Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett

American writer, founder of the hardboiled detective story
Date of Birth: 27.05.1894
Country: USA

Biography of Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett, an American writer and the pioneer of hard-boiled detective fiction, was born on May 27, 1894, in a small town in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to drop out of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at the age of 14 in order to help support his family. He worked various jobs, including newspaper delivery, messenger, and advertising agent, until he landed a job at the Baltimore branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1915.

His time at the detective agency played a significant role in shaping Hammett both as a writer and as a political activist. He started as a clerk and eventually became an operative, frequently traveling across the country. During the suppression of a strike, he witnessed a mob lynching a representative of the strikers. These events likely influenced his left-wing beliefs.

During World War I, Hammett enlisted in the military out of patriotic fervor. He served as a sergeant in the medical corps and contracted the flu, which developed into pneumonia and tuberculosis in its open form. He spent several years in hospitals and attempted to return to his operative work at Pinkerton in 1921, but his health forced him to leave after a year. By that time, he was living in San Francisco with his wife. With the support of the Veterans Bureau, he began attending writing courses, and his stories started appearing in various magazines, with his first published story, "Parthian Shot," appearing in "Smart Set" in October 1922.

On October 1, 1923, "Arson Plus" was published in "Black Mask" magazine, marking the first installment of the famous Continental Op series. Although Hammett was not the first author to write about private detectives (Carolyn Wells beat him by six months with the story "Terry - Three Gun"), his stories and subsequent novels were destined to be the beginning of a new style in detective fiction - the "hard-boiled" detective. Hammett was the first to capture the changing landscape of crime, presenting it not as something extraordinary (as depicted in the classical variant), but rather as a shadowy yet real aspect of life.

Despite the lack of income from his stories, Hammett supplemented his earnings by writing commercial advertisements. After the birth of his second child, he left his family, insisting on separate living arrangements due to his tuberculosis. Within three years, the marriage dissolved completely.

In 1929, Knopf published Hammett's first novel, "Red Harvest," which had previously been serialized in "Black Mask" magazine. The protagonists of this book, as well as his next novel, "The Dain Curse" (1929), were the employees of the Continental Detective Agency. The early 1930s became the most productive period of Hammett's career. In 1930, he published "The Maltese Falcon," with its protagonist, Sam Spade, becoming the iconic representation of the American private detective. The following year, he released another equally famous novel, "The Glass Key." These novels introduced detectives without entirely positive characteristics, portraying them as ordinary members of society who must work within the boundaries of the law. In Hammett's works, the detective is not a superhuman figure solely reliant on deductive reasoning; he increasingly relies on physical strength and weapons to protect his clients from real threats.

Unfortunately, this fruitful period did not repeat itself. His 1934 novel, "The Thin Man," marked his last significant work. High royalties allowed Hammett to lead a luxurious lifestyle, spending more time at parties and cocktails. This marked the beginning of his escalating alcohol addiction. Alcohol played a malevolent role in the lives of many detective fiction writers (such as Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie), but Hammett's drinking habits were legendary in American literary history. After selling the rights to "The Thin Man" for a huge sum of $40,000, Hammett almost entirely spent it on alcohol. He made numerous attempts at rehabilitation, only to relapse into heavy drinking again. In the 1930s, he met Lillian Hellman, who eventually became a renowned playwright with his support. During World War II, Hammett made several unsuccessful attempts to join the military until a doctor, who was his fan, deemed him fit for limited service. He was sent to the Aleutian Islands, where he edited a regimental newspaper.

The post-war years were even more unfortunate for Hammett. He became involved in political activities, including the organization "Soviet Russia Today," and was included in Senator McCarthy's blacklists, which called for the removal of all his books from libraries. In 1955, he suffered a heart attack. Lillian Hellman took on the responsibility of caring for the seriously ill writer and provided him with a place to stay. Hammett passed away from lung cancer in 1961 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, despite protests from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Although Hammett's body of work is relatively small, his contributions to the crime fiction genre were immensely influential. Masters such as Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Robert B. Parker acknowledged his impact. Today, San Francisco offers a special tourist route dedicated to Dashiell Hammett, including a restaurant-museum dedicated to the writer, the streets where he lived and worked, and the locations associated with his fictional characters. In 2000, an opera based on his novel "Red Harvest" was produced, with Sean Carson composing the music and libretto.