No, this book isn’t about farming in communist Russia.
The Continental Op travels to Personville, USA following an invite from the editor of the local newspaper, but upon the Op’s arrival, he finds out that his host had been gunned down in cold blood. Just another day in Poisonville. When Personville’s most powerful man enlists the help of the Op by floating a cool ten grand his way, the Op puts forth a plan to clean up the town once and for all.
The plot of Red Harvest although simple and straightforward, is a strange one. The Continental Op – his true name is never revealed – is certainly taking a hell of a risk for what seems like very little reward. Sure, he’s getting a hell of a payday out of this job but the odds are overwhelming that the only way he’ll be leaving Personville is in a box, so why stick to it? Does he get off on going up against the odds? Is he just that stubborn? However, the Op being a man of conviction, I suppose nearly getting gunned down must make your blood boil.
Hammett might just be the most influential man in crime fiction. He’s been listed as a major inspiration for Raymond Chandler, George Pelecanos, The Coen Brothers, Duane Swierczynski and many others in the way he pioneered what would become known as the hard-boiled style. It’s amazing to think that what Hammett presented in Red Harvest was something completely new and fresh – the man basically created the entire genre with this novel!
Hammett’s Red Harvest moves at the speed of sound leaving a pile of corpses in its wake. But I must confess, I had some trouble following the events as they unfolded. The basis of the Op’s plan involved turning all the rival gangs in Personville on one another and that could only be done by playing sides coupled with a whole hell of a lot of back stabbing. It was hard at points to remember where certain characters stood and believe it or not, who was alive and who had recently bit the dust. There’s a lot of death in these pages, people.
I liked this a great deal more than The Thin Man. I’ll have to get my mitts on The Dain Curse.