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Elevating mystery fiction to the level of art, Hammett is one of the finest writers of the twentieth century: Nightmare Town is a stunning collection of twenty short stories with an introduction by Colin Dexter. In the title story, a man on a bender enters a small town and ends up unravelling the dark mystery at its heart
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Because he was silenced by illness, debt, harassment, and writer's block for so many years before his death in 1961 at the age of 66, any fresh appearance of work by Dashiell Hammett deserves to be treated with special attention and respect. The editors of this new collection of 20 of his best--and most representative--stories from pulp magazines such as Black Mask in the 1920s and 30s remind us how much influence Hammett had on the mystery genre, both in print and on screen. The opening of the title story has all the impact of a long shot in a terrific noir film: "A Ford--whitened by desert travel until it was almost indistinguishable from the dust-clouds that swirled around it--came down Izzard's Main Street. Like the dust, it came swiftly, erratically, zigzagging the breadth of the roadway." Then, in a perfect jump cut, "a small woman--a girl of twenty in tan flannel--stepped into the street. The wavering Ford missed her by inches, missing her at all only because her backward jump was bird-quick." We know we'll see that woman again, that the driver of the Ford, "a large man in bleached khaki" who carries a thick, black walking stick will be somehow changed by the encounter.
Seven of the stories in this meaty collection are about Hammett's most autobiographical creation, the San Francisco agency detective called the Continental Op, a shorter, chunkier version of Hammett's own days as a Pinkerton agent. Sam Spade, now fixed indelibly in our minds as Humphrey Bogart, stars in three others. There are also two early versions of The Thin Man, Hammett's last detective, and both are more interesting and definitely rougher-edged than the slick Nick and Nora Charles versions, which made the author a bundle in Hollywood. Taken together, these stories will remind the forgetful how important a literary icon Hammett was and inspire first-timers to seek out such other treats as The Big Knockover, The Maltese Falcon, The Continental Op, and The Dain Curse --Dick AdlerFrom the Inside Flap:
Twenty long-unavailable stories by Dashiell Hammett, the author of The Maltese Falcon and the incomparable master of detective fiction.
In the title story, a man on a bender enters a small town and ends up unraveling the dark mystery at its heart. A woman confronts the brutal truth about her husband in the chilling story "Ruffian's Wife." "His Brother's Keeper" is a half-wit boxer's eulogy to the brother who betrayed him. "The Second-Story Angel" recounts one of the most novel cons ever devised.
In seven stories, the tough and taciturn Continental Op takes on a motley collection of the deceitful, the duped, and the dead, and once again shows his uncanny ability to get at the truth. In three stories, Sam Spade confronts the darkness in the human soul while rolling his own cigarettes. And the first study for The Thin Man sends John Guild on a murder investigation in which almost every witness may be lying.
In Nightmare Town, Dashiell Hammett, America's poet laureate of the dispossessed, shows us a world where people confront a multitude of evils. Whether they are trying to right wrongs or just trying to survive, all of them are rendered with Hammett's signature gifts for sharp-edged characters and blunt dialogue.
Hammett said that his ambition was to elevate mystery fiction to the level of art. This collection of masterful stories clearly illustrates Hammett's success, and shows the remarkable range and variety of the fiction he produced.
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