Richard Layman is pretty forthright and upfront in his Introduction to THE HUNTER AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of entirely uncollected and (mostly) unpublished stories by Dashiell Hammett that span his literary career from beginning to end. As Layman hastens to tell us, there are no Thin Man stories, Continental Op tales, or pieces that comfortably would have been included in Black Mask magazine. There is what appears to be the opening pages of an unpublished Sam Spade story, which, for aficionados of Hammett’s work, makes picking up this volume worthwhile all by itself. But there are other gems in THE HUNTER as well, including a treatment that was commissioned for a film but not used, at least initially. More on that in a minute.
THE HUNTER AND OTHER STORIES is obviously a labor of love. Layman and co-editor Julie M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter, take a scholarly approach to organizing these stories, most of which see the light of day for the first time in this collection. They are divided into four sections --- “Crime,” “Men,” “Men and Women” and “Screen Stories” --- with the Spade fragment, “A Knife Will Cut for Anybody,” included in an Appendix. Each section contains an exhaustive introductory commentary that discusses the background of each story presented. These are instructive from a historical standpoint, but also ultimately constitute important reading for aspiring authors, given that they detail Hammett’s frustrations during the course of his literary career.
"THE HUNTER AND OTHER STORIES is obviously a labor of love. Layman and co-editor Julie M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter, take a scholarly approach to organizing these stories, most of which see the light of day for the first time in this collection."
Ultimately, though, readers will come for the stories, and there are indeed some great tales that stand up well some eight decades after they were first written. One of the crime stories, “The Diamond Wager,” is a reverse caper story, a bit awkward in its execution but suspenseful nonetheless. Then there is “Magic,” from the “Men” section, a caper story of a decidedly different sort, in which it is a matter of the heart and not the execution of a crime that provides the tale’s impetus. However, it is a story titled “Week-End” that may be the most complex one in the book. It is found under the “Men and Women” section and is a coming-of-age tale of sorts, involving a woman whose rendezvous with a lover in San Francisco signals an end, but a beginning as well. It presents, as do many of these stories, a side of Hammett that most of us have never seen, and is accordingly somewhat startling, if quietly so.
What is ultimately my favorite inclusion is a lengthy film treatment titled “On the Make,” commissioned and initially rejected as a movie. Hammett reworked it a bit into the version presented; it was ultimately sold and, with significant changes, made into the film Mister Dynamite, which quickly faded into obscurity. The changes are unfortunate, as “On the Make” is quite entertaining, featuring a detective who is less a rumpled knight than a good-natured and confident conman who plays his clients and their adversaries against the middle. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hammett’s treatment, as presented here, faithfully executed at some point with George Clooney or Bruce Willis at the wheel.
Rivett indicates in her Afterword that THE HUNTER AND OTHER STORIES is probably the last collection of “new” Hammett stories that we are likely to see. If that turns out to be the case, this collection is certainly a worthy monument to an important and brilliant literary career, one that reveals a heretofore hidden side to one of America’s most important fiction authors.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 22, 2013