Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Dashiell Hammett - Red Harvest
Red Harvest is incredibly violent. In contrast to Raymond Chandler's works and others by Hammett such as The Maltese Falcon there is a lot of killing. But what distinguishes Harvest is that the hero partakes in the slaughter. This isn't just self-defence either, there are several points when he sets up characters to be killed. The ambiguous moral position of the "Continential Op" is a key part of Red Harvest. He lies, break laws and murders his way around Personville trying to fix the larger problem - is a crime committed to prevent far worse things actually a crime?
Most of those the Continent Op encounters turn out not to think so - but then they are criminals themselves. Oddly for such a detective book there is only one major female character who is a pivot for much of the action - she is a sort of female version of the Op, playing off sides against each other, though in her case she's doing it for her own interests.
Interestingly Personville also optimises something else about 1920s America - the greed, violence and pollution of industry. Several representatives of law enforcement have been party to the murderous suppression of trade unionists from the Industrial Workers of the World. Hammett is supposed to have based this on his time in the Pinkerton agency, the model for the Continental Detective Agency that our hero represents.
This is the set up. Does it work as a novel? Its certainly not what I was expecting havnig read The Maltese Falcon. This is more action packed and more violent and less about the actual process of working out a mystery. In fact the reader, like the Continental Op's fellow detectives, spends most of the time in the dark following the hero around different scenes. The book probably betrays its origin in magazine serials far more than other stories. Reading it as a book works as an adventure story, though I was left unsatisfied by the conclusion.