As I read Red Harvest I envisioned a movie with stars I've only seen on late night television—Edward G. Robinson or Peter Lorrie. How much of this book is based on Hammett's prior occupation as a Pinkerton detective is interesting to contemplate.
A Continental Detective Agency "Op", is sent to "Poisonville" —which is a mining town in Montana—possibly Butte. When a newspaper editor, Donald Willson, intent on cleaning up the town is murdered his father hires the "Op". The town is corrupt, including Elihu Willson, Donald's father. The cast of characters who navigate around the town is priceless. There's a series of crooks, a corrupt police chief, thugs who fight the union and Dinah Brand—a femme fatale and a lover of money. She also has amassed squalid information about most of the characters in the story.
The police chief's brother had been murdered many years before and another strand of the story explores who is responsible for his death. Criminals are played off against one another as the "Op" and two additional agents—Foley and Linehan track down leads. Bootleggers appear, a warehouse is bombed, the "Op" is drugged and ends up alongside Dinah who has an ice-pick in her breast.
If you're looking for a logical plot this may not be the book for you. What makes this book a wonderful fun read are the plethora of characters that walk in and off stage. Add to that the language.
"I had done two-thirds of the distance when an automobile came down towards me, moving fast, leaking gun-fire from the rear."
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