Cars & Trucks

Behind the wheel of vehicles of all types

Dashiell Hammett — new stories from the famed crime writer

|

When we think of Dashiell Hammett, we think of the echt hard-boiled crime writer, still famous, generations later, for “The Maltese Falcon” and the Continental Op. It turns out, however, there’s a little-known Hammett connection to cars, which legitimizes this item for Topdown readers, who mostly steer (so to speak) through blog items that have more to do with shifting gears than shifty gunslingers.

During World War I, Hammett was in the Army, stationed at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, training how to be an ambulance driver. One day, things didn’t work out very well – Hammett rolled the ambulance he was driving, but fortunately no one was injured. The upshot, according to Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie M. Rivett, was that the chastened writer never wanted to drive again.

“What that led to,” Rivett said in an interview, “was a dependence on cars and drivers. When he was making money, he would hire a car, even though sometimes he wouldn’t remember to pay the bill.” That’s the car end of the Hammett saga.

More relevant, in 2013, is the fact that a new trove of previously unpublished Hammett material has just been brought out in an edition from the Mysterious Press imprint of Grove/Atlantic. Named “The Hunter and Other Stories,” the book was launched Nov. 15 during a party at San Francisco’s John’s Grill, the restaurant that is perhaps the most fitting place for anything connected to Hammett and especially to “The Maltese Falcon.”

John’s Grill, which opened in 1908, has long been a fixture for the town’s movers and shakers – their black-and-white photos crowd the dark wooden walls. Back in the 1920s, Hammett was living in San Francisco and had an office in the Flood Building, next door to John’s Grill. Hammett would eat lunch there and occasionally had his ace detective, Sam Spade, dine at John’s. The Hammett motif is still popular at the restaurant and a Falcon statue is displayed in a glass case on the second floor.

At Thursday night’s book party, Rivett and her co-editor, Richard Layman, read from “Monk and Johnny Fox,” one of the new stories. They spoke to an audience that might be more appreciative of Hammett than most – San Francisco police brass (current and retired), a couple of private detectives, some reporters and editors from the San Francisco Chronicle and at least one press agent. If he’d been in town, Hammett might well have come down from his aerie in the Flood Building and tucked into a couple of beef skewers and a martini or two.

The new book, Layman said, contains “fiction that almost no one has ever seen. It was fiction he cared about, that he carried from place to place, from the 1920s until the end of his life (1961, at the age of 66.) This was material he thought highly of, but didn’t publish.” Rivett said “he recognized that (the stories) didn’t quite fit his market,” which was mainly geared toward crime and detectives.

The book has 21 pieces – most of them are short stories, but there are also three screen treatments, two of which became the movies “City Streets” and “Mr. Dynamite.”

Layman and Rivett will be speaking more about Hammett at 11 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 16, 2013) at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., in Corte Madera.

Categories: General
miketttt@att.net (Michael Taylor)

Comments are closed.