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The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell…

The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett

by Nathan Ward

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Good solid bio on Hammett that covers his formative years & rise of his career rather than the slow fall due to TB, alcohol, & writers block. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
Nicely done brief treatment ( )
  dickmanikowski | Mar 10, 2016 |
Dashiell Hammett is a fascinating man. This short biography somehow manages to make him sound almost boring.

In theory it should have worked - Nathan Ward has a readable style, the story has enough interesting tidbits to make a fascinating read. And yet the book is repetitive and shallow - more a sketch than a full-fledged book.

The Pinkerton's years account is problematic because of the lack of sources - it is known that he was one of the detectives but none of the archives survived. Still the story is there. But for some reason the same point is repeated over and over - always seemingly for a different purpose but they do add up.

And then there is the problem of the depth of the story. It is supposed to be the biography of the man, the biography of the ex-detective that turned into the fiction writer. And that transition is almost missing - the chapters are going through the correct time and the actions but what it is missing is the details that could have made it a lot better work. Maybe they are not available; maybe they are just not that interesting. But even then, the book is too shallow and just skimming the surface.

At the end, there was nothing really new in this book (and I had never read a book about Hammett (I've read a few introductions so I knew the base facts)). It still is a well written book and the story is fascinating if you do not expect a deep personal study of the man that became Hammett. And still, I wish it had gone deeper. ( )
1 vote AnnieMod | Mar 7, 2016 |
This is the author Dashiell Hammett's biography. His works include The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, The Thin Man and more. This is not your average biography - I thought that it was a fascinating, enjoyable read. Some biographies are written in a documentary style or are a bit dry. The Lost Detective is far from that.

The memoir covers Dashiell Hammett's career as a Pinkerton agent, his short stint in the Army as well as his writing career. It delves into the necessity of having to find a career other than being an agent because of health issues.

We learn that Hammett was a lady's man, extremely intelligent, a very successful operative and then a great writer all despite his health issues. I found it fascinating and I wanted to keep turning pages like I was reading a thriller.

I received this book from Netgalley free in exchange for a review. For more information about Nathan Ward check out http://us.macmillan.com/author/nathan... ( )
  Diane_K | Jan 30, 2016 |
While there have numerous biographies of Dashiell Hammett, TheLostDetectivenone of them try to relate his writing to his Pinkerton detective days. Until now, that is. In The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett, Nathan Ward’s primary goal is to describe how being a Pinkerton shaped Hammett’s writing. While there is some general biographical data, the majority of the book is dedicated to Pinkerton.

DashiellHammettWard describes how Pinkerton had a standard, concise format for reports that detectives filed, which infiltrated into Hammett’s fictional writing. He also discusses both cases that Hammett might have been on as well as ones he would have heard about, which also impacted his writing.

It appears that all Pinkerton files relating to Hammett have disappeared, so much of Ward’s descriptions and conclusions are suppositions. But that doesn’t negatively impact the story he is telling.

Ward spends a good deal of time trying to determine who Hammett’s ContOpunnamed Continental Op detective and his boss are based on. Hammett himself varies the story, at times saying the boss is James Wright (which is actually a name regularly used as an alias by operatives themselves) or a composite of several people. Ward speculates that the model for the Boss is James McParland, head of the agency’s Western division who apparently resembles the man Hammett describes as the Boss, “A tall, plump man in his seventies, this boss of mine, with a white-mustached, baby-pink, grandfatherly face, mild blue eyes behind rimless spectacles, and no more warmth in him than a hangman’s rope.”

TheThinManHe also speculates on the source of the Thin Man, portrayed by William Powell with Myrna Loy as his wife. He makes note that the dog was changed from a schnauzer in the book to a terrier in the film.

Ward provides many interesting morsels of Hammett’s life. He touches on Hammett’s relationship with his wife and with Lillian Hellman. He talks about Hammett’s contracting tuberculosis during World War II and how that affected him.

However, it is the snippets of his writing that make this great book even more worthwhile. Each chapter starts with a quote from a letter or book, such as this from Hammett in 1929, “I decided to become a writer. It was a good idea. Having had no experience whatever in writing, except writing letters and reports, I wasn’t handicapped by exaggerated notions of the difficulties ahead.” There are samples of Hammet’s writing, footnotes at the bottom of most pages, extensive notes and a selected bibliography, so Ward really did his work. At a mere 168 pages (before addendums), it’s a fast read. But you might want to slow down and savor it.

I’ll leave you with this 1934 quote from Hammett, for all you budding novelists, “The contemporary novelist’s job is to take pieces of life and arrange them on paper. And the more direct their passage from street to paper, the more lifelike they should be.” I think we can say Hammett mastered his craft. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Nov 3, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080277640X, Hardcover)

Before he became a household name in America as perhaps our greatest hard-boiled crime writer, before his attachment to Lillian Hellman and blacklisting during the McCarthy era, and his subsequent downward spiral, Dashiell Hammett led a life of action. Born in 1894 into a poor Maryland family, Hammett left school at fourteen and held several jobs before joining the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative in 1915 and, with time off in 1918 to serve at the end of World War I, he remained with the agency until 1922, participating alike in the banal and dramatic action of an operative. The tuberculosis he contracted during the war forced him to leave the Pinkertons--but it may well have prompted one of America's most acclaimed writing careers.

While Hammett's life on center stage has been well-documented, the question of how he got there has not. That largely overlooked phase is the subject of Nathan Ward's enthralling The Lost Detective. Hammett's childhood, his life in San Francisco, and especially his experience as a detective deeply informed his writing and his characters, from the nameless Continental Op, hero of his stories and early novels, to Sam Spade and Nick Charles. The success of his many stories in the pulp magazine Black Mask following his departure from the Pinkertons led him to novels; he would write five between 1929 and 1934, two of them (The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man) now American classics. Though he inspired generations of writers, from Chandler to Connelly and all in between, after The Thin Man he never finished another book, a painful silence for his devoted readers; and his popular image has long been shaped by the remembrance of Hellman, who knew him after his literary reputation had been made. Based on original research across the country, The Lost Detective is the first book to illuminate Hammett's transformation from real detective to great American detective writer, throwing brilliant new light on one of America's most celebrated and remembered novelists and his world.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 15 Jul 2015 23:15:19 -0400)

"A fascinating portrait of the overlooked Dashiell Hammett--from his years as a Pinkerton detective to becoming the author of arguably the most iconic detective novels of the twentieth century"--

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