DASHIELL HAMMETT: A LIFE
by Diane Johnson
Random House; 344 pages; $17.95
He was a Pinkerton operative in his 20s. In 1921 he shadowed Comedian Fatty Arbuckle, implicated in the death of a starlet, and noted: "His eyes were the eyes of a man who expected to be regarded as a monster ... I made my gaze as contemptuous as I could." It could have been the stuff of hard-boiled detective literature; instead it was the stuff of hard-boiled detective life: the life lived by Dashiell Hammett, creator of The Thin Man and The...