Lillian and Dash
by Sam Toperoff
Review by Verna Suit
Other Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781590515686
Date: 16 July 2013 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett were together for 30 years. This fictionalized biography starts when they first met and sees them through their ups and downs, professional highs and personal lows. The point of view alternates between an omniscient narrator and Hellman and Hammett themselves, with imagined dialog dramatizing scenes as they might have been. Their memories of certain events often differ, just as each gives differing versions of their relationship.
The pair lived in a heady time, beginning with the Hollywood heyday of the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, the McCarthy era blacklists, and finally Hellman's success as a Broadway playwright. The two tell lots of good stories. We learn about Hammett's military service and his work as a Pinkerton detective, and also the union sympathies that led to his being blacklisted. We accompany Hellman as she arranges to meet Hemingway in Madrid and later creates war propaganda at the request of FDR himself. Best of all are many sections that delve deeply into each of their struggles with their writing.
Lillian & Dash is not a conventional mystery, although there is a suspicious death along the way. But this meticulously researched creative account will certainly be of interest to mystery fans for the insights it provides on a seminal figure in the mystery world. Also of interest will be the reconstruction of Hammett's unlikely relationship with a woman so different from himself.