Tuesday, 27 June 2000

Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (1928)

Edition: Avenel Books, 1980
Review number: 532

Of Hammett's five completed novels, Red Harvest is the simplest. Told from the point of view of a hard boiled private detective from San Francisco, it is about a none-too-clean campaign to destroy the out of hand corruption in the town of Personville, known to those familiar with it as Poisonville.

There are a large number of murders in Red Harvest, as the narrator stirs up the various factions in the town - bootleggers, corrupt police, gangsters, politicians - to all out warfare, to reach the point where all sides are weakened and outside authority can take over.

Aside from the violence, it is the moral bankruptcy of all concerned which is the major feature of the novel. Killing breeds more killing, produces a callous indifference to the effects of murder, and sometimes an addiction to violent death.

Much of what became the stock in trade of Hammett and later thriller writers is present in Red Harvest, albeit in crude form: the tough, anti-heroic central character, the violent world of gangsters, political corruption, the beautiful woman who has an ambiguous relationship with all sides in the conflict.

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