Wednesday, May 19, 2010

JDM on Hammett

Some might say, heresy...

From a 1981 interview with with Dick Lupoff, published in the JDM Tribute issue of Mystery Scene Reader.

Q: Were you a great admirer of Hammett?

A: Not awfully. I think that Hammett and Chandler and Kane [sic] and Horace McCoy, who wrote They Shoot Horses, Don't They and No Pockets in a Shroud, they cleared the way for the well-written pulp story in that they did characters through action and dialogue rather than saying, "He was a very stubborn man," which is bad writing. They would show him being stubborn. The prose style of Hammett is certainly a more solid and a more artful style than that of Chandler. But he was an idiot as far as plots are concerned. If you want to drive some high school or college kid nuts, make him do an outline of the plot of The Maltese Falcon. It's incredibly mixed up and nothing ever happens the way it's supposed to. But the flow of the narrative is such that you're caught up in it and you believe it. But you can't believe it if you try to dissect it.


  1. It's surprising that JDM should be so dismissive of Raymond Chandler since the first-person narration style of the Travis McGee novels owe so much to Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels.

  2. That surprised me too. There are plenty of JDM quotes where he praises Chandler, and I know the two of them exchanged correspondence at one point. I suppose all he is really saying here is that Hammett's prose is more "artful" than Chandler's. Not that I would agree...