Roman Noir in Fiction and LifenRichard Layman: Shadow Man, ThenLife of Dashiell Hatnmett; HarcourtnBrace Jovanovich; New York.nby Keith BowernOy one definition, the life of DashiellnHammett could be said to have been anrousing success: any man who lives tonthe age of 67 and leaves owing the IRSn$163,286.46 plus interest need notnworry about not having had some impactnon the world. Hammett is chieflyncredited with developing the “hardboiledndick” genre of detective fiction,nand the immortalizations of Sam Spadenby Humphrey Bogart and Nick Charlesnby William Powell safely assure thatnAmerican culture will long remembernHammett.nBut the sense of failure and frustrationnimparted in Richard Layman’s literarynbiography of “D. H.” leads asphyxiatinglynto the conclusion that it mightnhave been better for Hammett if one ofnhis hellish drinking frenzies had endednhis story in 1933, when the last completenwork of his writing career. ThenThin Man, was published. Perhaps thennLillian Hellrnan, his lover and authorcompanion,nmight not have contributednto Broadway her The Children’s Hour,nbut those are the things you have tonsacrifice when contemplating euthanasia.nHellrnan’s own blurry and vaguenreminiscences of Hammett’s long declinenafter 1935 cloy with an irritatingnpathos that only a stoic from the “pitynand irony” school of American lettersncould master. She once called him an”Dostoevsky sinner-saint,” and bothnLayman’s and Hellman’s accounts ofnHammett’s life continually veer betweennthose two extremes.nThe real personality of Dashiell Ham- _nmett inevitably remains a mystery. Asnflamboyant as he was during his glorynMr. Bower is an editor of HillsdalenReview.ndays in Hollywood and New York,nHammett left an aura of privacy as impenetrablenas Sam Spade’s home phonennumber. The disappointment of Laymali’snbiography is that scarcely anythingnof importance about this man’snlife emerges from the investigation.nIn Everybody’s Autobiography GertrudenStein tells of bending Hammett’snear at a Los Angeles cocktail party inn1935. She was contrasting heroism asntreated by 19th- and^Oth-century writers.nHartimett agreed with her assertionnthat 2dth-century authors wrote chieflynabout themselves and then added somethingnthat reveals part of the reason fornthe shroud of mystery around his personality:n”He said twentieth-centurynmen lack the self-confidence of men innthe nineteenth century, and thereforenthey had to exaggerate their ownnqualities.”nThere are many vignettes of Hammettncorroborating his exaggerated selfconfidence:ndrunken Hammett emasculatingnNathaniel West in front of a golddiggernat a cocktail party; tubercularnHammett fending off a rowdy ErnestnHemingway with the suggestion that henstick to bullying Scott Fitzgerald; youngnHammett telling his boss at the Baltimorenand Ohio Railroad that he couldn’tnpromise to make it to work on time andnbeing rehired for his manly honesty.nYet Layman does nothing with thesenincidents except to collect them for futureninvestigators who may be willing tonwrestle with the Hammett mystique.nPerhaps he is wise and knows, after havingnshadowed Hammett through thencourse of this book, that there is notnenough of a payoff at the end of suchna chase to warrant more than the scattered,nliteral account presented here.nHammett’s own Continental Op probablynwould have dropped the case fornlack of sustaining collateral necessarynto cover the costs of the investigation.nStill, it would be interesting if somenEnglish doctoral candidate would findnnnout why so many of the murders in Hammett’snnovels are family matters. Thenmajority of murders are domestic in nature,nbut Hammett’s murders are notncommonly motivated. In Red Harvest,nHammett’s first detective novel afternliterally hundreds of short stories, ElihunWilson’s son is unwittingly killed by thenjealous suitor of the old man’s mistress.nSenator Henry kills his son in The GlassnKey to prevent him from harming thenlocal mob boss, who is expected to facilitatenthe Senator’s next election. Guttmannin The Maltese Falcon is killed by hisngunsel, Wilmer, whom he loves “like anson,” after having callously left thenhenchman as a sop to the police. ThenDain Curse has Owen Fitzstephan mastermindnthe murder of a dozen or so people,nincluding his cousin/lover and hernhusband, in order to possess their daugh­nter (his first cousin once removed).nJtlammett’s dark, convoluted storiesnoffer an early warning of the breakdownnof conventional Western values. Writingnabout the transvestitism, homosexualitynand flippant promiscuity in some of Ham-niS3nJanuary/February 1983n