Russ Gifford
Connecting Regional History with National History... by Telling the Stories of Individuals

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Wondering if Zoom would work for you?

Try this Zoom recording of "
The Private Investigator – An American Original."
Zoom Recording - An American Original

This outing, we will investigate the development of the uniquely American private detective novel. Along the way, we will use these books to view America at a moment in time when everything seems to be changing fast – the 1920s.

The first half of the program features pictures and places of ‘where we were’ in the 1920s when Hammett was formulating this American art form that will spread around the world!  

The Private Eye: America's Contribution to Literature

In October of 1923 Dashiell Hammett places in the pages of Black Mask magazine "Arson Plus" - the first Continental Op adventure. The story is told in first person narrative with sparse, direct action statements. The writing commands your attention. We the readers see it all through the eyes of a thirty-something operative for the Continental Detective agency, a man whose name we will never know. We experience every step as the case unwinds, and feel not only the excitement of the chase, but also the Op's sore feet.

This honest if overweight Operative - the Op - will win over the readers with smart decisions and keen observations. The Op will go on to star in 28 stories and two novels!

 With "Arson Plus," "Slippery Fingers," and "Crooked Souls," all following in quick order in the pages of Black Mask, Hammett begins to create a new wholly American detective story, with new rules, new expectations, and new style. Within a year, he is already the accepted master of the new genre of action oriented detective stories with 'hardboiled' operatives whose see the world through clear eyes in the unromantic era following the Great War.

From 1920-1940, Hammett started with the characters Continental Op, Sam Spade, and the Thin Man. Raymond Chandler then followed in Hammett's footsteps with the character Philip Marlowe. These stories set readers on the edge of their seats in the 1920s, both in books and in the subsequent movies. "The Maltese Falcon" was filmed three times before they found the right person to play Sam Spade. Bogart put his stamp on Spade, and then went on to play the ultra-cool Philip Marlowe in Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”

Today, more people know the movies than the books, but it was the authors that created this new form of fiction. We will see how these characters, and this new art form took over the world. Along the way we will answer how the books compare to the movies, and what influence do the books, characters, authors, and stories have on our time? That is the mystery we are attempting to unravel as we investigate the Private Eye: America's Contribution to Literature!

       "Russ is outstanding. He uses numerous, flexible learning approaches to accommodate the adult learner. His students consistently comment on his mastery of material!"
– Dr. Lyn Brodersen, Scott Community College

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