Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paradise photographer contributes to Dashiell Hammett book


"Samuel Dashiell Hammett arrived in San Francisco summer 1921 and left in the fall of 1929. He began writing in this city, finishing . . . what stands today as his single most famous work, The Maltese Falcon." So writes Don Herron, the author of an engaging new book, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook" ($19.95 in hardcover from Vince Emery Productions).

Revised and expanded from the original edition, the book features maps by Paradise resident Mike Humbert as well as ten of his black-and-white photographs of present-day San Francisco, including the building at 891 Post Street where Hammett lived in apartment 401.

The book also includes a new preface from Hammett's daughter, Jo (who calls her father "Da-SHEEL" rather than "DASH-ull"); "On the Trail of Sam Spade" by detective novelist Charles Willeford, and an entertaining biography of Hammett by Herron himself. Most of the book is taken up with a leisurely look at more than thirty Hammett sites, including Burritt Street. Humbert provides a close-up of a bronze plaque at the same location that says "On Approximately This Spot, Miles Archer, Partner of Sam Spade, Was Done In By Brigid O'Shaughnessy."

Hammett, born in 1894, lived sixty-six years, long enough to consume vast quantities of alcohol, to be consumed by tuberculosis, to marry and beget two daughters, to carry on a three-decades affair with playwright Lillian Hellman, to write pulp stories about a detective known only as "Continental Op," to invent hard-boiled detective Sam Spade and the booze-guzzling team of Nick and Nora Charles, to be labeled a Communist, incarcerated and blacklisted, and to become one of the most famous writers of his time with novels such as The Thin Man and Red Harvest.

Herron writes that "the San Francisco of Spade and the Op is literally built of truths, rumors, and lies: places like John's Grill that are as real as a dime; . . . places such as the Alexandria Hotel or Eddis Street which have never appeared on any map of The City. Hammett's detectives move across this imagined grid of reality, rumor, and falsehood--a mysterious and dangerous San Francisco created in the pulp magazines of the 1920s that has not lost its fascination or its hold on our imagination."

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