Jack's Reviews > Red Harvest

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
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Sep 03, 10

Read in August, 2010

Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest protagonist carries a fistful of business cards, all different. He might be Henry F. Neill, A.B. seaman, or one of numerous other names which he registers as in hotels. His name holds no importance, certainly not to Hammett who never reveals it. The detective with many names wields a gun and knows how to use it, and that is important.
Through his multi-named narrating protagonist, Hammett brings guns to life. Guns and bullets take on human characteristics. “A dozen guns emptied themselves” or “a bullet kissed a hole in the doorframe close to my noodle.” In Hammett’s hands a “machine-gun settled down to business, grinding out metal like the busy little death factory it was”. And guns can talk: “A gun said something, the same thing four times”. They can sing as well: “the chorus of pistols singing Bang-bang-bang … The guns sang on.”
Bullets are also pills and slugs. Sometimes they are shot and sometimes thrown – “Reno and I threw bullets around while the girl made a polo pony out of the Marmon". And yes, a dame can turn a car into a polo pony.
Hammett uses simple language, uses it sparingly, but well. “One of the blond boys drove. He knew what speed was”. Five monosyllabic words in the second sentence provide a paragraph to the reader’s imagination. And Hammett’s narrator offers a likeably clever wit, “Her eyes were shiny because they were wet. She jabbed a handkerchief into them” or I “moved some of the Scotch from my flask to my stomach” and “I sneered at her in a friendly way”. Even when our man philosophizes, he does so with gritty charm, “Anybody that brings ethics to Poisonville is going to get them all rusty”.
Hammett’s Spartan, playful language creates a genuinely likeable private investigator with his own sense of honor, questionable morals and a penchant for heavy drinking and frequent gun play. Our protagonist’s account of the goings on provides both surprising plot twists and funny phraseology with consistent regularity. To quote the many-named detective, “I haven’t laughed so much over anything since the hogs ate my kid brother”.
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