I write and review crime fiction and thrillers and teach fiction writing and publishing at SSU.
Featuring the nameless detective the “Continental Op” the lead in Red Harvest lay the foundation for the hardboiled detective archetype. The Op is hired by a newspaper magnet’s son and forced into action immediately upon arrival in Poisonville, a mining town in Montana, when he learns his client has been killed. He begins working for the victim’s father, promising to clean up a dirty town full of bent cops, teamsters and rival hoods. The Red Harvest of the title refers to the blood-letting which ensues.
It’s not great on plotting but big on atmosphere and brilliant dialogue. On a deeper level, scholars have discussed it in terms of being an allegory about organised labour, and even a Marxist critique of capitalism. Later on the newspaper man was seen to be a coded version of George Hearst, the Montana mine-owner whose son William controlled California newspapers and politics in Hammett’s day.