Re: RARA-AVIS: Hammett pulp novel

From: Bob Toomey (
Date: 03 Feb 2000

Greg Swan wrote:
> Anyone know for
> sure if Hammett wrote Red Harvest as a series of 4 shorts?

RED HARVEST was based on four linked novelets published in Black Mask:
"The Cleansing of Poisonville" (this was originally to be the title of the novel; Knopf went with RED HARVEST, a much better choice); "Crime Wanted - Male or Female"; "Dynamite"; "The 19th Murder" (but who, really, could keep an accurate count of all the murders in this book?)

Like a lot of writers, Hamnmett gradually worked his way up from shorts to novels, by way of increasingly longer stories. Two earlier linked novelets, "The Big Knockover" and "$106,000 Blood Money" were published as the novel $106,000 BLOOD MONEY. Both were later reprinted in Lillian Hellman's cornerstone collection of Hammett stories, THE BIG KNOCKOVER.

THE DAIN CURSE was also assembled from four linked novelets. THE MALTESE FALCON, THE GLASS KEY and THE THIN MAN were true novels.

> Red Harvest was also plot heavy without much in the way of description or
> atmosphere, which is another hallmark of fiction from the pulp period. I
> wonder if part of that was because newspaper men so dominated the pulps?
> And was Hammett a newspaperman? Sure seems like it.

He was a private detective. His lean style, considerably more direct than most of the newspaper or pulp writing of the day, probably comes out of the case reports he wrote for the Pinkerton agency.

You suggest Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels would be better for introducing someone to hardboiled fiction than RED HARVEST, but I think Hammett's book is the real thing and the Scudders, good as they may be, are a distant echo. Scudder is too -- nice. Let me put it this way: if someone doesn't dig Hammett, they're probably not going to dig hardboiled in general, because Hammett was the best.


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