Books: He Was His Own Best Whodunit

SHADOW MAN: THE LIFE OF DASHIELL HAMMETT by Richard Layman Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 285 pages; $14.95

Everyone knows about private detectives. Few realize that these tough-talking loners, made familiar through countless novels, films and television serials, were mostly cloned from a prototype invented during the 1920s by Samuel Dashiell Hammett. He is not a familiar figure, and in fact never was. His trade was writing mysteries; he kept the plot of his own life story largely to himself. He confided little to his lovers and less to his friends. Legal authorities, interested in his...

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