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Reviews

The Boys in the Back Room

If you are looking for literary reflections or information about the intentions of the author of Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Class Key, forget about it. There is precious little of that in Dasthell Hammett's letters. If you are looking for insight into the character of the enigmatic Dasthell Hammett, you won't find much of that, either. And if you are looking for a good read—wit, writing, truths—then you will find the letters of Dasthell Hammett about two egg rolls short of a pu pu platter.

These letters are mostly innocuous— gossipy, affectionate, sometimes ruefully funny. But there is no spark that can kindle them into something beyond themselves. Hammett seems to have been happy only in some sort of martyrdom, joining the Army again at the age of 48 and serving mostly as a journalist in the Aleutians, or going to jail because he bucked authority during the McCarthy episode. His is a sad story, mostly about boredom and writer's block and alcoholism and sexual chaos, but nothing makes it an interesting one. Actually, it is when Hammett himself is most interested that he is most boring. What else would you expect from a communist? Ideology of his sort required a lobotomy of a kind, and that self-inflicted wound may be what killed him as a writer.

Sure, a writer can write badly sometimes, but there are some aberrations that indicate not only a tin ear,...

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