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Love may be a many splendored thing, but it sure as heck ruined Dashiell Hammett.  This story originally appeared in three installments in Liberty magazine in April, 1933.  He had met Lillian Hellman two years earlier, with whom he was to share a rather troubled but now mythical romance (and an unrepentant and slavish enthusiasm for Joseph Stalin) for the rest of his life.  The next year he published his final novel, The Thin Man, and then fell silent with a writer's block that ranks second only to that of Joseph Mitchell in legend.

Woman in the Dark is certainly not a novel; at best it's a novella and even then it feels more like the outline for a longer work.  The woman of the title is Luise Fischer, the Swiss-born kept woman of a wealthy thug named Kane Robson.  Having walked out on him one evening, she twists her ankle and stops for help at cottage occupied by Brazil, a phlegmatic ex-con, who once killed a man in a barroom brawl.  When Robson shows up with a henchmen to demand that Luise come back to him, Brazil punches the other man who bangs his head, perhaps fatally, on the fireplace mantle.    Now both Brazil and Luise have a reason to take it on the lam :

    He emptied his glass and went to the front door, where he made a pretense of looking out at the
    night.

    As he turned from the door he caught her expression, though she hastily put the frown off her face.
    His smile, voice were mockingly apologetic : 'I can't help it.  They had me away for a while--in
    prison, I mean--and it did that to me.  I've got to keep making sure I'm not locked in.'  His smile
    became more twisted.  'There's a name for it--claustrophobia--and that doesn't make it any better.'

    'I am sorry,' she said.  'Was it--very long ago?'

    'Plenty long ago when I went in,' he said dryly, 'but only a few weeks ago that I got out.  That's
    what I came up here for--to try to get myself straightened out, see how I stood, what I wanted to
    do.'

    'And?' she said softly.

    'And what? Have I found out where I stand, what I want to do?  I don't know.'  He was standing in
    front of her, hands in pockets, glowering down at her.  'I suppose I've just been waiting for
    something to turn up, something I could take as a sign which way I was to go.  Well, what turned
    up was you.  That's good enough.  I'll go along with you.'

So much for the set up, in the two sections that follow, the police track them down and Brazil is shot, but the ending suggests that everything may work out for the two who have by now fallen in love.

It's tempting to read the story autobiographically.  Two interesting and seemingly dynamic characters meet up and embark on an exciting though fairly implausible love affair, but then their story just kind of tails off into ambiguous and unconvincing anticlimax.  Despite periodic flashes of Hammett's trademark hardboiled style, the book is generally disappointing.  The conclusion of the story in particular is a far cry from the great final scene of The Maltese Falcon.  Ultimately, the book is  interesting chiefly as an indicator of where Hammett was headed just before he stopped writing, but if it's an accurate indication, we didn't miss much.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

See also:

Dashiell Hammett (3 books reviewed)
Crime
Dashiell Hammett Links:

    -ESSAY: Watching the Detective: The Falcon's cynical influence on a young reader (Peter Spiegelman, February 6, 2005, SF Gate)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)  (kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "dashiell hammett"
    -GRAVE : Samuel Dashiell Hammett, Sergeant, United States Army (Arlington Cemetery)
    -Dashiell Hammett (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page)
    -Authors and Creators : Dashiell Hammett Also wrote as Peter Collinson, Daghull Hammett, Samuel Dashiell, Mary Jane Hammett (1894-1961) (Thrilling Detective)
    -(Samuel) Dashiell Hammett (Rara-Avis)
    -Mystery Net : Mystery Greats : Dashiell Hammett
    -American Masters - Dashiell Hammett. Detective. Writer (PBS)
    -DASHIELL HAMMETT (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -Dashiell Hammett (Noir)
    -Dashiell Hammett :  A Pioneer of Noir
    -Dashiell Hammett (Spartacus)
    -Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco
    -The Continental Detective Agency :  Dashiell Hammett: biography, books and more...
    -Continental Op Page
    -The Maltese Falcon FAQ
    -Notes on Dashiell Hammett Fiction (Richard M Heli)
    -ARTWORK: Dashiell Hammett in the Dell 'map-backs'
    -LINKS : The Hammett-List WWW Page
    -READING GROUP GUIDE : The Maltese Falcon  by Dashiell Hammett (Random House)
    -ESSAY : Literary leftovers : Does even the most devoted fan really want to scrape the bottom of Dashiell Hammett's desk drawer? (David Bowman, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Genesis: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon  Chapter Two of Feminine Transgression and the Hypermasculine Response in the American Hard-Boiled Novel (Don Haynes)
    -ESSAY : Hammett Dash  A walking 'Jeopardy' question conducts his essential literary walking tour (Dara Colwell, Metro Active Books)
    -ESSAY : Before "The Thin Man" : However legendary their romance, Dashiell Hammett did his best work before he met Lillian Hellman (Dick Lochte, salon)
    -ESSAY: CRIME IN EVERY HAMLET (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "dashiell hammett (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Woman in the Dark A Novel of Dangerous Romance By Dashiell Hammett  (NEWGATE CALLENDAR, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DASHIELL HAMMETT A Life. By Diane Johnson (George Stade, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DASHIELL HAMMETT. A Life. By Diane Johnson (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of HAMMETT, A Life at the Edge. By William F. Nolan (Julian Symon, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HELLMAN AND HAMMETT The Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. By Joan Mellen (Terry Teachout, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  SHADOW MAN. The Life of Dashiell Hammett. By Richard Laman (John Leonard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Double Lives Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West By Stephen Koch (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
 

LILLIAN HELLMAN:
    -OBIT: LILLIAN HELLMAN, PLAYWRIGHT, AUTHOR AND REBEL, DIES AT 79  (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of LILLIAN HELLMAN The Image, the Woman. By William Wright (Frank Rich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LILLIAN HELLMAN Her Legend and Her Legacy. By Carl Rollyson (Helen Dudar, NY Times Book Review)

GENERAL:
    -African American Mystery Page
    -Black Street Fiction
    -Crime Writers (David King)
    -Dangerous Dames: A Timeline of Some of the Major Female Eyes (Thrilling Detectives)
    -Edgar Award: Best First Novel
    -Film Noir and Pulp Fiction
    -A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
    -Gumshoe Site
    -Hardboiled : online reference site for all things noir
    -Hardboiled Heaven
    -Hard Boiled Noir Webring
    -Martin's Film Noir Page
    -Mysterious Home Page
    -MysteryNet.com:The Online Mystery Network
    -Mystery Net Awards Page
    -No Night Sweats
    -RARA-AVIS : mailing list devoted to the discussion of hardboiled (and noir) fiction
    -The Reader's Corner presents  Female Sleuths
    -Thrilling Detective Website
    -Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang
    -Women of Mystery (Bookaholic)
    -Hard Boiled Writing from a Private Eye (A Conversation with Steven Marcus)

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