This damned burgís getting me. If I donít get away soon Iíll be going blood-simple like the natives.
—The Continental Op
Red Harvest is a seminal novel by Dashiell Hammett, first published in 1929. It is narrated by The Continental Op, a recurring character in Hammett's world. The novel has had a great deal of influence on later fiction ranging from samurai films to noir. Being called to the mining town of "Poisonville" (actually Personville), the Op discovers that the city is being run down by criminal gangs. The detective is hired to clean up the place, and mayhem ensues.Red Harvest is thought to have been an influence on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo, and combined with The Glass Key is a heavy influence on the Coen Brothers' noir film Millers Crossing. Red Harvest also coined the term Blood Simple (after which the Coen Brothers' film debut is named); the phrase refers to the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations.Red Harvest is not related to Star Wars: Red Harvest or Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination.
Alas, Poor Villain: Reno, the last villain to die, is mortally wounded and tells his story to the Op as a way of staying brave. The Op understands and seems sympathetic.
It's possible to feel somewhat sorry for Noonan by the time he dies, considering that he had a legitimate, if misdirected, reason to hate Whisper and genuinely wanted to make peace with other feuding parties.
Amoral Attorney: Charles Proctor Dawn is little more than a crook and blackmailer.
Big Beautiful Woman: Dinah Brand, though to the Op she's more of a Brawn Hilda (he describes her as large— taller than him, though he's admittedly on the short side— and strong, with thick, muscular legs that constantly make her stockings run).
Big Eater: Dinah Brand occasionally talks about how hungry she is. At one point she demands that the Op take her out for an enormous quantity of chow mein.
Black and Gray Morality: Our protagonist is an anti-hero working for a ruthless industrialist who came to power using unscrupulous means. The antagonists are corrupt cops and gangsters that worked for the industrialist.
Code of Honour: Despite his rather questionable means, the Op does have his own code that he follows. It is for this reason he refuses personal payment for the job. He insists that Elihu bill the Continental Agency instead.
Frameup: Several, including who killed Donald Willsson, Tim Noonan, and Dinah Brand. The Op does this to Noonan during the "peace conference" by saying the Police Chief knew all along that Whisper was being framed for Tim's murder. Noonan knew nothing about it at all.
Merchant Prince: Elihu Willsson, the "Czar of Poisonville.". A powerful and rich industrialist, he had influence over half of California and is the de facto rule of a city until he lost control of the corrupt officials and gangs that helped him put down a worker's strike.
Mob War: Two of the factions are traditional mob gangs, and another a bootlegging operation. Once Noohan gets picked off, the gangs are the only sides left in action.
No Indoor Voice: Elihu, who bellows so loudly that the Op often scolds him for it. At one point he puts his fingers in his ears until Elihu quiets down.
We don't learn the Continental Op's name, nor does anyone refer to him as "the Continental Op."
The Continental Detective Agency's leader is known only as the Old Man.
Only in It for the Money: Dinah admits freely that she's only ever interested in money. She provides the Op with the intel he needs (even on her former boyfriend Thaler), but only in hopes of him paying her. They bicker over the price constantly.
Peace Conference: After a series of incidents, the various factions plus the Op meet in an attempt to end the bloodshed. The Op uses this as an opportunity to further escalate the violence.
Phrase Catcher: As noted above, the name of the town is Personville, but as the Op says in the first line of the novel, Poisonville is a lot more apt.
Pinkerton Detective: The Continental Detective Agency is a thinly-veiled expy of the Pinkertons.
Town with a Dark Secret: The reason why criminals and dirty cops rule Poisonville— they worked for Elihu to stop a union strike. Since they know his dirty secrets, Elihu doesn't bring in the authorities to clean up the town.
Set a Mook to Kill a Mook: One of the Trope Codifiers. The whole point of the conflict is to get the gang leaders (who know Elihu's secrets) to kill each other. Once they're out of the way, the industrialist is set to call in the authorities.
She Cleans Up Nicely: The Op notes that Dinah actually does look attractive once she's earned some money, gets a fur coat and cleans herself up.
Stout Strength: The Op states that some of his 190 pounds is fat, but not all of it. Dinah Brand can throw a pretty good blow too.
Throwing the Fight: As part of a plan, the Op contacts a boxer paid to take a dive. Using some blackmail, the Op convinces the boxer to win instead.
The Unfettered: The Continental Op will get the crooks he's after, no matter what it takes or how many laws he has to break.
The Vamp: Dinah Brand, who's apparently gotten the favors of quite a few men in town. However, the Op is thoroughly unimpressed by her appearance and powers of persuasion.
War Is Hell: The conflict between the various factions gets very violent, sometimes explosively. It actually gets to be too much for Noonan, who was willing to give in to any demand in the end.