Category: Red Harvest

Gateways To Geekery: Classic crime fiction

Geek obsession: Classic crime fiction

Why it’s daunting: The roots of American crime fiction go all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe, but like science fiction, the genre exploded with the pre-World War II rise of the pulps, magazines like Black Mask and Weird Tales, which were printed on cheap paper, and written and published by people who were often after a quick buck more than they were interested in lasting, quality literature. Which means there’s a metric ton of the stuff out there, even if you focus solely on the golden age of crime fiction, and much of it is just awful—clichéd, tawdry tales penned by hacks. But just as H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories lived alongside a mountain of garbage in their original magazine appearances, there’s gold to be found in the old-school noir stories as well.

Possible gateway: Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest

Why: Of all the many fine writers who made their name in the pulps, Hammett ranks among the very best, with a lean, diamond-hard prose style that’s part of the DNA of just about every important piece of crime fiction that came afterward. He’s also one of the few who not only wrote it, but lived it, and Red Harvest springs directly from his experience as a strike-breaking detective for the Pinkerton Agency in the 1920s. Also, and not inconsequentially, Red Harvest is a hell of a ride. Set in a corrupt Western mining town nicknamed “Poisonville,” the novel follows a tarnished, grizzled detective—never named, and known by fans as The Continental Op—who is hired to solve the murder of the son of the tycoon who supposedly runs Poisonville. In actuality, the town has been carved up by cutthroats and mobsters, and the Op decides the only thing to do is tear the whole rotten, stinking thing down by force, powers-that-be be damned. The book is short enough to be finished in a single evening, with a nonstop mix of gun-blazing action and eminently quotable, tough-talking dialogue. Here’s the Op, declaring that he isn’t going away easy: “Your fat chief of police tried to assassinate me last night. I don’t like that. I’m just mean enough to want to ruin him for it. Now I’m going to have my fun.”

Originally published April 9, 2009 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

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