Hammett is probably the best. I say probably and mean most definitely. He only wrote five novels, the son of a bitch. He drank a lot and cared more for that than anything else. He also liked prostitutes quite a bit, black ones and oriental ones. This was said about him: his “behaviour could be accounted for only by an assumption that he had no expectation of being alive much beyond Thursday.”
What he brought to pulp was the first-hand knowledge of a detective. He worked for Pinkerton before he wrote; he knew the ins and outs of the worlds he created. He also perfected a style: terse, vivid but lean. It’s like Hemingway’s but without the feeling of “art”. It is pure damn storytelling.
The Dain Curse
The Dain Curse is a crazy novel. I wouldn’t ever put a first-time Hammett reader onto this one. He goes everywhere with this one.
First, he’s got his Continental Op character from Red Harvest. Through a staggering mystery, he comes up against stolen jewels, a girl with weird pointed ears, rival sisters, a religious cult, phantoms, a French ex-con, warring back-country police officials, morphine-addictions, homemade bombs, and the title “curse” to spin it all together. Somehow he does it. I don’t know how the hell he does and I don’t even care to try an’ tell you.
Here is a quote from the book. It not only serves the novel’s tone but explains the hard-boiled detective, his perspective, his purpose and position in most pulp novels.
“It sounds normal as hell to me. Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend. Thinking’s a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can. That’s why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they’re arrived, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident. And if you let it get away from you, then you’ve got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wrangle yourself out another to take its place.”