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A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shop-worn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grifter named Joel Cairo, a fat man named Gutman, and Brigid O''Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett''s coolly glittering gem of detective fiction, a novel that has haunted three generations of readers.
Born in 1894 to a tobacco-farming Maryland family, Samuel Dashiell Hammett left school at the age of 14 and held many jobs, including messenger, newsboy, clerk and yardman. In 1915, he accepted a job as a detective operative with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, located in Baltimore. Hammett stayed with the agency for seven years, during which time he found himself entangled in many dangerous cases, one in which he was offered five thousand dollars to kill a union agitator. Such experiences inspired what would later become a major theme in Hammett's life and work: man's corruptibility. After leaving the agency in 1918, he served as an Army sergeant in World War I, contracted tuberculosis, and married an Army nurse with whom he had two daughters. Hammett's writing career began in 1922 when he sold a story called "The Road Home" to the pulp magazine Black Mask. This magazine and its editor Joseph T. Shaw helped establish Hammett as the nation's premier writer of detective fiction. During the course of his relatively brief 12-year writing career, Hammett penned eight novels--which include the classics RED HARVEST, THE MALTESE FALCON, and THE GLASS KEY--and more than one hundred stories and is credited for launching a new style of American detective fiction. Bitter, tough, and unsentimental, his most famous characters, Sam Spade, the Continental Op, and Nick Charles, hurled the traditional English gentleman detective off his pedestal. For 31 years, Hammett and the playwright Lillian Hellman maintained a volatile yet devoted relationship; she was caring for him when he died of lung cancer in 1961, at the age of sixty-six.
"Mr. Hammett, we understand, was once a Pinkerton operative, and he probably knows that there is very little romance about the detective business. There is none of it in his book, but there is plenty of excitement."
From the Publisher
An often ignored key to Hammett's philosophy is contained in the anecdote of Flitcraft that Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy in a seemingly tossed-off aside. According to critic Steven Marcus, in his introduction to Hammett's THE CONTEINTAL OP, the Flitcraft anecdote shows Hammett's belief that "life is inscrutable, opaque, irresponsible, and arbitrary--that human existence does not correspond in its actuality to the way we live it." Although it is not included in the movie version (done by John Huston and otherwise completely--and unusually--faithful to the book), there is reason to believe that this tale does more to explain Hammett's philosophy of life than anything else he wrote.
Sam Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down--from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
A murder investigation requires Detective Sam Spade--a man of few words who displays little emotion but possesses his own strict code of ethics--to become involved in a dangerous search for a valuable statue, in a full-cast dramatization of the classic noir novel. Book available.