Title: Red Harvest (Continental Op #1)
Author: Dashiell Hammett
First published on 1 February 1929
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers | Noir
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett is my first entry for #1929Club reading challenge hosted by Kaggsy and Simon.
This is the first Dashiell Hammett book I have read. If you have been following my blog for a while now, you would know I am not a fan of hardboiled mystery. I haven’t read a lot of American Mystery Classics till date – I prefer a quaint village setting for murder(s). A laid back village where nothing interesting ever happens until one fine morning (or stormy night), people hear a scream and the next day, a body is found in the moors. Before I end up writing a mystery novel of my own here, let’s get on with the review of Red Harvest.
The story begins on an interesting note. Our unnamed narrator (who goes by many ‘pseudo’ names) arrives at Personville (known as Poisonville) at the request of a newspaper publisher named Donald Willsson. Our UN (unnamed narrator, not United Nations!) is supposed to meet Mr. Willsson at his home. But when UN arrives at Willsson residence, the missus tells him that her husband hasn’t returned from work. She receives a telephone call and drives out soon after. UN is still waiting at the Willsson residence. Around forty minutes later, the missus arrives (she’s looking quite pale now and has a spot of blood on her slippers) and tells UN that her husband won’t be home.
On his way back to his hotel room, he witnesses a commotion. He learns Donald Willsson was shot dead that night and the witness saw a man and a woman walking away from the scene of crime. UN introduces himself to the chief and tells him the dead man was supposed to meet up with him.
The next morning, he visits Willsson’s father, Elihu. Elihu had, until recently owned the town. When a strike threatened his businesses, he brought in strong men. Now, the men refuse to leave. UN signs a deal (written contract and all that) with Elihu and promises to clean up the town.
The bad guys are everywhere. Even the so-called good ones double/triple cross if they are paid the right amount. Speaking of which, the deals happen in terms of thousands, if not hundreds. UN is paid 10k for cleaning up town. There’s the bad guy, good guy, nobody’s guy, everybody’s guy – this is how I remembered them names. (There were way too many names for me to remember.)
There was one character whom I found a tad amusing. Dinah Brand – she kept her men on a tight leash. More like use and throw-ish. She switches sides like there’s no tomorrow. The funniest part was, when she bargains a deal with UN and this is how the conversation goes:
“I’ll tell you for a hundred bucks.”
“I wouldn’t want to take advantage of you that way.”
“I’ll tell you for fifty bucks.”
I shook my head.
“I don’t want him,” I said. “I don’t care where he is. Why don’t you peddle the news to Noonan?”
Well, he would have got it for free had he bargained some more. 😉
To be honest, I did not like the story. I was expecting it to be a murder mystery. 20% through the story and Donald Willsson’s killer is arrested. The rest of the book is a gang war, dead bodies, more dead bodies, double/triple/quadruple crossings, money, some more shooting, more dead bodies… a Red ‘Harvest’, indeed!
I just wanted the bloody gang war, the killings and everything else to end and be done with reading this book. I don’t understand why this book is listed under detective fiction. Where is the sleuthing? Where is the moustache twirling and using them grey cells to solve the crime? Where is the bloody crime?
*takes a deep breath*
I suppose this is how noirs are. Gritty, dark, violent, and intense. Certainly not my kinda read but I am willing to give this series another try. I was told that the next book in this series, The Dain Curse, is not good. So I am planning to skip it for now.
I am planning to read The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey next. Fingers crossed. 🙂
There’s definitely a lot of blood in this one, and it took me back a bit when I read it too, even though I’ve read others by him. Hope you find some of his titles a bit more palatable!
Thanks for stopping by, Kaggsy. 🙂
I hope Maltese Falcon is better than this one. Fingers crossed.
Oh that’s a disappointing plot structure – like you, I’d want the detection to be the main thing, not something tidied away in the early section of the book.
Thanks for stopping by, Simon. 🙂
This was similar to a gang-war-related story. Having said that, I loved my second read for the challenge. A proper detective fiction. 🙂
I’ve read The Maltese Falcon which was my first hardboiled & I concur, the cosy detective stories are more my cup of tea. I did enjoy Hammett’s blunt descriptions but the detective wasn’t very likeable. I’ve since read a couple of Raymond Chandler’s books & now I definitely know what hardboiled means & it feels very American.
I was thinking of reading Maltese Falcon. What do you think? Is it worth a read?
I agree, the detective is not very likable. Also, not a fan of unnamed narrator (in a series).
I have observed that American Mysteries have a filmy setting – something we usually see in the older Hollywood movies and tv series (peter gunn and mike hammer).