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Nightmare Town: Stories Hardcover – August 31, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Because he was silenced by illness, debt, harassment, and writer's block for so many years before his death in 1961 at the age of 66, any fresh appearance of work by Dashiell Hammett deserves to be treated with special attention and respect. The editors of this new collection of 20 of his best--and most representative--stories from pulp magazines such as Black Mask in the 1920s and 30s remind us how much influence Hammett had on the mystery genre, both in print and on screen. The opening of the title story has all the impact of a long shot in a terrific noir film: "A Ford--whitened by desert travel until it was almost indistinguishable from the dust-clouds that swirled around it--came down Izzard's Main Street. Like the dust, it came swiftly, erratically, zigzagging the breadth of the roadway." Then, in a perfect jump cut, "a small woman--a girl of twenty in tan flannel--stepped into the street. The wavering Ford missed her by inches, missing her at all only because her backward jump was bird-quick." We know we'll see that woman again, that the driver of the Ford, "a large man in bleached khaki" who carries a thick, black walking stick will be somehow changed by the encounter.

Seven of the stories in this meaty collection are about Hammett's most autobiographical creation, the San Francisco agency detective called the Continental Op, a shorter, chunkier version of Hammett's own days as a Pinkerton agent. Sam Spade, now fixed indelibly in our minds as Humphrey Bogart, stars in three others. There are also two early versions of The Thin Man, Hammett's last detective, and both are more interesting and definitely rougher-edged than the slick Nick and Nora Charles versions, which made the author a bundle in Hollywood. Taken together, these stories will remind the forgetful how important a literary icon Hammett was and inspire first-timers to seek out such other treats as The Big Knockover, The Maltese Falcon, The Continental Op, and The Dain Curse --Dick Adler

From Publishers Weekly

Smart and tough is the formula for the art of Hammett (The Maltese Falcon; The Thin Man), widely acknowledged as the master innovator of the hard-boiled detective novel. These 20 previously uncollected novellas and short stories feature enigmatic plots of devilish intricacy, rife with fisticuffs and pistol shots, and populated by stiffs, laconic coppers, lowlifes and droll, world-weary detectives. Sam Spade shows up several times, as does the Continental Op, smoking his Fatimas and grilling coy, mendacious women. The delicate balance between extremes of brutality and cleverness makes most of these stories classic studies in suspense. Moods are set with smoky authenticity, and characters are powerful talkers and smooth operators, with dialogue unforgettable for its tough, blunt energy. In "His Brother's Keeper," a story of betrayal and redemption is told through the eyes of a dumb prize-fighter, so that the reader is always a step ahead of the narrator, but is sympathetic toward him. "Ruffian's Wife" is a fine literary exploration of a woman's disillusionment as she discovers her husband's true nature, even as she stands by him. "A Man Named Thin" is a detective, a suave narrator/protagonist whose father is both annoyed at his son's poetry writing and impressed by his creative case-solving. With an informative introduction by William Nolan briefly outlining Hammett's life, this volume offers a broad, exciting selection of seminal works by the robust, quintessentially American godfather of the genre. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 31, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375401113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375401114
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,576,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Nightmare Town" is a collection of 20 stories written by Dashiell Hammett between 1924 and 1934, spanning nearly his entire writing career. Seven of the stories feature the indomitable Continental Op: "House Dick", "Night Shots", "Zig Zags of Treachery", "Death on Pine Street", "Tom, Dick, or Harry", "One Hour", and "Who Killed Bob Teal". "Zig Zags of Treachery", about the apparent suicide of a prominent San Francisco surgeon, is superb, perhaps the best story in this collection. The Continental Op is a character rooted in realism whom Hammett based on a fellow detective from his days at Pinkerton Detective Agency, Jimmy Wright, and on himself. Hammett's second most famous detective, Sam Spade, hero of his novel "The Maltese Falcon", is featured in 3 stories: "A Man Called Spade", "Too Many Have Lived", and "They can only Hang You Once". These are the only short stories Hammett wrote about Spade, who was in some ways the flip side of the Continental Op. At first glance, the two detectives have more in common that not, but where the Op represents the way detectives of the era really were, Sam Spade represents the way they wanted to be.

The stories in this anthology demonstrate the variety of writing techniques that Hammett applied to hard-boiled detective fiction. "His Brother's Keeper" and "A Man Named Thin" feature first-person narration, but are otherwise divergent in style. "A Man Named Thin" is narrated by a poet who is a reluctant detective. I can't say that I like the ornate prose style, but it suits the narrator. "The Second-Story Angel" shows that Hammett wasn't above making fun of himself. The last story in this collection is the first ten chapters of a story that Hammett wrote in 1930 and never finished. The editors have called it "The First Thin Man".
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "blackjewel" on February 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
We are jaded. At the end of the twentieth century, our society has lost sight of the horrors of crime; we listen idly to reports of yet another school shooting, yet another cross-burning. Somehow, we have come to equate crime with visible, tangible violence, and we demand an ever-growing level of gore to deem an act criminal. The true measure of a crime, however, lies in its effects upon society, not in the amount of bloodshed. We have forgotten that real crime requires subtlety, alacrity, cunning. Dashiell Hammett's Nightmare Town, however, a collection of stories from early in the author's career, reminds us that crime is not only visible violence; it is the hidden schemes of the villainous, the ones that may never come to light, which contain the frightening truth of evil.
At first, the reader might find some details predictable. But if such tropes have become conventional now, it is thanks to Hammett's masterful creation of them. Hammett, once an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, understood the inner workings of the nefarious underworld. Writing during Prohibition, he delved into the machinations of the criminal mind. His tales fail to privilege gore and mindless violence; rather, he constructs a constant battle of wits between the calculating crook and the equally crafty detective.
In Nightmare Town's eponymous first story, Steve Threefall has no qualms about staying in a dreary desert outpost town, even after watching one businessman pull a gun on another. An innocent man dies in "Zigzags of Treachery," but while the detective knows the murderer and the motive, the issue is left to resolve itself when the primary mystery¡Va tale of extortion¡Vis solved.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
These stories were printed in the 1920s by "Black Mask" magazine, one of the monthly pulp magazines that entertained America before radio and television. Some of the stories were repeated in later works ("Who Killed Bob Teal") and never reprinted in Samuel Dashiell Hammett's lifetime. The stories are still entertaining today, and also provide a glance at a life that few of us know.
SDH worked as a Pinkerton detective for years, seeking fun, travel, adventure. The stories reflect his life as a private detective would see it: a world of crime and corruption. Would this work damage an operative expecially when de didn't have a normal family and home life? Does this reoccur today?
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