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Red Harvest (1929)

de Dashiell Hammett

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3,016884,576 (3.84)194
When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty-even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.
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"An acknowledged literary landmark," says the New York Times Book Review, and it's true...but I didn't struggle with any of Dashiell Hammett's novels except this one. If you got Red Harvest hot off the presses in 1929, you probably were astonished and recommended it to everyone you knew; it turned Hammett into a celebrity almost overnight and made hard-boiled crime fiction respectable. But this occurred very early in the development of the form, which would evolve into something considerably more subtle, sophisticated and interesting. Red Harvest is a snapshot of pulp detective writing when it was essentially just a cluster of episodic shoot-'em-ups: there's a lot of action, but little characterization and no mystery. (Hammett's basic amorality, evident even at this stage, is faintly troubling.) Contemporaries of Hammett like Carroll John Daly, Raoul Whitfield and Frederick Nebel were doing the same thing, but Hammett--from the very beginning--did it more smoothly and readably.

And yet every book that he wrote afterward improved on his debut performance. Hammett did another Continental Op novel, The Dain Curse, but it feels more like a novel and not a bunch of action scenes glued together (though the violence is definitely there). And his three mature books--The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and The Thin Man--are, of course, masterpieces. Hammett had the distinction of being the only hard-boiled writer to inspire two separate waves of imitators: the folks who copied his early, rough-and-tumble style during the 1920s, and those who made his later, more cerebral approach their own. (Chief among these was Raymond Chandler.) Red Harvest is not a great novel, but it's a good one and unquestionably a literary milestone. It's just that everything Hammett did after this was so much better.

Three and a quarter stars, let's say. ( )
  Jonathan_M | Dec 12, 2023 |
I've always been the dissenting opinion on this one. Yeah, it was influential, but since Hammett himself was copying John Carroll Daly's new hardboiled style, maybe we should give him a bit of the credit. Cynical and definitely hardboiled, Hammett’s Red Harvest is missing the one ingredient which might have made it work for me — Raymond Chandler. Compare this to Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Both novels have elements cannibalized from their respective pulp stories, both have bodies dropping left and right, and both are terribly convoluted. Yet Red Harvest comes off as simply a dark and unpleasant tale of corruption and violence, while The Big Sleep is wildly entertaining, almost dream-like. There is nowhere to lay the blame except at Hammett’s doorstep.

Chandler could turn a simple phrase into visual magic. Hammett often took a circuitous route, as though in love with his own literary voice. In Red Harvest we get all kinds of lengthy descriptive detours which bogs down any narrative pace whatsoever. And by narrative pace, I mean the next body dropping. It almost feels when you go back and read this one after many years, that this might have been a better tale had Hammett not chosen to insert his Continental Op from the pulps, even though it's a string of Op stories strung together. Instead, Hammett could have turned this into a noir melodrama, an unsuspecting stranger encountering the town and getting twisted up in its corruption. Hardboiled doesn't have to be this bloody, and what's worse, we don't really care about the people dropping left and right, can't even keep track of all the players.

Hammett subtly uses Personville/Poisonville as a metaphor for all of America, painting it as corrupt and violent at its core, and crime-laden due to the “evils” of capitalism. There are plenty of rather quiet and vague marxist underpinnings to the serpentine goings on in the corrupt town, which Hammett based on his own experiences in Montana during a miner’s strike. This would be neither here nor there, if this were a good story, like The Glass Key, or delightful fun like his The Thin Man, but it’s just an unpleasant mess.

Perhaps because Hammett himself hadn’t yet distanced himself from the pulps, this comes off as an ambiguous hodgepodge of some wonderfully written moments, and some that go on much too long. Even the metaphor angle is ambivalent, as Hammett doesn’t proffer any alternatives. If the left-leaning Hammett had an argument to make, he chose not to make it, leaving us with only the violence and ugliness, and a tepid underpinning.

Red Harvest is certainly bloody enough for a hardboiled detective novel — the Op takes a body count while talking with Dinah Brand before an ice pick finds her, and it’s staggering — and there are flashes of good writing — really good writing — but the convoluted plot isn’t offset by an entertaining enough narrative to rank this one as high as Hammett’s better stuff.

I truly believe if this had been handed in outline form to Raymond Chandler, after a few stiff drinks, he’d have made this so readable and entertaining we wouldn’t care about its underpinnings or its flaws. In Hammett’s hands, at least at this point in his career, this is a herky-jerky ride. There is some good stuff here, even great stuff, but it isn’t put together well enough to make it a great read for this reader, or in my opinion, the average reader unfamiliar with the genre. For me, Red Harvest is a reminder why I’ve always preferred Chandler to Hammett. ( )
  Matt_Ransom | Oct 6, 2023 |
Great! Keeps getting more and more complicated ( )
  emmby | Oct 4, 2023 |
Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald -- my three personal gods of hardboiled crime literature. While I've read Chandler over and over, and am still working my way through Macdonald's greater output, I haven't revisited Hammett in a very long time. I'd almost forgotten what a rough elegance he brought to the tough language of hardboiled fiction. RED HARVEST is one of his most cherished novels by crime-story aficionados, though it's not nearly as well known to the general public as his more famous MALTESE FALCON and THIN MAN novels. The story of an anonymous private dick who comes to Montana town known as "Poisonville," gets caught up in a murder, and winds up taking on all comers in a rodeo of wrongdoers is ostensibly the source material for several well-known films. (Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO is, according to many opinions, an unacknowledged rip-off of RED HARVEST, though I see only the barest of similarity in plot and almost none in tone. But YOJIMBO is definitely the inspiration for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and LAST MAN STANDING, and thus RED HARVEST is seen by some as the progenitor of those films, too.)

At any rate, RED HARVEST stands on its own as a superb, dark, bloody, and raw detective story, though mystery and detection are much less prominent parts of the stew than they are in the FALCON and THIN MAN stories. Nobody wrote wordplay like Hammett. Chandler's was more poetic, even in its knuckle-hardness. Chandler may have been the Fitzgerald of hardboiled. If so, Hammett was the Hemingway. ( )
  jumblejim | Aug 26, 2023 |
I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.
  taurus27 | Jul 21, 2023 |
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Hammett, Dashiellautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
de Soto, RafaelArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Dufris, WilliamNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Hoffman, H. LawrenceArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Marber, RomekDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Ortlepp, GunnarTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Wilson, MeganDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty-even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.

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