Dashiell Hammett American Literature Analysis
Before Hammett laid the foundation of the modern realistic detective novel, virtually all detective fiction had been designed on the pattern established by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe in three short stories written between 1841 and 1844: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” and “The Purloined Letter.” The basic ingredients of the formula were simple: a brilliant but eccentric amateur detective, his trusty but somewhat pedestrian companion and chronicler, an even more pedestrian police force, and an intricate and bizarre crime. The solution of the puzzle, generally set up as something of a game or contest to be played out between the author and the reader, called for a complex series of logical deductions drawn by the scientific detective on the basis of an equally complex series of subtle clues.
According to what came to constitute the rules of this game, these clues were to be available to the detective’s companion, who was also the narrator, and through him to the reader, who would derive interest and pleasure from the attempt to beat the detective to the solution. The canonical popular version of this classical tradition of the mystery as a puzzle to be solved is the English writer Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, although purists have objected that essential information available to Holmes is often withheld from the reader, which constitutes “cheating” on the part of the author. The...
(The entire section is 3401 words.)
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