Dashiell Hammett was an American author of a literary style known as the hardboiled detective novels. He was born on 27th May 1894 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore with his parents Richard Thomas Hammett and Anne Bond Dashiell. He left school at the age of thirteen and worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative from 1915 to 1922. Hammett joined the army in 1918 but unfortunately came down with the Spanish flu and tuberculosis. He remained a patient in the Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Washington where he met his future wife Josephine Dolan who was a nurse.
Hammett was known as the master of detective fiction. His time with the Pinkerton Agency provided him with the inspiration for his novels. All of Hammett’s characters are derived from the people he has met or knew personally. His writing style along with the characters and the plot of his novels became immensely popular bringing a fresh vigor to pulp magazines and then to the movies and television where this genre became one of the primary ingredients of entertainment.
Hammett wrote more than eighty short stories and five novels however success in films evaded him. His novels include ‘Red Harvest’ published in February 1929, ‘The Dain Curse’ (July 1929), ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1930), ‘The Glass Key’ (1931) and ‘The Thin Man’ (1934). While he was gaining fame rapidly in the literary world his marriage was falling apart. Due to his tuberculosis the doctor had advised him to spend most of his time away from his wife and as a result the distance drew them away from each other.
In his later years Hammett fell in love with Nell Martin, also an author of short stories and novels. His novel ‘The Glass Key’ was dedicated to her. In 1931 he became romantically involved with Lillian Hellman a playwright, an affair that lasted for almost thirty years till his death. In 1942 after the ‘Pearl Harbor’ attack Hammett enlisted again by pulling some strings as he was disabled as well as suffering from TB. After serving as a Sergeant in the Aleutian Islands for some time, he got emphysema. He continued to work despite his ailing health and wrote ‘The Battle of the Aleutians’ with Cpl. Robert Colodny.
In the late 1940’s Hammett was appointed the Vice Chairman of the Civil Rights Congress. He started writing but could not continue so because of his severe health conditions. His political beliefs led him to become a target of McCarthy’s anti-Communist movement and had to go to prison for 5 months. This was not the end of Hammett’s miseries. There were claims against him for owing taxes and he was deprived of his income from any new work.
With a failing health and financial difficulties facing him he was unable to complete his autobiographical novel ‘Tulip’. Hammett went into disappearance from the public eye for nearly a decade till he died in 1961 at the age of 67. He is celebrated as one of America’s most influential authors of the 20th century.