legacy. They are by turns witty and brutal, poetic and blunt, cartoonish and profound, as if he was determined to hit every note on the scale at least once. Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon are sufficiently wired into our brains that it’s possible to forget how radical they were. His sui generis American name and his long, thin, mustached appearance were uncannily exact accessories to his style. It’s sad but not surprising that he burned out by 40; since he muddied his own early trail, the biographies are pretty much all epilogue.

HILO HERO ITEMS by LUC SANTE: Dashiell Hammett | Pancho Villa | James M. Cain | Georges Bataille | Félix Fénéon | Émile Henry | A.J. Liebling | Jim Thompson | Joe Hill | Nestor Makhno | Hans Magnus Enzensberger | Captain Beefheart | William Burroughs | Ring Lardner | Lee “Scratch” Perry | Serge Gainsbourg | Kathy Acker | Arthur Cravan | Weegee | Alexander Trocchi | Ronnie Biggs | George Ade | Georges Darien | Zo d’Axa | Petrus Borel | Blaise Cendrars | Alexandre Jacob | Constance Rourke | Damia | J-P Manchette | Jean-Paul Clebert | Pierre Mac Orlan | Comte De Lautreamont | André Breton | Robert Desnos | Arthur Rimbaud |

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Rachel Carson | Vincent Price | John Barth |

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Modernist (1884-93) and Hardboiled (1894-1903) generations.

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