Hammett Unwritten

Owen Fitzstephen, Author, McAlpine Gordon, Afterword by
Owen Fitzstephen. Prometheus/Seventh Street, $13.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-61614-714-3
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This imaginative mashup of meta-mystery with meta-biography, ostensibly written by Fitzstephen (a character from Hammett’s The Dain Curse), with notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine (the real author), asks a simple question: why did Dashiell Hammett stop writing? After a brilliant 12-year run that included The Maltese Falcon and ended with The Thin Man, the master of hard-boiled detection turned from the typewriter. Did he do so because he lost the falcon statue he picked up in a 1922 caper? Was that dingus the mystical Holy Grail? Cutting back and forth through Hammett’s life, McAlpine (Joy in Mudville) gets many details wrong, but the overall portrait feels accurate—certainly more so than that in Joe Gores’s 1975 novel, Hammett. The story shines in scenes with real people such as Lillian Hellman, though encounters with people who supposedly inspired characters in The Maltese Falcon are less successful. Fans of Hammett and noir ought to enjoy requisite shocks of recognition. Agent: Philip Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary. (Feb.)
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