Pulp Review: Hammett
$Revision: 1.2 $

cover img Hammett
The greatest mystery writer of our times caught in the middle of one of his own plots.

Author: Joe Gores
First published in 1975. Copy reviewed: 1982, Harper & Row
Softback novel - 251 pages
ISBN: 0-06-080631-1
Price: Out of Print

Back cover blurb

San Francisco, 1928. Samuel Dashiell Hammett, private eye turned writer, is once again on the hunt - in Chinatown, the cathouses, the gambling dens - because a friend to whom he refused help has been murdered.
Years of writing have dulled his instincts, and failure could cost not only his life, but his chance for literary immortality. Part thriller, part fictionalized history, part biography, and all suspense, Hammett probes the moody man who wrote such classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man and offers a wry, tough portrait of a stark and bloody era.

Reader's notes

Competently written mistery starring Hammett himself as main character. Note that the story is a little over the top in some places, even if it is not excessively so. It's not exactly pulpish, but it's not a docudrama, either.
The last 10 pages or so are "author's notes" explaining what it's fictional and what it's true about the story, and what the author's tried to accomplish with the book.
Apart from the main story, the novel tries to depict a convincing portrait of Hammett, a man often unable to overcome his human weaknesses but still strong enough to maintain his own integrity.
I consider this a good book to read along with the ones written by Hammet himself and the Marlowe novels.
Hammett, still in the early stage of his writing career, is contacted by a former colleague to help him investigating corruption under the charter of reforming committee.

The 1982 Hammett Film (Zoetrope Studios), directed by Wim Wenders was based on this novel.

GM's notes

The novel, as often happens, concerns a single main character, so adapting it to the usual party of 3 to 5 characters could prove problematic. Despite this problem it still offers interesting insights on how things worked in the period, and I found the practice of instituting "reform committees" a very interesting idea, one which could easily serve as a starting point for a fairly interesting campaign.
Reforming committees were a sort of semi-publically founded investigation, carried out by private agencies, and were used to compensate for the high corruption and low efficiency of law enforcement.
Police corruption or rampant vice and prostitution could be targets for such committees. Influential citizens would form the committee, raise funds and select someone to carry on the investigation.
They were not terribly successful, usually, because concerned parties often succeeded in having one or more key figures appointed to the committee promoting the investigation itself, and things often degenerated in political and journalistic quagmires.