Hammett: “The Diamond Wager”

DFW Oct 19 1929It’s been over two years since Terry Zobeck did a quick run-through of how many Hammett stories had seen print, that far, preparing himself to dive in to check on editorial meddling by Frederic Dannay. Of all the stories then known, one was still lost — and two more had never been reprinted.

“The Diamond Wager” is one of the two, and I notice that Evan Lewis has tracked down a copy of the issue of Detective Fiction Weekly it appeared in and tossed some scans up on his blog. If you’re curious, hey. . . .

Evan mentions that Vince Emery has pushed a theory that the story isn’t, in fact, terrible — that it is a highly clever satire by Hammett of the Gentleman Thief sub-genre of crime fiction, blah blah blah. I’ve personally had Vince try to sell me on this idea. Sorry. Yeah, it might be some experiment trending in that direction, but it just doesn’t work for me at all. A dud.

If you didn’t know Hammett wrote it, you’d never know Hammett wrote it.

What Hammett did at his best was carve out something new, not just try to replicate the standard stories other people were writing in the era, so he could sell to this pulp or that pulp. If that’s all he’d attempted, we wouldn’t be on this subject today.

(The same idea came up during the last PulpFest, on the panel about Robert E. Howard. By the end of his brief life Howard had managed to break into better pulp markets such as Argosy, crafting stories — such as “The Dead Remember” — which would pass muster with the best material in those pages. But if that’s all he’d done, Howard would be just another forgotten if major pulpster, writing fiction that met the needs of the audience of that day, and not ours. Because he broke free and created his own sub-genres — Sword-and-Sorcery, the Weird Western — Howard remains current, and highly influential.

(I thought of this idea again as I glanced last week over reviews of Man of Steel, where some complained that Superman in this latest version is just too brutal, too dark. Guess those folk never read my “The Dark Barbarian” from 1984, where I laid it all out. Instinctively, Robert E. Howard understood a dark reading of pop culture was the reading to have — maybe some day films of Conan will catch up with what he was doing in the 1930s. Meanwhile, his influence spreads ever wider, even unto Superman.)

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