The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett

Nathan Ward. Bloomsbury, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7640-2
The early life of Dashiell Hammett—from his background with the Pinkerton Detective Agency to his bout with tuberculosis while serving in the Army during WWI—fills this entertaining and informative biography by Ward (Dark Harbor). Growing up in Baltimore, Samuel Dashiell Hammett dropped out of high school to help support his family, but found few jobs appealing to him. A vaguely worded newspaper ad—Pinkerton’s preferred method of recruiting then—led to his main pre-writing employment, as well as fertile material for his later stories and novels. While many have written about Hammett’s life before, Ward dives deep into primary sources, including the Pinkerton Archives and Hammett’s VA hospitalization record. But it’s his choice to also wade into Hammett’s stories (including more obscure works, like the unfinished “Tulip”), using their autobiographical elements to flesh out details of the detective life, that help set this work apart. Examples range from The Maltese Falcon’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy, inspired by an old girlfriend of Hammett’s, to the Continental Op’s boss, the Old Man, likely based on legendary Pinkerton agent James McParland. Ward ends somewhat abruptly with Hammett’s early days in Hollywood, but given the vast volumes already written about Hammett’s life on the blacklist and with Lillian Hellman, the limits to this book’s scope hardly detract from the fascinating tale it tells. Agent: Ed Breslin, Ed Breslin Agency. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/11/2015
Release date: 09/15/2015
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-6432-4
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-63286-638-7
Show other formats
Discover what to read next