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Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett: 1921-1960

List Price: $29.95

April 9, 2002 | Paperback | 5.5 x 8.7, 672 Pages | ISBN 9781582432106
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"Laden with the pain, exhilaration, and humor of [its] remarkable composer." —Boston Sunday Globe

A literary event: the letters, both private and professional, of Dashiell Hammett, creator of Sam Spade and father of the hard-boiled crime novel. In his five great crime novels, all of them written in a magnificent burst of creativity between 1927 and 1935, Dashiell Hammett gave America a cast of immortal characters — Sam Spade, the Continental Op, and Nick and Nora Charles — mold-breaking, red-blooded alternatives to Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey. In the words of Raymond Chandler, Hammett “gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols. ” A popular writer from the start, he aspired to a higher goal. As he was working on his classic The Maltese Falcon, he wrote a letter to his publisher about the potential of the detective-story form: “Someday somebody’s going to make ‘literature’ out of it…and I’m selfish enough to have my hopes.” Though Hammett’s work is admired by millions, the man himself has always been an enigma. Now, at last, comes a volume of his letters, revealing not only the private man but also the hard-working-and hard-living-professional. Yes, he was part cynical tough guy, like Sam Spade; he was part sophisticated inebriate, like Nick Charles. But the character of Dashiell Hammett was too complex to be easily categorized. His letters to his family, lovers, and colleagues show his personal warmth, his political commitment, his wide-ranging intellectual curiosity. With wit, intelligence, and style, these letters further confirm Hammett’s extraordinary talent as writer and observer.
About Dashiell Hammett

DASHIELL HAMMETT (1894-1961) is the author of Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man.

RICHARD LAYMAN is the author of Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett and the vice president of Bruccoli Clark Layman, a publisher of reference works in literature.

JULIE M. RIVETT is the granddaughter of Dashiell Hammett.


“Laden with the pain, exhilaration, and humor of [its] remarkable composer.” —Boston Sunday Globe

“The letters illuminate the amazing texture of Hammett’s life (from his well-paid Hollywood years to the joyful patriotism of his WWII service to his searing decline due to Red baiting) and writing (from prolific pulp contributor to innovator of popular, violent novels like Red Harvest). They also limn his unusual and intense personal relationships, particularly with the women in his life his estranged wife, longtime lover Lillian Hellman and his daughters and the warmth and chivalry concealed within an oblique persona… Although this collection is richly satisfying, reading it is a bittersweet, saddening experience. One senses that Hammett was knocked about in his lifetime and undervalued, both as a writer and for his dogged pursuit of social justice. Layman and company offer an important touchstone of literary history and a book that will remain a solid backlist title for mystery devotees.” —Publishers Weekly

“An illuminating collection of the famed writer’s letters… A fine rendering of Hammett’s life in his own words — and a remarkable slice of Americana.” —Kirkus

“The letters are organized, with insightful introductions, into sections spanning roughly 10 years, ranging from Hammett’s work as a Pinkerton detective to his boozy Hollywood heyday and his collapse. His voice emerges as funny, truthful, jaunty in the midst of troubles.” —Booklist

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