Red Harvest

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This article deals with the Dashiell Hammett novel called Red Harvest. For the Norwegian heavy metal band, see: Red Harvest (band). For the bloodsimple album, see Red Harvest (bloodsimple album).

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 a Pinkerton agent.

Time included Red Harvest in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1]


The Continental Op is called to Personville (known as "Poisonville" to the locals) by Donald Willsson, who is murdered before the Op has a chance to meet with him. The Op begins work on the murder and meets with Willsson's father, Elihu, a local industrialist who has found his control of the city threatened by several competing gangs he himself had originally invited into his city to "resolve" 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. When the Op solves Donald's murder, Elihu tries to renege on the deal, but the Op won't allow him to do so.

In the meantime, the Op finds himself spending time with Dinah Brand, a possible love interest of Donald Willsson's as well as a moll for the local gangster Max "Whisper" Thaler. Between Brand and the crooked chief of police, Noonan, the Op manages to extract and spread most of the information he needs to set off a gang war among the four major local factions.

He wakes up the next morning to find Brand stabbed to death with the icepick the Op had used the previous evening, with no visible signs of forced entry. The Op ends up a suspect sought by the police for this murder, and one of his fellow operatives ends up leaving Personville because he is uncertain of the Op's innocence.

The story ends as the Op finds Reno Starkey, the only one of the four main gangsters still alive, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Reno reveals that it was he who stabbed Brand, and that when she fell she collided with the semi-conscious Op, coincidentally landing in a position which made the Op look like the culprit. Reno has also just killed Whisper, and after his own death, Elihu can restore his control over the town.


Red Harvest was adapted for the 1930 film Roadhouse Nights, starring 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 categorically that Red Harvest was the inspiration for Kurosawa's film Yojimbo; however, other scholars, such as Donald Richie, believe the similarities are coincidental.[2] Kurosawa himself stated 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 are seen to stand behind and profit from the rule of gangsters. A number of films have been specifically based on Yojimbo, including Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing.

The Coen brothers film Miller's Crossing (1990) contains stylistic and narrative elements of Hammett's The Glass Key, Red Harvest and several of Hammett's shorter works. The Coens' 1984 film Blood Simple 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."

Science-fiction writer David Drake has said that he took the plot of his novel The Sharp End from Red Harvest.[3]

Cory Doctorow reviewed Steven Brust's novel Jhegaala as "Steve Brust doing Hammett's Red Harvest".[4]


  1. ^ Lev Grossman (2005-10-31). "TIME's Critics pick the 100 Best Novels 1923 to the Present". Time. Retrieved 2008-10-19.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  2. ^ Allen Barra (2005-02-28). "From "Red Harvest" to "Deadwood"". Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  3. ^ Drake, David (2004–2008). "David Drake's FAQ". Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  4. ^ Doctorow, Cory (2009). "Brust's JHEGAALA, smart, hard-boiled swords and sorcery with great poleconomy subtext".