We’re so pleased to have author TA Moore joining us today to Stand Up for Your Right to Read. TA talks Dashiell Hammett and the mystery genre, and she’s also offering a giveaway of one of her all-time favorite mysteries–an e-copy of Rhys Ford’s Murder and Mayhem, book one in the Murder and Mayhem series.
The go-to book to reference when talking about censorship is, of course, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. However, today I want to pull a quote from a different genre classic, George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of 1984:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
For me this quote, specifically the last line, captures what censorship is all about. Censors claim that they are protecting the vulnerable, morality, the fabric of society. What they are truly protecting, however, is an ideology that is so compromised it cannot defend itself against the introduction of ideas.
I mean, Ireland’s original censorship board was actually called the ‘Committee on Evil Literature’. That’s the sort of hyperbole that betrays a lot of fear (albeit one stirred up in the mire of our national subconscious, since the Minister of Justice at the time actually opposed state involved in censorship).
Interestingly, there are dozens of detective magazines that were banned — by both the Committee on Evil Literature and their more subduedly named successor the Censorship of Publications Board — supposedly to avoid a preoccupation with crime and violence. It’s not, though, that surprising. The hard-boiled detective genre that came of age during the Great Depression in the US, is an uncompromisingly subversive genre.
Previous incarnations of the genre could be quite conservative, all about the unthreatening middle-to-upper class detective restoring the social order. However, the hard-boiled detective — who was birthed and nurtured in the pages of publications like Black Mask — was the reflection of a much more cynical population, one that didn’t trust the government or the established social order anymore.
In detective novels such as Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett and Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes, society was exposed as irretrievably, willfully broken. The property-owning bourgeoisie were corrupt, and the American Dream was undercut by racism. The detective protagonists might strive to right the wrongs they encountered, but were frequently overwhelmed or even corrupted by the world around them. They offered no solutions, no comforting assurance that someone would fix everything, but rather posited that there was no solution to be had.
It is in fact surprising that more detective literature didn’t find itself banned. As it was, enough did–from Bret Easton Ellis’ anarchic American Psycho to Sherlock Holmes (in the Soviet Union, for occultism!).
Hammett is one author whose work was the target of censorship in his homeland (Himes was only banned, I believe, in Australia), and it was more than just the content. As well as being a writer, Hammett was a veteran, an ex-Pinkerton, a communist, and the Chairman of the Civil Rights Congress.
The last was what got him into trouble, when Hammett was imprisoned for six months for refusing to provide Senator McCarthy the names of the people behind the CRC bail fund. Or possibly for refusing to admit he didn’t know the names, depending on much faith you put in writer, and Hammett’s lover, Lillian Hellman’s veracity.
A few years after his imprisonment, Hammett’s novels were blacklisted for being pro-Communist. The man who is often credited for creating the hard-boiled detective genre, was now hounded and harassed for his work.
Even then his legacy, of course, was beyond McCarthy’s reach. There are few writers in the detective genre that would deny Hammett his place as one of the greats.
As for me, I’d say go and read Red Harvest. It’s my favourite of Hammett’s books, and you can see why someone would want to censor it. It is beautiful, spare, and turns the social structure of Poisonville on its head, exposing the wealthy residents as corrupt and venal while the criminals are hard-working, honest in their way, and fiscally responsible. It’s a brutal kick to the world that Hammett saw himself existing in.
Or if you’d prefer a bit more romance (although, I always felt bad boy Max Thaler has a bit of a thing for the Continental Op) then why not enter my giveaway for Murder and Mayhem by Rhys Ford, who I happen to know shares my fondness for Hammett.
All successful bunko men come in time to believe the world, except for themselves, is populated with a race of human sheep who may be trusted to conduct themselves with true sheeplike docility.
- “Zigzags of Treachery” by Dashiell Hammett (published in Black Mask, 1 March 1924)
About the Author
As a small child TA Moore genuinely believed that she was a Cabbage Patch Kid and no-one had told her. This was the start of a lifelong attachment to the weird and fantastic. These days she lives in Northern Ireland and her friends have a rule that she can only send them three weird and disturbing links a day (she still holds that a DIY penis bifurcation guide is interesting, not disturbing).
TA Moore believes that adding ‘in space!’ to anything makes it at least 40% cooler, will try to pet pretty much any dog she meets and once lied to her friend that she had climbed all the way up to Tintagel, when actually she’d only gotten to the beach and chickened out. She writes about vampires, werewolves and ghosts (*whispers* ‘in space!) and once wrote zombie erotica to prove it could be done.