Thursday, July 23, 2020

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

It is very strange that I’ve not read Red Harvest before. It is reputed to be one of the greatest of crime novels by people whose opinion I trust. I had previously read Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and enjoyed it. And, most of all, I knew that it was a heavy influence on my second or third all time favorite film, Miller’s Crossing. Red Harvest also provided the Coens with the title for their debut film, the excellent neo-noir Blood Simple. Miller’s Crossing is not a straight adaptation, but it wears the Red Harvest influence proudly.  In addition to lifting the occasional line (“What’s the rumpus?”), the structures are similar as one person plays various crime bosses and syndicates off of each other in spectacular Machiavellian fashion. The main difference is while Tom from Miller’s Crossing is a criminal underboss himself, The Continental Op is a PI.

The Op is hired by a newspaper man whose father is a fading crime boss in the town of Personville, called Poisonville, for an unclear purpose. The newspaper man is murdered while the Op is waiting to meet with him. The father, the aging gangster, then hires the op to clean up the town of the other criminal elements as he is unable to control them anymore (he later tries to go back on that, of course). The first murder is solved relatively quickly and the rest is given to hardboiled maneuvering among the criminal set in Poisonville.

The dialog is quick, the prose is lean and the plot barrels along. I read this in two or three sittings last Saturday. For me the delight of this book is two fold; it is both a great crime novel in its own right and it doubles as a Coen Brothers decoder ring. So much of their style can be seen here. I’m looking forward to more Hammett. I’ll likely read The Thin Man next and might reread The Maltese Falcon later. I will certainly be rereading this periodically in the years to come.

Canon Worthy

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 51/75

No comments:

Post a Comment