Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hammett Unwritten-Owen Fitzstephen; notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine

Hammett Unwritten

Owen Fitzstephen; notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine

Prometheus/Seventh Street, Feb 12 2013, $13.95

ISBN 9781616147143

In New Year’s Eve 1959 on Long Island, ailing Dashiell Hammett holds a .38 and his own unfinished (and unpublished thanks to a recovery) New York Times obit from a few years ago ending with the unanswered question of why he stopped writing. In 1922, as a private investigator Hammett solved the Black Falcon murder mystery; ironically his last case as a gumshoe. He also married that same year but later divorced his wife as he began a decades-long affair with Lillian Hellman. At a police auction he bought the statuette that SFPD declared a worthless counterfeit. With the Falcon on his desk, Hammett began writing short stories and ultimately five hard boiled detective novels with his last one being The Thin Man in 1934 when the Black Falcon vanished; leaving behind the mystery of why he abruptly stopped writing. He surfaces in Hollywood and becomes a volunteer victim of McCarthy’s witch hunt.

Hammett Unwritten is a fresh meta-biographical fiction that brings to life the great mystery writer. The storyline cleverly blends known facts and real persona like Ms. Hellman and Senator McCarthy (at the hearings) with allegedly the real role models of key characters from the Maltese Falcon. Although the latter feels somewhat over the top of Nob Hill especially when the talisman seekers return years later into the Hammett’s life, the Black Falcon revisited makes for plenty of fun entertainment. Hammett fans will appreciate this bio-noir as Gordon McAlpine points out in his Afterward that 1920s mystery author and writer of this piece Owen Fitzstephen is the villain in the Dain Curse.

Harriet Klausner

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