The Lost Detective
by Nathan Ward
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Released: September 15, 2015
Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
Dashiell Hammett was born in 1894, left school at thirteen, and joined the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative in 1915. He periodically worked for the agency until, in 1922, the tuberculosis he contracted during WWI forced him to retire—prompting one of America’s most acclaimed writing careers.
His childhood, his life in San Francisco, and especially his years as a detective deeply informed his writing and characters, from the nameless Continental Op—hero of his stories and early novels—to Sam Spade and Nick Charles. He would write five novels between 1929 and 1934, two of them (The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man) becoming American classics.
The Lost Detective is a biography of Dashiell Hammett. The first half of the book talked about Hammett's life before his writing career. The author searched for documents or first hand information about Hammett. However, apparently there is little known about this time except the stories that Hammett told about himself.
Hammett periodically worked for the Pinkerton's, but none of his case reports still remain and Pinkerton's strongly discouraged their employees from telling accurate stories about their work. Nathan Ward related stories that Hammett told about his detective work, compared them to known facts, and generally concluded that they were changed or embellished rather than accurate stories. But Ward describes how the Pinkerton detective methods and case report writing style influenced Hammett's detective fiction.
The second half of the book talked about how Hammett's poor health changed his life and how he got into writing detective fiction. We get details about his health, where he lived, his affairs, his writing, and what was sold to whom. It was interesting how Hammett's gritty, hard-boiled style started a new sub-genre in detective fiction. Again, Ward searched for the facts rather than settling for the legend about Hammett's life, and there was more information available for this time period.
I'd recommend this biography to fans of Dashiell Hammett who want to know more about his life.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.