22 October 2011

Review: THE ASSISTANT MURDERER, Dashiell Hammett

THE ASSISTANT MURDERER is a novella which I've read as an e-book. It is available free from manybooks.net but until I began searching for it, I was under the impression that I had actually acquired it from Amazon, perhaps as a free book from there.

It begins strikingly:
    Gold on the door, edged with black, said ALEXANDER RUSH, PRIVATE DETECTIVE. Inside, an ugly man sat tilted back in a chair, his feet on a yellow desk. 
    The office was in no way lovely. Its furnishings were few and old with the shabby age of second-handdom. A shredding square of dun carpet covered the floor. On one buff wall hung a framed certificate that licensed Alexander Rush to pursue the calling of private detective in the city of Baltimore in accordance with certain red-numbered regulations. 
    A map of the city hung on another wall. Beneath the map a frail bookcase, small as it was, gaped emptily around its contents: a yellowish railway guide, a smaller hotel directory, and street and telephone directories for Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. An insecure oaken clothes-tree held up a black derby and a black overcoat beside a white sink in one corner. The four chairs in the room were unrelated to one another in everything except age. The desk's scarred top held, in addition to the proprietor's feet, a telephone, a black-clotted inkwell, a disarray of papers having generally to do with criminals who had escaped from one prison or another, and a grayed ashtray that held as much ash and as many black cigar stumps as a tray of its size could expect to hold. 
    An ugly office -- the proprietor was uglier. His head was squatly pear-shaped. Excessively heavy, wide, blunt at the jaw, it narrowed as it rose to the close-cropped, erect grizzled hair that sprouted above a low, slanting forehead. His complexion was of a rich darkish red, his skin tough in texture and rounded over thick cushions of fat.
Into the office comes a young man who wants Rush, a former but discredited policeman, to accept a commission to find out why a suspicious looking character is following a young woman of his acquaintance. Eventually there is a murder mystery.

I've been doing some research to find out when THE ASSISTANT MURDERER was published. I have discovered it was published in The Black Mask in 1926.

I have found it also published as part of a Dashiell Hammett Collection.. The Collection contains Afraid of A Gun, Arson Plus, Bodies Piled Up, Death On Pine Street, Man Who Killed Dan Odams, Mike Alec Or Rufus, Nightmare Town, Night Shots, One Hour, Road Home, Ruffian's Wife, Second Story Angel, The Assistant Murderer, The Tenth Clew, Who Killed Bob Teal, Zigzags of Treachery, and is available from Amazon and from http://pulpfictionportal.com.

Certainly THE ASSISTANT MURDERER has whetted my appetite for more Hammett.

Here is biographical information of interest
    Hammett's (1894-1961) writing career was short. He produced four novels and almost all of his short stories between 1922 and 1931, a span of barely nine years. A fifth novel The Thin Man followed in 1934. Then... nothing.
A good site to check: The Dashiell Hammett website

My rating: 4.2


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks very much for this. I must download that story, as I like Hammett. And thanks also for the background information on the story and on Hammett.

Mack said...

Thanks for this. The class I work with just finished watching The Maltese Falcon and Hammett is on my mind. I'm off to download the collection.

kathy d. said...

The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are excellently written books, terse in style and to the point.

I rewatched both of them. The film of The Maltese Falcon is even better after one has read the book.

The Thin Man movie is a bit lighter and funnier than the book, partly because of the excellent chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell and their comedic skills.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ruah is oddly loveable for so unprepossessing a detective. I have made many Hammett posts over the past two or three years. Browse my site, if you'd like, to whet your appetite!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Mack said...

For the full Maltese Falcon experience you should also watch the 1931 version with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. This came out before the Hayes Code and is much more sexual. Cortez's Spade is a lothario. It's an inferior adaptation with a horrible ending tacked on but it is fun to watch. And I prefer Una Merkel's Effie to Lee Patrick.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Kerrie, at least in the U.S., one can rent a DVD that includes all three movie versions of The Maltese Falcon: The Bogart/Huston/Astor/Greenstreet/Lorre version, the 1931 version that Mack mentions, and Satan Met a Lady, with Bette Davis.


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