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Red Harvest (1929) is a novel by Dashiell Hammett. The story is narrated by The Continental Op, a frequent character in Hammett's fiction. Hammett based the story on his own experiences in Butte, Montana as an operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency (fictionalized as the Continental Detective Agency). The labor dispute in the novel was inspired by Butte's Anaconda Road Massacre.
Time included Red Harvest in its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Nobel Prize-winning French author André Gide called the book "a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror."
- Part 1: "The Cleansing of Poisonville" in Black Mask, November 1927 issue
- Part 2: "Crime Wanted - Male or Female" in Black Mask, December 1927 issue
- Part 3: "Dynamite" in Black Mask, January 1928 issue
- Part 4: "The 19th Murder" in Black Mask, February 1928 issue
The Continental Op is called to Personville (known as "Poisonville" to the locals) by the newspaper publisher Donald Willsson, who is murdered before the Op has a chance to meet with him. The Op begins to investigate Donald's murder and meets with Donald's father, Elihu Wilsson, a local industrialist who has found his control of the city threatened by several competing gangs. Elihu had originally invited those gangs into Personville to help him impose and then enforce the end of a labor dispute.
The Op extracts a promise and a signed letter from Elihu that pays the Continental Detective Agency, the Op's employer, $10,000 in exchange for cleaning up the city and ridding it of the gangs. When the Op solves Donald's murder, Elihu tries to renege on the deal, but the Op will not allow him to do so.
In the meantime, the Op is spending time with Dinah Brand, a possible love interest of the late Donald Willsson's as well as a moll for Max "Whisper" Thaler, a local gangster. Using information from Brand and Personville's crooked chief of police, Noonan, the Op manages to extract and spread incriminating information to all of the warring parties. When the Op reveals that a bank robbery was staged by the cops and one of the mobs to discredit another mob, a gang war erupts.
But the Op wakes up the next morning to find Brand stabbed to death with the ice pick the Op handled the previous evening. There are no visible signs of forced entry. The Op becomes a suspect sought by the police for Brand's murder, and one of his fellow operatives leaves Personville because he is uncertain of the Op's innocence.
The Op, now wanted by the police, entices Reno Starkey, a gang lieutenant, to take on the last strong rival mob, led by Pete the Finn. The last gangs are whittled down by pipe bombs, arson, gun fights, and corrupt cops gunning down the survivors.
The Op tracks down Starkey, the only gang leader still alive. Starkey is bleeding from a gunshot wound, having just killed mobster Whisper Thaler. Starkey reveals that he was the one who stabbed Brand, and that she had collided with the semi-conscious Op so he looked like the culprit.
The corrupt police chief Noonan and the gang leaders are all dead. The Op blackmails Elihu Willsson into calling the governor, who sends in the National Guard, declares martial law, and suspends the entire police force. Elihu Willsson gets back his town, as promised -- although not in the way that he had anticipated. The Op returns to San Francisco, where the Old Man gives him "merry hell" for his activities.
- "The Continental Op", an operative from the San Francisco branch of the Continental Detective Agency
- Mickey Linehan, a detective from the Continental
- Dick Foley, a detective from the Continental
- The Old Man, boss of the San Francisco branch of the Continental
- Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville"
- Donald Willsson, newspaper publisher and Elihu's son
- Mrs. Willsson, Donald's Wife
- Lewis, Donald's assistant
- Noonan, the corrupt Chief of Police
- Tim Noonan, the dead brother of Chief Noonan
- Max Thaler, alias "Whisper," a gambler
- Dinah Brand, Thaler's girlfriend
- Dan Rolff, Dinah's roomater and a "lunger"
- Lew Yard, gangster
- Pete the Finn, bootlegger
- Reno Starkey, professional thief
- Hank O'Mara, member of Starkey's gang
- Bill Quint, an organizer for the IWW
- Robert Albury, bank teller
- Helen Albury, Robert's younger sister
- Charles Procter Dawn, criminal lawyer
Red Harvest was adapted for the 1930 film Roadhouse Nights, starring Helen Morgan, Fred Kohler, and Jimmy Durante. Many major elements of the book were changed in the film, including most of the characters' names, and the film is not considered a faithful adaptation.
Akira Kurosawa scholar David Desser and critic Manny Farber, among others, state that Red Harvest was the inspiration for Kurosawa's film Yojimbo. Other scholars, such as Donald Richie, believe the similarities are coincidental. Kurosawa said that a major source for the plot was the film noir classic The Glass Key (1942), an adaption of Hammett's 1931 novel of the same name. In Red Harvest, The Glass Key, and Yojimbo, corrupt officials and businessmen stand behind and profit from the rule of gangsters. Other films based on Yojimbo include Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing.
In the early 1970s, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci considered filming an adaptation of the novel and wrote a first draft infused with political themes typical of his work. A short while after he wrote a second draft that was more faithful to Hammett's story. For the role of the Op he considered Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, who had played a hard-boiled detective in Roman Polanski's neo-noir film Chinatown, and Clint Eastwood, who had played the Op-inspired "Man with No Name" in Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. At some point Bertolucci discussed this project with Warren Beatty in Rome. In 1982 Bertolucci moved to Los Angeles to begin production, but the project was shelved.
In popular culture
The Coen brothers film Blood Simple (1984) takes its title from a line in Red Harvest in which the Op tells Brand that the escalating violence has affected his mental state: "This damned burg's getting me. If I don't get away soon I'll be going blood-simple like the natives." The Coen's film Miller's Crossing (1990) employs stylistic and narrative elements of Hammett's Red Harvest, The Glass Key, and several of Hammett's shorter works.
- Serafin, Steven R.; Bendixen, Alfred, eds. (1999, 2003). The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature. NY: Continuum. p. 264.
- Panek, LeRoy Lad (2004). Reading Early Hammett: A Critical Study of the Fiction Prior to 'The Maltese Falcon'. MacFarland & Company. p. 122.
- Lev Grossman; Richard Lacayo (2005-10-31). "TIME's Critics pick the 100 Best Novels 1923 to the Present". Time. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
- "Books: Gide Fad". Time. 1944-04-06. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- Checklist of Dashiell Hammett Fiction
- Allen Barra (2005-02-28). "From "Red Harvest" to "Deadwood"". Salon.com. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
- Korte, Peter; Seesslen, Georg (1999). Joel & Ethan Coen. London: Titan Books. p. 96. ISBN 1-84023-097-5.
- Drake, David (2004–2008). "David Drake's FAQ". Retrieved 2008-11-16.