Thursday, May 19, 2016

Five top books set in company towns

Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. Her new novel is Company Town.

One of Ashby's five top books set in company towns, as shared at
Red Harvest

When I set about writing Company Town, one of the first novels I read in preparation was Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. I liked it so much I even tried to include a quote from it in the novel: “This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” Red Harvest is short and brutal. It takes place in a company town called Personville, which the residents call “Poisonville.” Hammett uses his experience as a former Pinkerton detective to tell the story of the “Continental Op,” a private dick brought in by a newspaper reporter who naturally winds up dead. Hammett himself was on the side of organized labour: he joined the Communist Party, and he submitted to a prison sentence rather than give up the names of contributors to the Party. Both he and his partner, playwright Lillian Hellman, were blacklisted.

Dashiell Hammett is the mind behind both The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon. His works were ideally suited to film thanks to his masterful control of point-of-view and perspective within the prose. Hammett works his words like a camera: we see what Sam Spade (or the Continental Op) sees, but that gaze never once peers within. The distance between what a Hammett anti-hero feels and what he actually tells you creates a sense of tension and dread within every story. It’s like jazz: it’s the notes you don’t hear. Also, Hammett has the best cure for a sleepless night in the world: a cold bath and a colder gin.
Read about another entry on the list.

Red Harvest is among Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels and 88 books that shaped America.

--Marshal Zeringue