Friday, July 21, 2017

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett







I thought it would be appropriate if you listened to some music from the Thirties while reading my post. Enjoy!

And for your weekend reading pleasure:



Red HarvestRed Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


If all of Hammett's characters in every novel has a sameness to them, then it is in the context of Theme and Variations.

The tough dame is the same but her name is different as are her words and the dark adventure she participates in. Her name in Red Harvest is Dinah Brand. She is an able seductress who knows how to get money out of just about everyone. The men know it and love her irresistibly anyway. She may be alluring, but she's also big and tough and not above slapping men around.

The hard boiled detective is also the same and maybe that's why Hammett doesn't bother giving him a name. We know he's a Continental Op from San Francisco and as usual it's from his first person narrative that we learn the story.

Everyone else, including the cops, are crooks. They're mean as snakes, hard as nails, and value no one's life, including their own. Few of them survive the story.

In a nutshell, the Continental Op has been called to Personville (called "Poisonville" by everyone) by a Donald Willsson who is murdered before the Op gets to meet him. He then begins to investigate Willsson's murder and in the meantime discovers that Willsson's father, Elihu, owns Personville, but the thugs he brought in to help him control strikers have themselves taken over and gotten out of hand. Poisonville is a cess pool of competing gangs shooting each other up.

To see how the un-named Op cleans up you'll have to read the book.

For myself, I wonder what the fascination with the crime world was back in the first half of the century. Was everyone's life so sheltered that it provided a salacious thrill to read or watch on the big screen a bunch of crooks chasing each other around in cars while emptying machine guns all over the place?

It was a bit of a roller coaster ride, even for me. The Op gets around quickly and avoids getting himself killed very narrowly through out the story. There's no down time anywhere from beginning to conclusion.

Dashiell Hammett wrote his fiction based on his own experiences as an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, from which he based his fictitious Continental Op Agency.

Red Harvest was inspired by the Anaconda Road massacre where company guards opened fire on striking minors in Butte Montana, killing sixteen of them.

Time magazine listed Red Harvest as one of the 100-best English language novels from 1923-2005 and Andre Gide called the book "the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror". (From Wikipedia)

If you're a Crime Noir fan, you'll enjoy this novel because crime doesn't get any more noir than Red Harvest.



View all my reviews

26 comments:

  1. Sharon,

    I found it an interesting read also. It also has been adapted for film several times. The first time was by the great Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, whose film, Yojimbo, features a nameless ronin (a samurai who is not employed) who enters a small town in which two gangs are fighting each other for control. He joins both groups and works to get them to wipe each other out.

    A second film was A Fistful of Dollars, with Clint Eastwood, in which the stranger with no name rides into a town that has two gangs fighting for control--it's a very close remake of Yojimbo.

    A third film is Last Man Standing, with Bruce Willis, which is set during Prohibition in which Willis enters a small town in which two gangs. . .

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    1. Fred, I had to laugh. Obviously this is a popular plot line.

      My husband Josh has seen the first two. The Japanese one sounds intriguing just because I would like to see the story in the context of another country and culture. Maybe we'll watch it this weekend.

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    2. Sharon,

      I think _Yojimbo_ is the best of the three, while the Clint Eastwood is a decent remake, set in Mexico of course.

      The difference between swords and guns is one of the reasons why I prefer _Yojimbo_, aside from the greater attention paid to characterization in Kurosawa's film.

      The Willis version comes a distant third, but still interesting to some extent.

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    3. I've never seen Bruce Willis in movies; I don't know if I would like him or not. Clint Eastwood makes me feel sorry for the bad guys.

      I'll definitely go with Yojimbo.

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  2. i read this a long time ago but i can't say i enjoyed it; i mean, there wasn't much there to enjoy, except hot lead and dumb people... i guess that's about the way i react to Hammet's work, although i must admit i like his Continental Op short stories...

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    1. Mudpuddle, I do understand what you mean. Crime Noir is not my favorite genre but I do like get in the mood to read some. It's kind of like Mexican food. It's not my favorite but sometimes I get a craving. Like last night... we were at friends and they made enchiladas...they were so good...but probably I won't be eating Mexican for several months.

      I went through a Humphrey Bogart faze and enjoyed the Maltese Falcon.

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  3. I've read four? five? of Hammett's novels, and The Maltese Falcon probably has the lowest body count--three if I remember correctly--or perhaps The Thin Man has a lower count. Can't remember how many bodies there were in the Thin Man.

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    1. Fred, I saw The Maltese Falcon. I was doing well just to follow the story line. His characters go all over the place it seems, and there's so many of them.

      All I remember about the Thin Man is the drinking.

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    2. Sharon,

      Read _The Dain Curse_. Now there's a story line with weird characters.

      The husband-wife buddy thing and the upper class mores were the main part of the main idea, or so I thought. The mystery seemed an afterthought. I also liked Asta.

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    3. The Dain Curse was the first Hammett I ever read. It did seem to take the reader down a winding trail. I felt as though I traveled all over California by the end of it.

      I do wonder how one writes a mystery. How does one insert the main point of your story (the mystery)?

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    4. Sharon,

      _The Dain Curse_ is a wild introduction to Hammett's works. I started with perhaps where many people start--The Maltese Falcon--because of the film.

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    5. Fred, you got that right. i need to read the Maltese Falcon and compare it to the film.

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  4. I've got to get to Hammett one of these days. I've seen some of his novels in film, and read his successor Raymond Chandler...but not actually read THE hard-boiled detective writer yet. Nice review. (shame what McCarthyism did to him)

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    1. Joseph, he's certainly an interesting writer. I like Raymond Chandler too.

      Was Hammett a commmie? Seems like half of Hollywood was. What I don't like about McCarthyism is that it was such a witch hunt that it caused people to overlook the fact that many of the players involved were members of the Communist party.

      Which they had a perfect right to be; it's a free country, even if they were biting the hand that feeds them.

      Why is it that Hollywood is so leftist when they are the richest capitalists in the world?

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    2. Yeah, I think he was one that was legitimately a communist, but as you say...he had a right to be.

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    3. I would like to read some reliable literature on the whole subject. I.e. how and why Hollywood became involved with the Soviet Union. I know some of the answer. Ideas are best spread through fine arts and entertainment.

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  5. Not read this author before love, think I need to have a wee nosey, thanks for reviewing xxx

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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    1. Hi Lainy: Hope you enjoy reading them if you get the chance.

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    2. Thanks Sharon xxx

      Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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  6. Fun music choice! I enjoyed learning about this book, too, an interesting time period.

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    1. Hi Marcia! I enjoy listening to music of other eras. And read books of those eras as well.

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  7. Sharon, you ask an interesting question about readers' fascination with hard-boiled fiction in Hammett's era, but I think the world-wide fascination with crime fiction has not diminished; perhaps we need to read about a world in which chaos is eliminated and good order restored, especially since we do not see that in real life.

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    1. Hi R.T. There is much chaos and we know it is wrong, that something is wrong. The only way to make sense of it is to understand man is fallen. And also the longing to see resolution.

      If one does not believe that or in God, I wonder what kind of naturalistic cause they attribute to it? And what hope do they have of resolution?

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  8. Great review Sharon.

    I have read almost nothing in this genre. I am not sure why I have not as the books sound appealing. I have seen a fair number of films of this type which I really like.

    You raise a really good question as to why such stories were so popular at that time. I guess there has always been a fascination with outlaws and these tales illustrated what folks thought of as outlaws in that era.

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    1. Hi Brian. It really is not my favorite genre but it's kind of like certain food. Sometimes you're just really in the mood for sushi even if you don't normally eat it.

      Actually that's a bad comparison; I love sushi.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.