THOUGH HE ONLY produced five novels, Dashiell Hammett became the most successful writer of detective fiction of the 1920s. In his books, which were soon defined as “hard-boiled fiction,” he introduced tough heroes who fought against the corruption of an American society that had greed and violence as its main values. Hammett was also well known for his political militancy on the American left, and his association with the Communist Party caused him to be a target of the anti-communist hysteria that pervaded American society in the 1950s.

Hammett was born on a tobacco farm in St. Mary's County, Maryland, but grew up in Baltimore where he attended the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. When he was 14, he was forced to leave school and work to help ...

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