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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Red Harvest (1929) by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest by Dashiell Harmmett

Book Review
Red Harvest (1929)
by Dashiell Hammett

   I looked up the authors Wikipedia page expecting dozens of novels- he is a genre writer, after all.  Instead I was surprised to find only five novels (but dozens of short stories.)  His major works were all published between 1929 and 1934, a five year period.  His short stories were scattered over a much greater span of time.  Hammett may have been one of the first genre writers elevated to literary status- I'm just speculating here. I'm talking about 20th century genre writers- science fiction and detective fiction.  This is just speculation, but I would imagine in 1929 many high end literary critics/professionals would have disdained detective/pulp fiction.

  It's interesting to read Red Harvest because it essentially conjures into being our idea of Detective fiction: the private investigator, hard drinking, dames, guns, terse, clipped language. Hammett wrote much of his best stuff in San Francisco, but Red Harvest is set in a small Montana mining town- the main character references Butte as being nearby, and that squares with his description of the place, sooty, ringed by mountains, a mining town.  Hammett was a well known Communist- he actually went to prison for contempt of court during the 1950s era Communist witch hunt, so it's so surprise that one of the first characters introduced is the local IWW/Wobblie rep.  The Wobblies were a militant labor union, and them popping up in a 1920s piece of detective fiction is unusual on its face.

 The level of drinking and drug taking is shocking- the unnamed Continental Operative main character, drinks his liquor like he makes love to his women- hard and fast. The plot is convoluted as one would expect.  Many people die violent deaths.  The level of carnage/ over all body count approaches something you'd expect from a 1980s Schwarzenegger one-man army film.

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