Dashiell Hammett and His Influences.

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Samuel Dashiell Hammett – who wrote as Dashiell Hammett – was described in his New York Times obituary as ‘the dean of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction.’

He was, one of the finest mystery writers of all time, as well as a screenwriter and political activist. Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10,1961) was born on Maryland farm into a hard-working well-established family. Having left school at 13 he held several jobs before joining the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915-1922.

The work, which would make him famous began in 1922, when he was first published in the Smart Set magazine. However, it was his 1929 novel, Red Harvest, and a character called the Continental Op, which put him on the list of the best 100 best English language novels published between 1923 and 2005.

He created many enduring characters but his most famous were Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Nick and Nora Charles who appear in his last novel, The Thin Man published in 1934. It is widely acknowledged that’s Hammett’s time with the Pinkerton Agency had a huge influence on his work (and activism as he was involved in union busting activities in the early 20th century).

Hammett was reported to have said that his characters – and dialogue – were inspired by the people he met at this time. Scotsman Allan Pinkerton established the agency in 1850, and, by the end of the century, it had grown to become the largest law enforcement organisation in the world.

It’s hard to imagine how the sophisticated and worldly Nick and Nora Charles, with their champagne sipping cocktail bar lifestyle, could be inspired by anything that Hammett came across at Pinkerton's. However, there’s a slim chance that the adventure loving Nora, who was definitely ahead of her time and typical upper class 1930's woman, might have been inspired by one of Pinkerton’s most remarkable recruits.

In 1856 – long before Hammett was born – a young widow, Kate Warne, made history when she marched into Allan Pinkerton’s office and asked to be taken on as a detective. Pinkerton was almost lost for words and said it was not usual to hire women as detectives, but Kate was insistent arguing that: `woman could be most useful in worming out secrets in many places, which would be impossible for a male detective. A woman would be able to befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspected criminals and gain their confidence.

Men become braggarts when they are around woman who encourage them to boast. ` Kate also noted, women have an eye for detail and are excellent observers.’

Of course, Hammett never knew Kate, who died in 1868 aged 34 or 35, but he would have known the story as she became one of Pinkerton’s most trusted and successful detectives.

There’s something about Kate which reminds one of the highly individual and much-loved Nora Charles.

By Douglas Kennedy.

The Radioplay Hour: The Thin Man

Preece House, Nerang:

22nd, 23rd Feb at 7:00pm & 5:00pm

Tickets - https://www.trybooking.com/BHONI

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Gold Coast Little Theatre, Southport:

26th Feb at 1:00pm

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For more information on The Radioplay Hour visit The Drama Merchant website or call 0412 263 281

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