The Hunter And Other Stories By Dashiell Hammett; book review

 

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The Independent Culture

Some 52 years after the death of Dashiell Hammett, his name remains one of the most important and recognisable in the crime fiction genre. Hammett set the standard for much of the work that would follow. His novels, short stories, and screenplays are synonymous with a specific genre and a certain approach to fiction.

And that’s how The Hunter and Other Stories opens: by giving us the Hammett we expect and admire. The first four stories in this collection of previously unpublished and/or uncollected works are unmistakeably the work of the man who gave us The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest. But rather than simply re-treading familiar ground, the stories give us our first glance at Hammett’s versatility, as he moves from the detective fiction that made his reputation with “The Hunter”, and on to more refined and occasionally experimental narratives. “The Diamond Wager”, with its cheerful, tongue-in-cheek retelling of a peculiar and audacious heist, is a particular delight.

The rest of the collection groups Hammett’s works in themed sections. The “Men” stories find Hammett exploring maleness and how men relate to each other. These stories reinforce the idea that had Hammett been able to realise his ambition of writing more than just detective fiction, he may have been able to rival Hemingway. Along with the “Men and Women” stories, they provide new insights into the breadth of Hammett’s work. The previously unpublished “Magic”, with its depiction of a black magic ritual, is unlike anything else in this collection,  standing out not just for its experimentation but also its ambition.  “Screen Stories” collects previously unpublished treatments from the Hollywood years. Of these, “On  the Make” is the most readable. But the  real prize in this collection is saved for last as we are finally able to read the few surviving pages of  “A Knife Will Cut for Anybody”, which was intended to be the second full-length outing for Hammett’s most famous creation, Sam Spade, the investigator hero of The Maltese Falcon. One has to wonder what could have sprung from this tight, intriguing opening chapter.

The sections are interspersed with commentary on Hammett’s works and life that place the stories in their proper context. These fascinating additions give further insight to this often powerful collection that allows us to view an author we thought we knew in a different, and occasionally surprising, light.

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