One of my projects for 2009 will be to delve properly into the works of Hammett and Chandler: I have read many/most of the novels of each, but have done so haphazardly over the last 25 or so years. I've recently enjoyed discovering James Cain, Paul Cain, and Raoul Whitfield (reading all of them for the first time this past year), and so I decided it might be time to return to the two big daddies.
I'd most of all like the opinions of the Avians as to whether or not it's critical to read the novels of each in publication order (I almost always do so with more modern writers, and always with series). It seems that one should read the Chandler novels in order, since they all feature the same protagonist. As far as I can tell, however, no Hammett character appears in more than one book, so while a chronological reading might shed light on Hammett's development as a writer, there wouldn't seem to be any narrative aspect lost if read out of publication order.
I would be pleased to hear any thoughts or advice from this august group as I set out on the project, and of course I'd also be interested to know if my list of five "hard-boiled classic writers" (Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Cain, Whitfield) should be expanded to include others. Carroll John Daly? (Probably influential but not "good" enough as a writer?) Jonathan Latimer? Others? (For that matter, should Chandler properly be considered "hard-boiled"?)
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