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Dashiell Hammett, "The Maltese Falcon"

Greg will lead our discussion. The book is readily available, plus e-texts for Kindle and Nook. We will choose our readings for the remainder of the year, so please bring a copy of our master book list (found in the Files section under the "More" tab).

INTRODUCTION: Dashiell Hammett became a Pinkerton detective in 1915. Around 1922, he decided to stop being a detective and start writing about them.  Appearing primarily in the pulp magazine Black Mask, Hammett's work soon became a favorite with readers.  Bringing his real-life detective experience to his writing, he is today regarded as a founding father of the "hard-boiled" genre, as well as elevating detective fiction to the level of literature.  Hammett's writing career was short.  He produced four novels and most of his short stories between 1922 and 1931, a span of barely nine years.  A fifth novel (The Thin Man) followed in 1934. Then... nothing.

Ironically, Hammett came to loathe the hard-boiled genre that he had pioneered.  He aspired to write mainstream novels that would rival those of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.  It wasn't to be: Hammett barely published another word during the last 27 years of his life.  During the 1950s, Hammett's support of leftist causes caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he was called upon to testify.  Hammett's refusal to name names resulted in five months behind bars.  It also caused him to be blacklisted; his books were removed from libraries, and his radio shows cancelled.  Hounded by the IRS, he died near-penniless in 1961.

Dashiell Hammett met Lillian Hellman at a party in 1930 when he was coming off of a five-day drunk.  Although they were both married at the time (and Hammett never legally divorced), the two began a 31-year, on-again-off-again relationship that would last until Hammett’s death in 1961.  During this time, Hammett abandoned his writing career, while Hellman built a reputation as a playwright.  Following his death, Hellman regarded Hammett’s legacy as her personal property.  Feeling that her “memories” (both fact-based and otherwise) should be the only record of Dashiell Hammett’s life, she vigorously obstructed the writing of any Hammett biography over which she couldn't dictate editorial control.  In addition, through some legal maneuvering, she gained control of all of Hammett’s copyrights, which she held until her death in 1984.  Through additional legal wrangling, the rights eventually returned to Hammett’s heirs.

PLOT: Sam Spade and Miles Archer are hired by a Miss Wonderly to follow a man, Floyd Thursby, who has allegedly run off with Wonderly's younger sister.  Spade and Archer take the assignment because the money is good, but Spade implies that the woman looks like trouble.  That's all I'm going to tell you, because if you haven't already read the book, more information will just spoil the whole thing.

Also join us for Movie Night on Friday, April 5.

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  • A former member
    A former member

    I enjoyed it, although I confess I love English who donnits more and will miss Sherlock Holmes next month!

    April 9, 2013

  • Kathryn

    Another interesting discussion with varied opinions. Good presentation, Greg!

    April 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Greg presented a well researched background of Dashiell Hammett which provoked much discussion. I think all of the group will now take Jon Ronson's 'Psychopath Test'!

    April 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    An interesting discussion since this is a story that lots of participants would say they already knew about from the movie version.

    April 7, 2013

  • Susie G.

    I have hurt my back and unable to move much. I have to cancel for today

    April 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    May be late but will try to be there.

    March 17, 2013

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  • Kathryn
    Organizer,
    Event Host
  • A former member
  • A former member
  • A former member
  • A former member
  • A former member
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