My early report is that Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories may be the best crime fiction ever written. No shock there; I'm hardly the first to rank them that high. But what I had not noticed, even in stories I'd read before, was the affinity they have with the no-nonsense deadpan of some French writers after Sartre, or with the elaborate multiple narratives of Rashomon — serious stuff, in other words, in addition to being closer to normal Detectives Beyond Borders territory. (I am also delighted to note that the Rashomon article to which I link in the previous sentence calls the movie a "crime mystery film.")
Those multiple narratives, especially — the long stories the Op and the perps tell each other in, say. "The Golden Horseshoe" or "The Girl With the Silver Eyes" — are part of what I think Steven Marcus means when says Hammett transformed detective writing in the direction of literature.
"I read Hammett largely because of the marvelous living prose style that he achieved. The dialogue and some of the descriptive prose is as alive today as when it was written in the 1920s. That for me is proof of a real writer."© Peter Rozovsky 2010