The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett

Monday, January 4, 2016


The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett
Nathan Ward, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Everyone familiar with Hammett’s writing knows it was inspired by his time as a Pinkerton Detective. But what does that actually mean? Nathan Ward attempts to reconstruct Hammett’s pre-writing career and its impact.

I enjoyed reading this book, but it’s trying to fill a very specific niche. It’s not a complete biography; it’s not much about the later part of Hammett’s life. It is mostly an attempt to reconstruct where and when he worked as a detective and the people or kinds of people he worked with.

There is very little confirmed material to work with, so the author has to rely on third-party recollections or examples from similar operatives and/or operations. He questions the truth of some of the more impressive stories Hammett told about his time with Pinkerton, but replaces the whiz-bang tales with a more grounded sense of the people and cases Hammett would have encountered and what published work they may have later inspired.

The portrait that emerges, of a man always working against the clock of his health, is a compelling one. I also really liked the actual corroborated stories of cases that Pinkerton operatives worked, whether Hammett was involved or not.

However, while I think it succeeded in its specific mandate, I might sometime like to read a more complete biography.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

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