Dashiell Hammett was an American author and one of the most influential figures in hard-boiled detective fiction. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse). He has also written as Peter Collinson, Daghull Hammett, Samuel Dashiell, and Mary Jane Hammett Samuel.
Dashiell Hammett was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents separated early, and Dashiell was raised by his mother and grandmother.
Hammett attended various public schools in Baltimore and Philadelphia but dropped out of high school at the age of 14 to work odd jobs. Despite lacking formal education, he developed a keen interest in reading and literature.
In 1915, Hammett enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an ambulance driver during World War I. After the war, he worked as a Pinkerton detective from 1915 to 1922, an experience that provided him with firsthand knowledge of the criminal underworld and inspired much of his writing.
Hammett debuted in 1922 when his short story The Road Home came out in The Smart Set magazine. In 1929, he published his first novel, Red Harvest, introducing the character of the nameless Continental Op, a tough and no-nonsense private detective. The book was well-received and established Hammett as a leading figure in the detective fiction genre.
His most notable works include The Maltese Falcon (1930), considered one of the greatest detective novels ever written. It features the iconic detective Sam Spade and revolves around the search for a priceless statuette of a black bird.
Another significant work by Hammett — The Glass Key (1931), is known for its complex plot and exploration of political corruption and power struggles.
The Thin Man (1934) was Hammett's final novel and another highly acclaimed work. It introduces the witty and sophisticated detective Nick Charles and his wealthy socialite wife, Nora. The book was adapted into a successful film series.
Hammett's writing style was characterized by spare, realistic dialogue, gritty descriptions, and morally ambiguous characters. He was a master at crafting intricate plots and creating a sense of realism that set his works apart from many of his contemporaries.
Unfortunately, Hammett's writing career was relatively short-lived. He struggled with alcoholism and health issues, including tuberculosis. By the mid-1930s, his literary output began to decline. He served in the Army again during World War II, but his health deteriorated. After the war, he faced political persecution during the McCarthy era due to his left-wing affiliations, which affected his career and personal life.
Dashiell Hammett passed away on January 10, 1961, leaving behind a legacy of groundbreaking detective fiction that has inspired countless authors.