A unique publication from one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, The Hunter and Other Stories includes new Dashiell Hammett stories gleaned from his personal archives along with screen treatments long buried in film industry files, screen stories, and intriguing unfinished narratives.
Hammett is regarded as both a pioneer and master of hardboiled detective fiction, but these dozen-and-a-half pieces, which explore failed romance, courage in the face of conflict, hypocrisy, and crass opportunism, show him in a different light.
The title story concerns a dogged PI unwilling to let go of a seemingly trivial case, and the collection also includes an unfinished Sam Spade story and two full-length screen treatments: “On the Make,” about a corrupt detective, and “The Kiss-Off,” the basis for City Streets (1931), in which Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sydney are caught in a romance complicated by racketeering’s obligations and temptations. Rich in both story and character, this is a volume no Hammett fan should do without.
“For aficionados of the genre, the unearthing of new Hammett stories is akin to Christians discovering an epilogue to the New Testament. . . . These stories are among Hammett’s best. . . . [His] prose is always savvy and sturdy, but for the man who invented ‘hard-boiled,’ it can also be surprisingly elegant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 27, 1894
Date of Death:January 10, 1961
Place of Birth:St. Mary, Maryland
Place of Death:New York
Education:Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Read an Excerpt
The four stories in this section provide a prismatic view of Hammett's experiments over a decade with the treatment of crime. These stories show Hammett trying different forms — from a standard Black Mask — type story, to parody, to Golden Age models, to the type of hard modernism associated with Hemingway — and varying types of narration. Three of the stories are narrated in the third person, though each in a different variety, and the other is told in the first-person voice of a wily and affected dilettante with a keen interest in fine jewels, suggesting a more famous Hammett villain.
"The Hunter" is a detective story in the mold of the Black Mask Continental Op stories, but with an important difference. Here the detective, named Vitt, is as hard-boiled as a detective gets. He has a job to do, and he does it with neither distraction nor emotional involvement, and then he turns ironically to his own mundane domestic concerns at the end. Judging from the return address on Eddy Street, where Hammett lived from 1921 to 1926, it was likely written about 1924 or 1925, when Hammett wrote six stories published in magazines other than Black Mask and introduced two new protagonists in stories told in the third person, as "The Hunter" is — Steve Threefall in "Nightmare Town" (Argosy All-Story Weekly, December 27, 1924) and Guy Tharp in "Ruffian's Wife" (Sunset, October 1925).
"The Sign of the Potent Pills" is a farce that builds on the depiction of the detective as something less than a heroic crime fighter. The return address is 891 Post Street, where Hammett lived from 1927 to 1929. In January 1926, Hammett published "The Nails in Mr. Cayterer," a satirical story about a writer-detective named Robin Thin similar in tone to "The Sign of Potent Pills." (Another Robin Thin story, "A Man Named Thin," was published shortly after Hammett's death in 1961.) In this typescript someone crossed out the first two paragraphs of the story. They have been restored here, because they provide the only mention of the billboard that gives the story its name and identify Pentner, who calls the police at the end. Lillian Hellman edited the story, and the first paragraphs seem to have been cut by her. Hellman's edits have been accepted only when they corrected clear typographical errors or undeniable infelicities.
"The Diamond Wager," a clear imitation of the Golden Age mystery stories popular at the time, was, by our guess, written in 1926 and rejected by the pulp Blue Book, though not published until 1929 in another pulp, Detective Fiction Weekly. There is no known typescript. The story is told in the first person by a master criminal and was published while The Maltese Falcon was being serialized in Black Mask.
"Action and the Quiz Kid" is possibly the last story Hammett completed. It is set in New York and refers to Joe DiMaggio's home run — hitting prowess. DiMaggio was a star for the minor-league San Francisco Seals in 1932 and 1933. He was bought by the New York Yankees in 1934, but sat out a season with a knee injury. When he played his first season for the Yankees in 1936, he hit twenty-nine home runs; in 1937, he had forty-six homers, the most in his career. A reasonable guess is that this story was written early in 1936, after Hammett was released from the hospital in January and then spent the rest of the year recuperating in and around New York City. A so-called slice-of-life story, "Action and the Quiz Kid" is typical of Hammett's late interest in character as opposed to plot.
There are people who, coming for the first time in contact with one they know for a detective, look at his feet. These glances, at times mockingly frank, but more often furtive and somewhat scientific in purpose, are doubtless annoying to the detective whose feet are in the broad-toed tradition: Fred Vitt enjoyed them. His feet were small and he kept them neatly shod in the shiniest of blacks.
He was a pale plump man with friendly light eyes and a red mouth. The fortunes of job-hunting not guided by definite vocational training had taken him into the employ of a private detective agency some ten years ago. He had stayed there, becoming a rather skillful operative, although by disposition not especially fitted for the work, much of which was distasteful to him. But he liked its irregular variety, the assurances of his own cleverness that come frequently to any but the most uniformly successless of detectives, and the occasional full-tilt chase after a fleeing someone who was, until a court had decided otherwise, a scoundrel of one sort or another. Too, a detective has a certain prestige in some social divisions, a matter in no way equalized by his lack of any standing at all in others, since he usually may either avoid these latter divisions or conceal his profession from them.
Today Vitt was hunting a forger. The name of H. W. Twitchell — the Twitchell-Bocker Box Company — had been signed to a check for two hundred dollars, which had been endorsed Henry F. Weber and cashed at the bank. Vitt was in Twitchell's office now, talking to Twitchell, who had failed to remember anyone named Weber.
"I'd like to see your cancelled checks for the last couple of months," the detective said.
The manufacturer of boxes squirmed. He was a large man whose face ballooned redly out of a too-tight collar.
"What for?" he asked doubtfully.
"This is too good a forgery not to have been copied from one of 'em. The one of yours that's most like this should lead me to the forger. It usually works out that way."
Vitt looked first for the checks that had made Twitchell squirm. There were three of them, drawn to the order of "Cash," endorsed by Clara Kroll, but, disappointingly, they were free from noteworthy peculiarities in common with the forgery. The detective put them aside and examined the others until he found one that satisfied him: a check for two hundred and fifty dollars to the order of Carl Rosewater.
"Who is this Rosewater?" he asked.
"I want to borrow this check."
"You don't think Rosewater —?"
"Not necessarily, but this looks like the check that was used as a model. See: the Ca in Carl are closer together than you usually put your letters, and so is the Ca in Cash on this phoney check. When you write two naughts together you connect them, but they're not connected on the forgery, because whoever did it was going by this two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar check, where there is only one. Your signature on the Rosewater check takes up more space than usual, and slants more — written in a hurry, or standing up — and the forged one does the same. Then the forgery is dated two days after this check. This is the baby, I bet you!"
Only two men in the Rosewater establishment had handled Twitchell's check: the proprietor and his bookkeeper. Rosewater was heavy with good eating. The bookkeeper was manifestly undernourished: Vitt settled on him. The detective questioned the bookkeeper casually, not accusing him, but alert for the earliest opportunity: he was so distinctly the sort of idiot who would commit a low-priced crime that could be traced straight to him, and, if further reason for suspecting him were needed, he was the most convenient suspect at hand.
This bookkeeper was tall and concave, with dry hair that lay on his scalp instead of growing out of it. Thick spectacles magnified the muddle in his eyes without enlarging anything else the eyes may have held or been. His clothing tapered off everywhere in fine frayed edges, so that you could not say definitely just where any garment ended: a gentle merging of cloth and air that made him not easily distinguished from his background. His name was James Close. He remembered the Twitchell check, he denied knowledge of the forgery, and his handwriting bore no determinable resemblance to the endorsed Henry F. Weber.
Rosewater said Close was scrupulously honest, had been in his employ for six years, and lived on Ellis Street.
"James?" Rosewater was surprised. "No!"
Posing, with the assistance of cards from the varied stock in his pockets, as the agent of a banking house that was about to offer the bookkeeper a glittering if vague position, Vitt interviewed Close's landlady and several of his neighbors. The bookkeeper unquestionably was a man of most exemplary habits, but, peculiarly, he was married and the father of two children, one recently born. He had lived here — the third floor of a dull building — seven or eight months, coming from an address on Larkin Street, whither the detective presently went. Still a man thoroughly lacking in vices, Close had been unmarried on Larkin Street.
Vitt returned briskly to the Ellis Street building, intent on questioning Close's wife, but, when he rang the bell, the bookkeeper, home for luncheon, opened the door. The detective had not expected this, but he accepted the situation.
"Got some more questions," he said, and followed Close into the living- and dining-room (now that the bed was folded up into the wall) through whose opposite door he could see a woman putting, with thick pink arms, dishes on a kitchen table. A child stopped building something with blocks in the doorway and gaped at the visitor. Out of sight a baby cried without purpose. Close put the builder and his materials into the kitchen, closed the door, and the two men sat down.
"Close," the detective said softly, "you forged that check."
A woodenness came up and settled on the bookkeeper's face. First his chin lengthened, pushing his mouth into a sullen lump, then his nose thinned and tiny wrinkles appeared beside it, paralleling its upper part and curving up to the inner corners of his eyes. His eyes became smaller, clouded behind their glasses. Thin white arcs showed under the irides, which turned the least bit outward. His brows lifted slightly, and the lines in his forehead became shallower. He said nothing, and did not gesture.
"Of course," the detective went on, "it's your funeral, and you can take any attitude you like. But if you want the advice of one who's seen a lot of 'em, you'll be sensible, and come clean about it. I don't know, and I can't promise anything, but two hundred dollars is not a lot of money, and maybe it can be patched up somehow."
Though this was said with practiced smoothness — it being an established line of attack — Vitt meant it honestly enough: so far as his feelings were affected, he felt some pity for the man in front of him.
"I didn't do it," Close said miserably.
Vitt erased the denial with a four-inch motion of one plump white hand.
"Now listen: it won't get you anything to put us to a lot of trouble digging up things on you — not that it'll need much digging. For instance, when and where were you married?"
The bookkeeper blushed. The rosiness that so surely did not belong in his face gave him the appearance of a colored cartoon.
"What's that got to —?"
"Let it go, then," Vitt said generously. He had him there. His guess had been right: Close was not married. "Let it go. But what I'm trying to show you is that you'd better be wise and come through!"
"I didn't do it."
The repetition irritated Vitt. The woodenness of the bookkeeper's face, unlivened by the color that had for a moment washed it, irritated him. He stood up, close to the bookkeeper, and spoke louder.
"You forged that check, Close! You copied it from Twitchell's!"
"I didn't do it."
The kitchen door opened and the woman came into the room, the child who had been playing with the blocks holding a fold of her skirt. She was a pink-fleshed woman of perhaps thirty years, attractive in a slovenly way: sloppy was the word that occurred to the detective.
"What is it, James?" Her voice was husky. "What is it?"
"I didn't do it," Close said. "He says I forged a check, but I didn't do it."
Vitt was warm under his clothes, and his hands perspired. The woman and child made him uncomfortable. He tried to ignore them, speaking to Close again, very slowly.
"You forged that check, Close, and I'm giving you your last chance to come through."
"I didn't do it."
Vitt seized the irritation that the idiocy of this reiteration aroused in him, built it up, made a small anger of it, and his discomfort under the gazes of the woman and child grew less.
"Listen: you can take your choice," he said. "Be bull-headed, or be reasonable. It's nothing to me. This is all in my day's work. But I don't like to see a man hurt himself, especially when he's not a crook by nature. I'd like to see you get off easy, but if you think you know what you're doing — hop to it!"
"I didn't do it."
A suspicion that all this was ridiculous came to the detective, but he put it out of his mind. After he got a confession out of his man he could remember things and laugh. Meanwhile, what had to be done to get that confession needed an altogether different mood. If he could achieve some sort of rage ...
He turned sharply to the woman.
"When and where were you folks married?" he demanded.
"None of your business!"
That was better. Against antagonism he could make progress. He felt the blood in his temples, and, his autogenetic excitement lessening the field of his vision, everything except the woman's moist pink face became blurred.
"Exactly!" he said. "But, just so you'll know where you stand, I'll tell you that you never were married — not to each other anyway!"
"What of it?" She stood between her man and the detective, hands on broad hips. "What of it?"
Vitt snorted derisively. He had reared by now a really considerable rage in himself, both weapon and anesthetic.
"In this state," he said, nodding vigorously, "there's a law to protect children's morals. You can be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minor children! Ever think of that?"
"Contributing to — Why, that's foolish! I raise my children as decent as anybody. I —"
"I know! But in California if you're living with a man not your husband, then you're guilty of it — setting them a bad example, or something like that."
The bookkeeper appeared from behind the woman.
"You stop that!" he ordered. "You hear me, you stop that! Amy hasn't done anything!"
The child began to cry. The woman seized one of Vitt's arms.
"Let me tell you!" Defiance was gone out of her. "My husband left me when he found I was going to have another baby. He went out on a Sunday night in the rain and didn't ever come back. Not ever! I didn't have anybody to help me but James. He took me in, and he's been as good a man as there ever was! The children are better off with him than they ever were with Tom. He's better to them. I —"
The detective pulled his arm away from her. A detective is a man employed to do certain defined things: he is not a judge, a god. Every thief has his justification, to hear him tell it. This hullabaloo just made his work that much harder, without doing anybody any real good.
"That's tough!" He put into word and feature all the callousness for which he was fumbling inside. "But the way it stands is that if you're going to fight me on this check business, I'm going to make the going as tough as I can for the pair of you."
"You mean," Close cried, "that if I don't say I forged that check you'll have Amy and me arrested for this — this delinquency thing?"
"I mean that if you'll be reasonable I'll not make any more trouble than I have to. But if you want to be hard-boiled, then I'll go the limit."
"And Amy'll be arrested?"
"You — you —" The bookkeeper clawed at Vitt with hands fashioned for grappling with pens and ledger-pages. Vitt could have handled him without especial difficulty, for, beneath his plumpness, the detective was strong enough. But the passion for which he had groped with affectation of face and voice had at last become actual.
He made a ball of one fist and drove it into the bookkeeper's hollow belly. The bookkeeper folded over it and writhed on the floor. Screaming, the woman knelt beside him. The child who had come into the room with the woman and the baby Vitt had not seen yelled together. The doorbell began to ring. From the kitchen came the stench of scorched food.
Presently Close sat up, leaning against the kneeling woman, his spectacles dangling from one ear.
"I forged it," he said into the clamor. "I didn't have any money to pay the bills after the baby came. I told Amy I borrowed the money from Rosewater." He laughed two sharp notes. "She didn't know him, so she believed me. Anyway, the bills are paid."
Vitt hurried his prisoner down to the city prison, had him booked and locked in, and then hastened up to the shopping district. The department stores closed at half past five, and his wife had asked him to bring home three spools of No. 60 black thread.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hunter and Other Stories"
Copyright © 2013 The Literary Property Trust of Dashiell Hammett.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
"The Hunter" (unpublished),
"The Sign of the Potent Pills" (unpublished),
"The Diamond Wager" (1929, uncollected),
"Action and the Quiz Kid" (unpublished),
"Fragments of Justice" (unpublished),
"A Throne for the Worm" (unpublished),
"An Inch and a Half of Glory" (unpublished),
"Nelson Redline" (unpublished),
"Monk and Johnny Fox" (unpublished),
"The Cure" (2011, uncollected),
MEN AND WOMEN,
"Seven Pages" (2005),
"The Breech-Born" (unpublished),
"The Lovely Strangers" (unpublished),
"On the Way" (1932, uncollected),
"The Kiss-Off" (unpublished, story for City Streets, Paramount 1931),
"Devil's Playground" (unpublished and unproduced),
"On the Make" (unpublished, story for Mr. Dynamite, Universal 1935),
APPENDIX: THE LOST SPADE,
"A Knife Will Cut for Anybody" (unpublished),