Raymond Chandler once said of Dashiell Hammett, “He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”
Both authors influenced my return to writing mystery and suspense novels. Hammett’s era led to my historical mystery series set in 1933. The first novel, The Yankee Club will be published in August by Random House Alibi.
Despite only having published five novels, Hammett became a world-renowned author and is responsible for the creation of a new subgenre of fiction, hard-boiled detective novels. He created some of the most compelling leading characters in literature, such as Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles. His work had a permanent effect on literature, film and television.
Hammett’s detective fiction, known for its realism and colorful characters can be attributed to his years as a Pinkerton detective. He based many of his characters, heroes, villains and secondary characters on some of the shady characters he encountered as a Pinkerton. When the U.S. became involved in World War I, he quit his job, enlisted in the army, but contacted tuberculosis. When the disease went into remission he resumed work as a Pinkerton. When it flared up again in 1921 he quit for good.
Hammett took a writing course and sold short stories to magazines. His first novel was the critically acclaimed Red Harvest. In 1929 Hammett moved to New York and achieved fame with the release of The Maltese Falcon. The Thin Man was published as a magazine serial in 1933 and as a novel in 1934 the same year as the launch of the successful movie series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Hammett tried his hand as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures and moved to Hollywood, where he met Lillian Hellman who became a successful playwright and the love of Dashiell’s life.
With money coming in from magazine, book and movie royalties, Hammett’s writing slowed and stopped after age forty. He became involved in worker rights and took up the cause against McCarthyism in the 1950s. Hammett was succeeded by Raymond Chandler and today is considered one of the twentieth century’s leading writers.
As an author I found the hard-drinking former detective Dashiell Hammett so charismatic and his writing so uncompromising that he became a character in my upcoming novel The Yankee Club.
Dashiell Hammett once said of his own writing. “I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of.”
Of that, I wholeheartedly disagree. If you’re a writer, what writers have inspired you and why?