womandark“Her right ankle turned under her and she fell.  The wind blowing downhill from the south, whipping the trees beside the road, made a whisper of her exclamation and snatched her scarf away into the darkness.  She sat up slowly, palms on the gravel pushing her up, and twisted her body sidewise to release the leg bent beneath her.  Her right slipper lay in the road close to her feet.  When she put it on she found its heel was missing.  She peered around, then began to hunt for the heel, hunting on hands and knees uphill into the wind, wincing a little when her right knee touched the road.”

A short novel, most people have never heard of this Hammett work.  It’s the story of a young woman who wanders, wounded, out of the dark to a cabin.  She’s on the run and what’s chasing her soon follows and begins to hurt everyone who helps her.

This is a great example of Hammett’s work.  In fact, this story may rival both “The Thin Man” and “The Maltese Falcon” in my favorites category.  Probably because this is such a short story – it allows the author to do so little, yet the author does so much.  By the end of the tale, we have been properly terrified, horrified, and kept on the edge of our recliners in suspense.  He takes such simple sentences and uses them like deft brush-strokes to completely outline a character, a scene, and a plot.  You have no doubt about what a person is like, where they are, and what is going on – but if you look back over what you just read, there isn’t a whole lot to look back over.  Hammett is the master of blunt prose – as tough as Sam Spade but as descriptive and lovely as Nora Charles.

“Woman in the Dark” was written by Dashiell Hammett and published in 1933 in serial, and as a book in 1950.