“Dashiell Hammett’s Strange Career”

At The Paris Review, Anne Diebel considers Dashiell Hammett’s “strange career.” “In a 1929 interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dashiell Hammett described his first attempts at ‘breadwinning.’ After dropping out of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at 14, he worked as a messenger boy for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, then as a junior clerk (‘very junior’) in an advertising office, a stockbroker, a timekeeper in a cannery and a machine shop, and a stevedore until it became ‘too strenuous’—at which point he responded to an ‘enigmatic want-ad’ and was hired as an operative in the Baltimore office of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. From 1915 to 1918 and from 1920 to 1922, Hammett worked as an op. Despite the modest pay, he ‘liked gumshoeing better than anything I had done before’ and ‘sleuthing’ even more. In 1921, at 27, he got married and had a child. He needed money, and so he ‘decided to become a writer,’ he told the Eagle. ‘It was a good idea. Having had no experience whatever in writing, except writing letters and reports, I wasn’t handicapped by exaggerated notions of the difficulties ahead.’”

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