RARA-AVIS: Re: Hammett Biography?

From: prosperena (prosperena@yahoo.com)
Date: 11 Jun 2009

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    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, "Vince Emery" <vince@...> wrote:

    This is my first post to the group.

    I am interested in hard-boiled crime fiction of the 1920s-50s and am currently working my way through a number of the titles in James Sandoe's "The Hard-Boiled Dick: A personal check-list," 1952; now reading Cleve F. Adams's "Sabotage," 1940 (Hitchcock's 1942 film "Saboteur" is loosely based on it) and Ross Macdonald's "The Ivory Grin," 1952.

    I generally agree with Vince Emery's assessment of the available Hammett biographies and just wanted to post a few addenda.

    A couple of years ago, when I "rediscovered" Hammett after a lapse of many years, I decided I not only wanted to read everything he had written but to read, as much as possible, what had been written about _him_. I read the Layman and Johnson bios concurrently and was particularly struck by Layman's restraint and his assertion in his preface that "research has taken precedence over invention or speculation." When so many contemporary biographies contain everything from unsubstantiated assertions to fictional dialog, this was very refreshing. And the text of this bio has a Hammett-like lean and spare flow. Johnson, too, tried to avoid invention and speculation and her bio is an expansion on Layman's.

    In addition to the books Vince mentioned, I would also recommend William Marling's "Dashiell Hammett," 1983, an entry in the Twayne's United States authors series (#458). It is a short, highly readable combination of bio (he notes his debt to the Layman bio) and literary criticism (free of deconstructionist, poststructuralist, etc. jargon). Marling's similar bio/lit crit of "Raymond Chandler," 1986, (Twayne's United States authors series, #508) is also good.

    Does anyone know or have any ideas on why there were so many books published about Hammett in the 1980s? Coincidence or zeitgeist?

    And because I know Vince Emery would not do so, I'd also add to the list Vince's useful commentary that links the stories in his collection of Hammett "Lost Stories." It touches on elements of Hammett's life and writing that I don't recall reading in any of the other bios.

    Kari E. Johnson

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