Sunday, February 17, 2008

Listen to Rhino

With all the crush of holidays, books from publishers both big and small, and the one-damned-thing-after-another of everyday life, I haven't gotten around to raving about a new book from Vince Emery Productions, a San Francisco house which specializes in noir.

George J. "Rhino" Thompson is a true original in the world of crime literature, called by Julian Symons "one of the most intelligent critics of Hammett's work." (Symons was no slouch himself; he also wrote an early Hammett biography.)

Rhino's doctoral dissertation on Hammett at the University of Connecticut led him to change his career from university English teacher to police officer. He wrote the best-selling Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persusasion, founded the Verbal Judo Institute and got lots of TV time.

Previously only available serialized over seven issues of The Armchair Detective magazine in 1973, HAMMETT'S MORAL VISION is arguably the single most influential book-length analysis of Dashiell Hammett's novels. Spanning all sections of his career, the book discusses five novels: The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, and The Thin Man. Detailed analysis shows how the author and his work changed over time. Each novel is discussed in its own chapter with comparative criticism, and there is a list of resources for further reading and research. Additionally, this compiled text includes a new chapter in which the author discusses the impact Hammett has had on his own life.

The best thing about Thompson's book is the absence of that boring, occasionally condescending tone which "serious" critics often adopt when discussing crime fiction. He writes, clean, clear, refreshing prose about a man who changed the way we think about the genre.

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