Library of America has Dashiell Hammett’s story, “Creeping Siamese” as it’s story of the week. ‘Based on the scantiest of evidence—a red silk sarong—the detectives, including the Continental Op, begin working under the assumption that they should be looking for ‘brown men,’ that is, Asian immigrants. ‘This short story operates as a counter to the Yellow Peril narratives that appear regularly in all forms of popular media after the success of Sax Rohmer’s character Fu Manchu,’ writes Brooks E. Hefner, most recently the author of Black Pulp: Genre Fiction in the Shadow of Jim Crow. ‘The Op’s skepticism of such an easy solution—and its politics—demonstrates the hard-boiled challenge to the nativist impulses of the 1920s.’ Similarly, Sean McCann in his book Gumshoe America notes that Hammett makes his point ‘almost polemically,’ particularly with the disquieting scene that ends the story. ‘Hammett uncovers the scapegoating fantasies of foreign-adventure fiction and its Klannish analogues,’ McCann contends. ‘Race, the story implies, is an empty but potent fiction.’ What makes that fiction potent is how groundless stereotypes and racist fears guide not only white law enforcement officials but also the public—or as the Op crossly puts it, ‘God knows what a jury would make of it!'”
Read more here.
Hammett is my literary idol, full stop. Guided by his vast life experience, he wrote powerful stories directly and with minimal adornment. You can keep Hemingway, Hammett did it better and with far less toxic masculinity. Hammett also lived what he preached, choosing prison over naming names before HUAAC. Nearly 50, he reenlisted to fight for his country in WWII, though he spent nearly all of it editing a small military newspaper in Alaska. Like all of us, Samuel Dashiell Hammett was a complicated cat, an idealistic cynic, a man of action felled by tuberculosis, an honorable adulterer (his wife Josephine would not get a divorce but understood his long-term relationship with Lillian Hellman, an ambivalent artist.
I have many inspirations for my writing style, but Hammett is the biggest; it is not even close. 🙂