Hammett, Dashiell (dəshēlˈ) [key], 1894–1961, American writer, b. St. Mary's co., Maryland. After a variety of jobs, including several years working as a detective for the Pinkerton agency, beginning in the early 1920s he found success as a writer, largely originating the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction. His stories, about 90 in all, are realistic, fast-paced, and marked by a certain sophistication and a merciless detachment. He was the creator of Nick Charles and Sam Spade, the latter being the original tough "private eye." Hammett's novels The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931), and The Thin Man (1932), are considered classics of the genre; all were made into successful movies. Lillian Hellman, his companion of many years, wrote of their relationship in Pentimento (1973) and other autobiographical works.
See posthumous collections of his stories, The Big Knockover, ed. by L. Hellman (1966), The Continental Op, ed. by S. Marcus (1974), and Crime Stories and Other Writings, ed. by S. Marcus (2001); his Complete Novels (1999); R. Layman, ed., Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett, 1921–1990 (2001); biographies by R. Layman (1984) and D. Johnson (1987); J. Mellen, Hellman and Hammett (1996); studies by W. Marling (1983) and J. Symons (1985).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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