If you're a film buff at all (and I make but the modestest claim to that title) you know this story. It's
Maybe it's just because I've been paying a lot of attention to Erik Loomis's occasional history of American labor, but the prominence of labor-capital tensions is what really impressed me about this book, this time through. I mean, first of all, a thriller that even acknowledges these issues, even as a subtext, seems unthinkable today in America. The labor point of view has been all but banished from our popular culture. But in Red Harvest it's there; not that the Continental Op himself is much more solid with the working man than his myriad action-hero successors, but the corrupt fiefdom he's there to topple, or at least stir up, is so clearly meant to be a stand-in for the authoritarian, exploitative early-20th century model of American capitalism. Which, of course, is looking quite familiar again today.
That's another thing that makes Hammett literature, in my book. He doesn't just assume, unargued, a corrupt system against which his hero is counterposed; he argues it, depicts it in full menacing flight. This isn't "a thrilling detective story," for all the quaint claim of the original cover. It's a carefully-framed and -focused view of a whole society. All of America (all of humanity, I guess, given the on-the-nose place name) as Personville.