"You may be right," he said, hesitantly. "About pain and death being the things men fear. But in one form they might frighten him beyond reason, while in other forms, he might be able to face them quite calmly. Fear isn’t a reasonable thing, you know." ACTOR (reading from "So I Shot Him")
It’s terse. It’s polished. There’s crime.
It’s never been published — until now.
Fifty years after Dashiell Hammett’s death, a national mysterymagazine is about to publish a long-lost story by the father of the hard-boiled-detective novel, and fans are giddy with excitement.
The story, "So I Shot Him," is one of about a dozen of the San Francisco writer’s pieces that were never printed anywhere. Word is that, unlike many works authors choose not to publish, this 12-page thriller is high-quality and complete.
Hammett died of lung cancer in 1961 at the age of 66. But as in any good mystery, but his story doesn’t end there.
ANDREW GULLI: It was in a way unlike anything Hammett had ever written.
That’s Andrew Gulli, an editor at the Michigan-based mystery magazine The Strand. Back in the fall, Gulli was going through the author’s papers at the University of Texas at Austin, where they’re archived, when he came across 14 unpublished Hammett pieces.
GULLI: I was amazed that I’d found 14 pieces of fiction that were written by Hammett that had never before been published before.
And, Gulli says, there was one that particularly caught his eye: a completely polished gem.
GULLI: A lot of Hammett’s stories have clear-cut endings. With this story the ending’s not so clear-cut. You could almost describe it as a psychological thriller.
The Strand is publishing the story under the title "So I Shot Him." And now, half-a-century after the author’s death, the revelation has crime fiction fans on the edge of their seats.
JULIE RIVETT: We’ve known those stories are there. They’ve been kind of a secret treasure trove stashed away in Austin, Texas.
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie Rivett, met recently with members of the author’s society to celebrate the release of "So I Shot Him." They went to John’s Grill, one of Hammett’s favorite haunts in San Francisco’s financial district.
The Hammett Society gathered in a dining room flanked by dark brown oak-paneled walls, a black foot-tall statuette of the Maltese Falcon perched regally before them.
RIVETT: The general public has never had access to this material. So we’re really excited to provide another little nugget of Hammett gold.
San Francisco book publisher Vince Emery was one of the first to preview the story.
VINCE EMERY: It’s a very good story.
Emery published the book Lost Stories in 2005. It’s a collection of 21 up-to-then unpublished Hammett stories. He says Hammett’s writing packs a wallop.
EMERY: He’s a writer’s writer. Other writers admire his writing style, which is like a school of martial arts, which believes that the correct hit is invisible. Your opponent should fall without you seeing his hands move. That’s the way Hammett writes. You have an emotional impact and you’re not quite sure why or how.
RIVETT: It’s a credit to the power of literature to see people are still so excited to see this stuff coming out so far after his death.
Again, Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett.
RIVETT: It makes us as the family very happy and I hope it’ll make the readers happy too.
Maybe happy, maybe intrigued. As they lean back to read it in a dusky corner of a forgotten office somewhere in San Francisco, a ceiling fan turning slowly above, a small bottle of gin in a drawer and half a pack of Lucky Strikes on the table. That’s the hard-boiled stuff of Dashiell Hammett. And it’s back in business.