Books Magazine

Book #70: Red Harvest

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

Red Harvest is a great book.

It’s the type of novel you can sit down and read in a few hours and enjoy every minute. The story is fast-paced and strong and Dashiell Hammett’s writing is on point.

If you haven’t read any of my previous posts about Red Harvest (see them all here), here’s a quick story summary:

The Continental Op is a private detective hired by a millionaire in small-town Montana. This millionaire, Elihu Willsson, wants the Continental Op to come in and clean up a lot of the organized crime activity, including a dirty police force, that has been brutalizing the town for months.

Once the Op gets in town, guess what? You guessed it…all hell breaks loose.

A lot of people die and the good ole Continental Op is left to sort through all the damage, while attempting to keep many a bullseye off himself.

This is the original private eye detective novel. If you didn’t know any better, you might read through the whole thing and think: How clichéd! But it’s not a cliché if it was the first.

If you’ve read Raymond Chandler, who actually wrote his novels (like The Big Sleep), after Dashiell Hammett, then you’re familiar with this type of novel—you’ve seen it in the form of The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and many, many others.

Red Harvest is a true who-dun-it-style novel. It’s one of those novels with one central plot that weaves its way in and out of all kinds of plot twists and turns, leaving you wondering who killed who and how (or if) it all wraps up in the end.

It’s not just the story, but Hammett’s style of writing also reminds me of Raymond Chandler—or maybe I should say Chandler reminds me of Hammett. His dialog is sharp and pointed:

“’Who shot him’ I asked.

The gray man scratched the back of his neck and said: ‘Somebody with a gun.’”

Book #70: Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The star of the novel is this Continental Op, who uses a delicate mix of truth and deception to get people to do what he wants. It’s truly amazing the way this man uses people like puppets, without them even realizing it.

The perfect example is Elihu Willsson, who hired the Op to clean up Poisonville, then decided to call the job off. But the Op wasn’t having it. He came to clean up the town and, by God, that’s what he was going to do, even if his client wasn’t supporting him anymore.

The Op’s personality shines. He’ll provide little one-liners that can’t help but cause you to think of Bogart.

I haven’t laughed so much over anything since the hogs ate my kid brother.

Say what? The Op refers to his unnamed boss as “The Old Man” or

Pontius Pilate because he smiled pleasantly when he sent us out to be crucified on suicidal jobs.

Also referring to the Old Man, The Op says

The Agency wits said he could spit icicles in July.

All around, Red Harvest is an entertaining story—and for a novel that involves a lot of murders, it actually manages to stay relatively fun and lighthearted. Most of the blood happens off stage.

It’s not the type of novel that you’ll hear me rave on and on about—and it isn’t going to blow me away and cause me to place it super high in my rankings—but it’s just a good book.

If you want a quick, entertaining read, I’d definitely suggest Red Harvest, especially if you enjoy a good crime caper narrated by a witty detective.

Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.”

The Meaning: Red Harvest, to me, means blood is a comin’. There’s a lot of blood in Red Harvest, but not in a violent, Blood Meridian kind of way. This is 1920s detective-style novel blood. It’s classy and off-stage.

Highlights: Great, fast-paced story. Memorable characters. Hammett is a wonderful writer.

Lowlights: You have to focus on the plot because, toward the end of the novel, all the different characters and the who-dun-it nature of the story can get confusing.

Memorable Line: “’Who shot him’ I asked. The gray man scratched the back of his neck and said: ‘Somebody with a gun.’”

Final Thoughts: Great read. This is a classic detective novel, and for good reason. If you enjoy these types of detective/mystery novels and you haven’t read Red Harvest, you should remedy that today.

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