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Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers

Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembersby Jo Hammett, Richard Layman (Editor), Julie M. Rivett

Jo Hammett’s book reminisces about her father, the famous grandfather of the hard-boiled mystery and author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.  It’s a fine book for fans of the author, with many telling anecdotes and small tidbits about his life that lend insight into his relationship with his family.  For all that, it’s not all that well written.

A couple thoughts:

  • Not surprisingly, Jo Hammett presents a mostly-positive picture of her father, though the way he treated her mother comes off quite badly (as the facts seem to bear out).  He seemed to be pretty upfront about it.
  • D.H. was a spendthrift, sometimes gambling away money he couldn’t afford to lose.  But until he went to prison for taking the 5th during the Red Scare, he supported his ex-wife and the kids.
  • He always thought he wasn’t much of a writer, in the mainstream tradition.  “I’ve done more harm to American literature than anyone I can think of.”
  • D.H. was an intensely private person who shared little when he was sober.  He liked to spend his time alone (or with a dog) at the lake near Lillian Hellman’s Hardscrabble farm.
  • He was an omnivorous reader. “Lock me in a room with a set of encyclopedias and I’ll come out with a plot.”

A nice read for a collector or an enthusiast, but too specific for a casual reader.  Shadow Man is much more worth your time if you’re new to Hammett.

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