Oct 11, 2007

The language is always there

"Hammett wrote the man he feared he might be - tenuous and sceptical in all human dealings, corruptible and addicted to violent intrigue. He stayed on the job. The job defined him."

"Detective work was by nature prosaic. File prowls, blown tails, attenuated stakeouts. Crime stories demanded near-continuous action. File prowls must yield revelation. Blown tails must provide climax. Stakeouts must further plot. Hammett knew this going in: crime fiction was preposterous melodrama with a gnat-sized reality base. Never had there been a single case rife with multiple shootouts, homicidal seductresses and wall-to-wall mayhem succinctly resolved at tale's end. Hammett had to fit social realism into a suffocatingly contrived form. He did it with language - densely spare exposition and multilayered dialogue. He gave us a spell-binding male discourse - The Manoeuvre as moral crusade, the job holders' aria and torch song. Hammett's male-speak is the gab of the grift, the scam, the dime hustle. It's the poke, the probe, the veiled query, the grab for advantage. It's the threat, the dim sanction, the offer of friendship cloaked in betrayal. Plot holes pop through Hammett's stories like speed bumps. The body count accretes with no more horror than pratfalls in farce. It doesn't matter. The language is always there."

          - James Ellroy on Dashiell Hammett