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.