Nightmare Town 

Before there was the writer we now know as Dashiell Hammett — author of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and numerous short stories; the man dubbed "the dean of the ... 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction" — there was Samuel Dashiell Hammett, and he worked as an operative for the Pinkerton detective agency. He was earning $3 a day. He was struggling to support a pregnant wife. He believed he was dying from tuberculosis. And he was almost ready to quit the streets and try his hand at writing.

Hammett's Pinkerton years were 1915 to 1921, and in 1921 the front-page story across the country was the case of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the silent-screen funnyman accused of assaulting a Hollywood starlet in a San Francisco hotel room, which in turn, possibly led to her death. The charge against Arbuckle: manslaughter. Newspaperman William Randolph Hearst (and a sizable number of upstanding citizens) wanted him tried and found guilty. Arbuckle's defense team wanted the truth, so the team hired Pinkerton. Enter agent Samuel Dashiell Hammett.

click to enlarge Ace Atkins - BY JAY E. NOLAN
  • by Jay E. Nolan
  • Ace Atkins

Now, fast-forward to 2009 and recast this cast of characters in fictionalized form, but add in some shady Prohibition officers, some bad-time showgirls, and some creepy Hollywood hangers-on. Set them in a skillfully re-imagined (and very noir) San Francisco circa 1921, and here you have it: Devil's Garden (Putnam). It's a book Hammett himself might have wished he'd written, and it's a page-turner of a book sure to heighten the reputation of crime novelist Ace Atkins.

So congratulate the author when you meet him. He's practically a neighbor, what with the fact that Atkins lives just outside Oxford. He'll be signing Devil's Garden at Davis-Kidd on Tuesday the 14th.

Ace Atkins signing "Devil's Garden," Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Tues., April 14, 6 p.m.

For more information, call 683-9801.

click to enlarge p.25_werec2_2.jpg


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