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How’s This For An Opening?

As you read this opening paragraph from Red Harvest, I want you to imagine listening to a “wise guy” private detective talk out of the side of his mouth. You see?

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

Can’t you hear the cigarette-stained voice of this narrator, the unnamed Continental Op? Such a distinct style.

Dashiell Hammett, who wrote Red Harvest, is the writer who popularized the “hard-boiled” detective novel. Hammett would later write The Maltese Falcon, which included one of the most famous detectives in literature, Sam Spade.

Without his creativity, movies L.A. Confidential would never exist. It’s also easy to see how writers like Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep, were influenced by Hammett.

You might think this is another overdone, cliched detective story. But Hammett wrote Red Harvest in 1929. He was one of the originals. And, detective story aside, it’s just a beautifully crafted, well-written story to this point.

After my slog through Possession, I’m really enjoying the change-up that is Red Harvest.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aeolianlyre #

    I imagined Humphrey Bogart’s voice as I read through the passage. It worked perfectly.


    April 22, 2014
  2. I lol’d when I read, “you see?”


    April 22, 2014
  3. I love hard-boiled detective. As you say it might be a cliche now, but it’s also not that easy to do. Great opening.


    April 22, 2014
  4. Stop


    April 22, 2014
  5. There is genius in anyone who invents a new genre.

    Just finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s book on plotting and writing suspense. She argues against classifying fiction by genre, but by the marks of “quality”: “insight, character, an opening of new horizons for the imagination of the reader…[the writer should] try to shed some light on the minds of the characters; … be interested in justice or the absence of it in the world, good or bad, and in human cowardice and courage—but not merely as forces to move the plot in one direction or another….[the] invented people must seem real.”

    It will be interesting to see if Hammett meets these criteria.


    April 22, 2014
  6. It’s always interesting to see where these cliché’s start out. The detective genre is one that has been drilled into the collective sub-concious through satire as well as through the growth of the genre. It’s fun to see where they started and realize that it was not as pulpy or cheesy a genre as you thought. Can’t wait to see what you think and I’ll probably run out and grab it, it’s nice to read something different.


    April 22, 2014
  7. I could hear James Cagney narrating that scene.


    April 22, 2014

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  1. This Is The Original Detective Novel | 101 Books
  2. trouver plus d’infos

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