The three classic novels published here in one volume are rich with the crisp prose, subtle characters, and intricate plots that made Dashiell Hammett one of the most admired writers of the twentieth century. A one-time detective and a master of deft understandment, Hammett virtually invented the hard-boiled crime novel. In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade, a private eye with his own solitary code of ethics, tangles with a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. The Thin Man introduces Hammett's wittiest creations, Nock and Nora Charles, who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. And in Red Harvest, Hammett's anonymous tough-guy detective, the Continental Op, takes on the entire town of Poisonville in a deadly war against corruption.
Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Marys County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereaftermessenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkertons Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammetts later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story "Tulip," which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the "Op," a nameless detective (or "operative") who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled molda bit like Hammett himself.
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