Friday, September 18, 2015

FFB: Five Books Reviewed by DASHIELL HAMMETT


My thanks once again to Misters Herron and Zobeck for unlocking the secret (HERE) of locating Mr. Hammett's columns in The New York Evening Post. This one is from the issue of May 10, 1930.

THE MAN OF A HUNDRED FACES. By Gaston Leroux. Macaulay. $2.
THE YORKSHIRE MOORLAND MURDER. By J.S. Fletcher. Knopf. $2.
LADIES' MAN. By Rupert Hughes. Harpers. $2.
THE CASE OF THE MARSDEN RUBIES. By Leonard R. Gribble. Crime Club. $2.
THE FORGOTTEN CLUE. By H. Ashton-Wolfe. Houghton Mifflin. $3.

“THE MAN OF A HUNDRED FACES" deals with the adventures that befell Albert Rose, a young Parisian lawyer. Engaged to defend Charles Durin, a valet, who has stolen his master's stickpin, Rose finds himself entangled in the affairs of notorious Mr. Flow, whose sobriquet is the book's title. By trickery and blackmail and finally by his infatuation for beautiful Lady Helen Skarlett Rose, the perfect congenital dupe, is involved in burglaries, murders, chases all over France and parts of Scotland, wins and loses millions at Deauville, is hidden aboard a yacht by three amorous ladies, has to swim ashore when he fails to respond to some of their advances and—except for some dull pages of Scottish folklore toward the last— gives the reader with a taste for light French melodrama in the Arsene Lupin manner as pleasant an hour or two as he is likely to find elsewhere. Not exactly believable in any of its parts, and not meant to be, "The Man of a Hundred Faces" has suaver motivation—and a plot which, for all its intricacy, requires less credulity—than most. 

 IN “THE YORKSHIRE MOORLAND MURDER" the week-dead body of Dr. Charles Essenheim, wealthy American collector of old books, is found at the foot of Harlesden Scar in Yorkshire. His nephew and his secretary, with the help of Inspector Kimberley of Scotland Yard, learn that on the day of his death Dr. Essenheim had bought two books worth more than thirteen thousand pounds. The books are gone. Methodically, piecing together information obtained here and there, the three men slowly arrive at a solution that comes as a surprise chiefly because one of the people at whom most suspicion points is actually guilty. This is not as good as some of Mr. Fletcher's previous stories, but there is nothing in it to disappoint his more faithful followers.

“LADIES' MAN” is a mystery story by virtue of the advertisement on its jacket and the transference of twenty-four pages from their chronological place in the book to the front; otherwise it is the story of the life and loves and murder of James Darricott, a sort of Don Juan of Park Avenue, who is supported by one woman, wooed by her daughter, and loved by a beautiful maid newly home from slaying lions in Africa. It is the stuff movies are made of, with gorgeous pageants, wild doings in night clubs, lovely gowns that need three or four pages for their purchasing and donning and neither subtlety nor consistency of characterization to hamper its adaptation to the screen. It is written in Mr. Hughes's unfortunate later style, hysterically at the top of his voice

“THE CASE OF THE MARSDEN RUBIES" is a muddled story devoid of excitement and suspense, with a mystery that the police could have solved in a day or two simply by grabbing most of the suspects and hanging on to them. A couple of weeks after the disappearance of the Marsden rubies, valued at £120, Sir Dudley Marsden is found dead in an alley, murdered. His face has been burned away by acid. That is a nice set-up and there are additional satisfactorily gruesome materials—a one-eyed Chinese (though his dialect seems partly Italian), recurring pictures of a hawk pecking at an eyeless skull and so on—but it all degenerates into a lot of hooey about the Russians, false mustaches, reversible coats, monotonous police-detail, a fight with a submarine, various runnings around in circles and the saving of dear, old England from the Reds once more. You can afford to skip this one.

“THE FORGOTTEN CLUE" is, for all its author's apparent knowledge of the subject, largely Sunday-supplement stuff. Its sub-title is "Stories of the Parisian Surete, With an Account of Its Methods," but when Mr. Ashton-Wolfe gets out of the laboratory, where his chief interest lies, he has an annoying habit of backing away from the details with a cautious reference to the difficulty of describing "the methods by which the police hunt down a criminal" without "giving information, by which they may profit, to the legions of the underworld.'' The result seems to prove that the difficulty is in Mr. Ashton-Wolfe’s case insurmountable. He also has a habit of indulging in careless generalities that are not quite worthy of a one-time assistant to Bertillon. "The greatest enemy of true justice is circumstantial evidence." Pure black hair "is found only in Spain and the East." "As the ear is the hallmark of the hereditary criminal, so the mouth reveals the professional crook to the trained observer." "Women never try their hand at forgery." Tch! Tch! Tch! 

Recommended: "The Man of a Hundred Faces."

[The following is in answer to a letter received by the Literary Review from Mr. E. L. Smith of D. Appleton & Company, objecting to a review of "Marked Cancelled" which appeared in this column April 26.] (and on this blog HERE.)

Mr. E. L. Smith
D. Appleton & Co.
New York City.

Dear Mr. Smith.
     All right. I'm perfectly willing to take your word for it that "Marked 'Cancelled' " was published on the fourth of the month and that Miss Lincoln did find the stamp. I still think it was swell publicity, and, honestly, there is an out-dated stamp among the story's clue. You'll find it on page fifty.
                                              Sincerely,
                                              DASHIELL HAMMETT.

6 comments:

Richard R. said...

At least there as one he liked this time!

Stephen Mertz said...

You're doing a wonderful service by making these accessible. Good work! Love these Hammett reviews.

Evan Lewis said...

They sure ain't boring.

Mathew Paust said...

The first time I saw the word "hooey" in print was in The Maltese Falcon. The second time was in these reviews. Great find!

John said...

Rupert Holmes accused of writing "hysterically at the top of his voice." Excellent! I've read hundreds of books by other forgotten writers written in the same mode from the same period and later. I'm so glad that Hammett found it irritating at the time of publication.

I've always disliked that nonsense about the physiognomy of a character's face being a telltale sign of their criminality or amorality. Thick lips equals sensuality, large nose means avarice, an enormous brow indicates low intelligence and brutishness. Good to read Hammett knew it was BS too.

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