Dashiell Hammett: Let’s Talk About the Black Bird.

Dashiell Hammett, who turned an six-year career working (on and off) for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a bout with ill health and a fondness for writing into an enduring reputation as the author of hard-nosed, tightly written and unsentimental crime stories, was, as Raymond Chandler put it, “the ace performer” at a time when American crime fiction was still looking for a distinctive style and voice, as well as some refinement amid a superfluity of pulp stories that emphasized fast guns and faster “dames” over the pragmatic demands of detection. Hammett, Chandler opined so famously in his 1940s essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” wrote stories for people who “were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street. Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner