So you think you have read everything by the master of detective fiction, huh? You’ve read The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, Red Harvest, and the rest of Hammett’s detective novels and think you’ve read it all? Well, you haven’t.

Just when you thought the well was dry and there was no more from the pen of this quintessential wordsmith there comes a collection of some of the best short stories that Hammett penned in his short, bright writing career. Pick up Nightmare Town (1999, Knopf) and you will find 20 of some of Hammett’s best short detective fiction. In a 12-year writing career, Hammett wrote over 100 short stories for magazines such as Black Mask, Collier’s, and The American Magazine, as well as his well-known novels.

One of the interesting things about this collection is the broad display of characters. When one thinks of the literary writing of Dashiell Hammett, the Continental Op immediately comes to mind. Here in Nightmare Town, you will be introduced to a variegated display of fictional characters. In the title story, the protagonist is a rough, whiskey drinking adventurer who carries an ebony walking stick which he wields with great effectiveness.

“A Man Named Thin” highlights a detective with a poetical slant to his style. “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” and “Afraid of a Gun” are both written in western settings, instead of the expected San Francisco area. “His Brother’s Keeper” is a story narrated by a brutish boxer. You will find three Sam Spade stories here that hum with Hammett’s staccato pace of telling a tale. “The Assistant Murderer” is a tale chock-full of action right out of the pages of the pulps.

Those are just a few of the pearls in this compilation. Hammett’s style of prose is biting, harsh and most of all realistic. The most telling proof of Hammett’s contribution to the genre of detective fiction is that his characters come to you full-fleshed and telling you like it is in a realistic picture. Hammett was a literary genius. He brought crime out of polite society into the real world where it belonged. Pick up Nightmare Town. You won’t regret it.

Authored by Robert D. Wheadon.

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