Archive for Dashiell Hammett

Dreaming of Babylon: Thinking about Brautigan

Posted in Richard Brautigan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by gustravis

Dreaming of Babylon: Thinking about Brautigan

by Gus Edwards


I’ve just finished reading Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon (A Private Eye novel 1942) and I think it’s a doozy. It’s Brautigan which means that it’s kooky, absurd, insane, hilariously funny and completely fractured even in the way the novel is constructed. Now those should be reasons enough to recommend it, but in addition to all those virtues I have to add another. And that is respect. Because in spite of its absurdities the novel adheres to the traditions of the genre with a respectful degree of intelligence and affection.


The story is told in the first person by the Private Eye of the subtitle a Mr. C. Card who might just be the worst PI in the business. Of course just as he’s feeling completely down and out, along comes a job. He is hired by this beautiful blonde with a seemingly bottomless capacity for beer. She is accompanied by a murderous looking bodyguard/driver referred to as “The Neck”. The job is to steal a body from the San Francisco City morgue and deliver it to them at midnight in an appointed graveyard. Card takes the job because he’s been down so long that a job, any job, looks like up to him. He owes his landlady six months back rent, his mother eight hundred dollars and because he has no car so he has to take public transportation to get him from one place to another. He can’t afford cabs. That’s how bad things are.


But our Mr. Card is no ordinary down-and- out Private Eye. He is a man who exists fully on an alternative mental plain. A city not unlike San Francisco where he is a tough guy detective in the Dashiell Hammett’/Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler/ Phillip Marlowe tradition. Where like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, who came along later, he has a sexy, knockout secretary who’s crazy for him.  So where everything’s wrong for him in San Francisco, everything’s right for him in Babylon. And much of the novel’s narrative is addressed to him balancing these two plains of existence.

Now as we go through the story we come across a plethora of curious characters. His mother, his landlady, a peg-legged manager of the city morgue, a tough cop (Sgt. Rink)that no criminal should ever want to encounter and a couple of Femme Fatales that neither Bogie or Dick Powell ever had to deal with. Then there are some thugs who seem to come right out of Laurel and Hardy or a Mack Sennett movie.


This is the 5th or 6th Brautigan novel I’ve read and I’ve loved them all. He makes me laugh with his unexpected turns of phrases and lines of dialogue. I can’t think of too many writers I can say that about. And whenever I’m reading one of his novels I always find myself asking; “Why hasn’t somebody made a film out of this?” But when I think about it some more I realize that most of the humor and the originality in his work is in both his idiosyncratic use of language and the attitude he brings to the enterprise. Both would be difficult if not impossible to translate onto film. Brautigan, in his novels and short stories too, often incorporates a kind of American “magic realism” that critics don’t always credit him for and appreciate. But it’s there in books like The Hawkline Monster, Sombrero Fallout and others. It is here in Dreaming of Babylon too. And he makes it work in a way that defies all expectation.

He may be gone but the books are here to be read and re-read, to treasure and to laugh about. Richard Brautigan was a one-of-a-kind talent. And it’ll be a millennium before the likes of him appears on the literary horizon again. Check him out if you haven’t already. He’s a pip.


Pulp Fiction Bumper stickers – Part One

Posted in General Pulp with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2011 by gustravis

Pulp Fiction Bumper stickers – Part One 

I have always felt that there should be bumper stickers taken from hard boiled pulp fiction and films. Here are some I would start with.

Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle. – Jim Thompson (author of The Grifters and other books.)

When the phone rang Parker was in the garage killing a man. – Richard Stark (author of the Parker series including Point Blank)

“Who shot him?” I asked…The grey haired man scratched the back of his neck and said: “Somebody with a gun.” – Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon and other books)

“I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived for a few weeks when you loved me.” – Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele (In a Lonely Place -1950).

There will be more in the future. And please send in any that you think of. I would love to add them to the list. – GE.

Sam Spade/Blond Satan

Posted in Dashiell Hammett with tags , , , , , on February 20, 2011 by gustravis

A flicker of thought at the end of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon:

Bogie wasn’t mean enough. No way. Sam Spade, a.k.a. a blond Satan, has yet to be realized on screen, perhaps something that is impossible. It’s too tough for the pictures.

By the way, the part when he takes O’Shaughnessy in the bathroom and makes her take off all her clothes: true pulp moment.

Ellroy on Hammett

Posted in Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy with tags , on July 5, 2010 by gustravis

As I am in between both writers right now, done with The Dain Curse and not quite done with Ellroy’s Clandestine, this article where the modern writer discusses the pioneer of the genre seems an urgent addition.   The entire piece can be found here:

But I’d like to draw some excerpts that highlight the qualities I like in Hammett too.

“Hammett’s male-speak is the gab of the grift, the scam, the dime hustle. It’s the poke, the probe, the veiled query, the grab for advantage. It’s the threat, the dim sanction, the offer of friendship cloaked in betrayal. Plot holes pop through Hammett’s stories like speed bumps. The body count accretes with no more horror than pratfalls in farce. It doesn’t matter. The language is always there.”

“Hammett’s workday men risk peril for trifling remuneration and never question the choice. The great satisfactions of the job are the mastery of danger and the culling of facts to form a concluding physical truth. These facts comprise the closing of the case and thus the story. Hammett’s men stand hollowly proud in their constant case conclusions. They are in no way affirmed or redeemed. They have survived. They are hopped-up versions of the schmuck clerk who got through one more shift at Wal-Mart.”

Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Posted in Dashiell Hammett with tags , on June 27, 2010 by gustravis

Dashiell Hammett

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.”

James Ellroy: Clandestine

Posted in James Ellroy with tags , , , on June 21, 2010 by gustravis

The opening line of James Ellroy’s Clandestine:

“During the dark, cold winter of 1951 I worked Wilshire Patrol, played a lot of golf, and sought out the company of lonely women for one-night stands.”

Ellroy is the only writer included in these journals yet who is still alive.  I like him.  He calls Dashiell Hammett one of the best writers ever.  He thinks Raymond Chandler is a pussy.  He’s a peeping tom, a pervert, a dog-lover, a pulp-writer.

More to come from his 1982 novel Clandestine as I discover it.