Hammett: Book Reviewer

How about we kick off February with The Return of Terry Zobeck?

Terry took a little time off there from blogging (hey, so did I), but he’s back with another exploration down an interesting byway of Hammett studies — the book reviews:

There’s a new website, Unz.org (named after its creator Ron Unz), featuring scans of several thousand magazines and pulps, three of which feature content written by Dashiell

Hammett had been a published author for just over two years when he
began writing book reviews, first for The Forum, then The Saturday
Review of Literature
, and finally for the New York Evening Post.

Unz.org has posted scans of two of the three reviews Hammett wrote for The
and all of those that appeared in 26 issues of The Saturday Review
of Literature
between 1927 and 1929. Only a handful of these reviews have ever been reprinted (five appear in Richard Layman’s Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, along with excerpts of seven of his reviews from the New York Evening Post).

Unfortunately, the third review for The Forum, “Genius Made Easy” from
the August 1925 issue, is not posted; it’s the one missing from my collection,
so I don’t know the title of the book he reviewed.

Most of the reviews are short, wry pieces that quickly summarize the
plot and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the book — usually more of the
latter than the former. One of my favorites is his opening sentence of the
review of Carolyn Wells’ The Tannahil Tangle: “This carelessly put-together detective story deals with our old friend murder-in-the-practically-hermetically-sealed-room.” Even in 1928 the locked room had become a tired plot device.

Here’s his plot summary of Augustus Muir’s The Shadow on the Left: “Most of the things that happened were dark-of-the-moon expeditions among burns, cairns, castles, crags, crypts, dikes, gillies, glens, lochs, moors, and other Scottish appurtenances.”

While most of the authors whose books Hammett reviewed are long forgotten, several are still remembered and many are still read, including Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers,
C.S. Forester, S.S. Van Dine, J.S. Fletcher, Edgar Wallace, and Baroness Orczy.

I can’t help but wonder if Frederic Dannay ever knew that Hammett reviewed the first Ellery Queen novel? Of the Queen father and son detective team Hammett wrote, “They are agreeable enough, if somewhat too coy and too chorus-like in their repartee.” In summing up the story he noted “this is a competent piece of work for those who like their detective stories straight”.

Below I’ve listed all of Hammett’s reviews posted on Unz.org. The link
above will take you to the home page of the site. It is a pretty straightforward job to navigate through the site to the Hammett material.

Start by clicking on the “periodicals” button. This will take you to a page with a number of options. The fifth line is a menu for the titles; clicking on the appropriate capital letter button will take you to all of the titles starting with that letter: “F” for The Forum and “S” for The Saturday Review.

You will then see an alphabetical listing of the magazine titles. Click on the appropriate title; this will take you to a display of all the issues available arranged by year. Simply find the right year and click on the image. You will then find a page of all the available issues for that year. Scroll down the list until you find the issue you want. In the case of The Forum, each page is indexed. For example, select 1924 and scroll down to the November issue. You will find that the last entry is Hammett’s review.

Simply click on the link and it will bring up a PDF of that page.

For The Saturday Review, for which most of Hammett’s reviews are anonymous, after you’ve called up the relevant issue, it is easier to find his reviews by inputting the page number — which I’ve provided in parentheses at the end of each entry below — in the “jump to” box at the top of the page. You can increase the font size of the PDF with the “PDF size” button at the top left of the page.



The Forum

November 1924                      “Mr.
Hergesheimer’s Scenario” — Review of Balisand
by Joseph Hergesheimer (p. 720)

January 1927                          “The
Cabell Epitome” — Review of The Music from
Behind the Moon
by James Branch Cabell (p. 159)


The Saturday Review of

January 15, 1927                    “Poor
Scotland Yard” — Reviews of False Face
by Sydney Horten; The Benson Murder Case
by S.S. Van Dine; The Malaret Mystery
by Olga Hartley; Sea Fog by J.S.
Fletcher; and The Massingham Butterfly
by J.S. Fletcher.  (p. 510).

March 19, 1927                      The Story of Scotland Yard by George
Dilnot (p. 668)

April 16, 1927                        “Guessers
and Deducers” — Reviews of The Affair in
by William Johnson; The Kink
by Lynn Brock; and Aurelius
Smith — Detective
by R.T.M. Scott (p. 734)

May 21, 1927                          “Current
Murders” — Reviews of The House of Sin
by Allen Upward; All at Sea by
Carolyn Wells; The Girl in Black by
Victor Bridges; The Tattoo Mystery by
William LeQueux; and The Victory Murders
by Foster Jones (p. 846)

June 11, 1927                          The Lost Adventurer by Walter Gilkyson
(p. 901)

December 10, 1927                Reminiscences of an Ex-Detective by
Francis Carlin (p. 439)

February 11, 1928                  Mysteries of the Missing by Edward H.
Smith (p. 599)

April 21, 1928                        Great Detectives and Their Methods by
George Dilnot (p. 810)

October 13, 1928                    The Man Who Killed Fortescue by John
Stephen Strange; The Fatal Kiss Mystery
by Rufus King; Hurrying Feet by
Frederick F. Van De Water; Wilderness
by Foxhall Dangerfield; The
Quartz Eye
by Henry Kitchell Webster; and Perishable Goods by Dornford Yates. (p. 251-253)

October 20, 1928                    The Clever One by Edgar Wallace and The Daughter of the Hawk by C.S. Forester (p. 282)

October 27, 1928                    The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
by Dorothy Sayers; The Shadow of
by J.S. Fletcher; and
The Shadow on the Left
by Augustus Muir (p. 301)

December 1, 1928                  The Tannahill Tangle by Carolyn Wells
and The Wrist Mark by J.S. Fletcher
(p. 440)

December 8, 1928                  Blind Circle by Maurice Renard and
Albert Jean and The Prisoner in the Opal
by A.E.W. Mason (pp. 492 and 493)

December 22, 1928                Skin O’ My Tooth by Baroness Orczy (p.

December 29, 1928                Monsieur X by Robert W. Sneddon (p. 559)

January 5, 1929                      The Female of the Species by H.C.
McNiele (p 576 and 578)

January 12, 1929                    Murder Mansion by Herman Landon and Murder Island by Wyndam Marlyn (p. 591)

January 26, 1929                    Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and
Helen Simpson (p. 630)

February 9, 1929                    Murder at Sea by Richard Connell; The Burning Ring by Kay Burdekin; Phantom in the Wine by Jean Stark; and The Case with Nine Solutions by J.J.
Connington (pp. 669-670)

April 27, 1929                        Miasma by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding; The Linden Walk Tragedy by Foxhall Daingerfield; and Hooch by Charles
Francis Coe (p. 961 and 962)

May 4, 1929                            Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L.
Sayers (p. 983)

September 7, 1929                  The Needle’s Kiss by Austin J. Small (p.

September 21, 1929                Murder at Bratton Grange by John Rhode
(p. 164)

October 5, 1929                      The Monster in the Pool by Armstrong
Livingston (p. 223)

October 12, 1929                    The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen
(p. 262)

October 26, 1929                    Mystery of Spanish Hacienda by Jackson
Gregory (p. 324)

The Unz.org site also includes scans of the old leftist weekly, The New Masses (p. 23).
Hammett wrote two “letters to the editor” in this magazine — neither have ever
been reprinted. The first, from the December 16, 1941 issue, is entitled “A Communication to All American Writers” and urges Congress to declare war on Germany and Italy following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (by the time of publication, this had already been done) since “Our war is with the entire fascist Axis, not with one end of it.” Hammett signed the letter as the President of the National Board of the League of American Writers.

The second letter appeared in the May 19, 1942 issue (p. 21) and is entitled “Help Them Now.” As the Chairman of the Exiled Writers Committee, Hammett pleads with American
Writers to provide financial support to 25 “exiled anti-Nazi authors” now living in North America. He writes: “We have provided their food and lodging since they arrived, but we have no money for them next month unless you come to their rescue again.” He then selects seven authors to highlight, noting their specific plight and the amount of
monthly support they require; the authors include Anna Seghers, Effon Emoin
Kisch, Paul Westheim, Ludiviff Renn, Bruno Frei, Aladar Tamas, and Theo Balk.

Within a few months, Hammett took a more active role in the fight against fascism; by
September 1942 he somehow talked his way into the U.S. Army for the second

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