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Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Hunter and Other Stories by Dashiell Hammett

Mysterious Press, 256 pages, $25

This is a fine collection of mostly unpublished, unedited short stories by Dashiell Hammett. (In his introduction, Richard Layman notes that some of the manuscripts seemed to have been lightly edited by Lillian Hellman!) Whether they were shoved in a drawer, were the basis for something larger, or were thoughts that drifted off into nothingness, each selection is a wonderful glimpse into the writerly workings of a master.

Some of the stories deal with crime, but mostly they are visits with people. Whether the people are chumps or champs, criminals or victims, rich or scrabbling to survive, Hammett makes the most of it, using meticulous language to build his characters and setting.

As a bonus, an unpublished, very incomplete Sam Spade story ends the book. Layman indicates that Hammett anticipated using the bones of the story to create another, longer work.

These stories, while remarkable for the insight they give us into Hammett’s creative process in addition to his published works, are often raw and trail off. It’s hard not to ache for closure of some of the stories he begins so splendidly. But, in a glass-half-full position, the abrupt endings are a form of art, too. 

Of special note is the shiny “The Diamond Wager,” from 1929. It is a complete, sophisticated caper novel and very clever.

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