This book is clearly a labor of love. Its editor, Vince Emery, is also the publisher, and he obviously took great pains to be sure the book was carefully designed and constructed.

It contains twenty-one stories—though in a handful of cases calling them stories rather than vignettes is stretching the point—not all of which are mystery/crime tales, the type of story for which Dashiell Hammett is most famous. Some display Hammett’s more “literary” side, harbingers of those aspects of his later work that readers and critics have seized upon to justify his “legitimacy” as a writer of substance and significance—as if any justification were needed! Some—e.g., “Laughing Masks”—are wonderful examples of pulp action/suspense stories. Many have not been seen since they first appeared in print. Others have been reprinted, but in abridged or extended versions,  depending on the whims of presumptuous editors. Fred Dannay is mentioned more than once as being notorious for “editing”—which is to say trimming—the works of established authors he reprinted in Mystery League and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Perhaps the most intriguing point Emery makes is that Hammett became a writer from necessity rather than from compulsion. There was absolutely nothing in his past to indicate even the slightest literary inclination. That he was never a hack but rather a conscious craftsman who took pride in his work (as his fictional sleuths took pride in theirs) is further testament to his achievements. Despite Carroll John Daly’s preceding him into the pages of Black Mask by a matter of weeks, it is Hammett who genuinely deserves to be called the father of the hard boiled mystery* story, perhaps even of the truly American mystery story. Three-Gun Terry Mack and, subsequently, Race Williams, in Daly’s clumsy prose, brought a fanciful wild-west sensibility to urban settings, whereas Hammett’s carefully-wrought plots and prose rendered them more real and more believable.

Hammett’s importance as an influential Twentieth Century writer, as Emery points out, is undeniable. (A debate has apparently raged for years about who influenced whom, Hammett or Hemingway. I’ve long felt that in The Glass Key, which I consider his greatest novel, Hammett outdid Hemingway at his own game. According to the evidence Emery provides, Hammett published quite a number of short stories before Hemingway arrived on the scene.) Like Raymond Chandler, whom I’d also nominate as a major influence on many of his contemporaries and successors—originators and imitators alike—both in and out of the mystery field, Hammett’s style and vision has had a profound effect on writers in America and around the world.

Lost Stories is highly recommended.

*I use the term mystery here in its broadest sense, since not all of Hammett’s crime tales contain fairly-clued puzzles.

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