cover image Dashiell Hammett: Man of Mystery

Dashiell Hammett: Man of Mystery

Sally Cline. Skyhorse/Arcade (Perseus, dist.), $22.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-61145-784-1

Dashiell Hammett, author of such firmly canonized works of detective fiction—The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man—led a personal life as troubled as those of his protagonists. This new, streamlined biography by Cline (Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise) takes us from his military service in WWI and career as a young private detective, through his uneasy literary stardom, and finally through his battles with ill respiratory health, and a case of writer's block that prevented him from producing any substantial work for most of his later life. Most uncomfortable are accounts of Hammett's uneasy relationships with the two major female figures in his life, his wife Josephine, and playwright Lillian Hellman, a mentee who, in a twisted way, seems to have added love and purpose to the last part of a rather unhappy life, despite his scandalous infidelity and cruelty to her. Told in a style that sometimes mixes verifiable fact with informed speculation about the subject's state of mind and inner turmoil, Cline makes the case for Hammett as a literary stylist on par with his contemporaries Hemingway and Faulkner, and convincingly parallels the known facts about his youth to the themes of his writing. Agent: Rachel Calder, Sayle Literary Agents. (Feb.)