Hammett Unwritten (as Owen Fitzstephen)

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The great mystery writer and former private detective Dashiell Hamett once told a reporter from the New York World: “All my characters are real. They are based directly on people I knew, or came across.” The Maltese Falcon…based on fact? Hammett Unwritten imagines the story that Hammett never published — his actual recovery of a violently sought after, falcon-shaped statuette in his last case as a P.I. and the defining impact the obsidian bird effects on the rest of his life and the lives of all who seek it.

Lacking jewels and dismissed as a counterfeit, the statuette comes into Hammett’s possession as a mere memento of the closed case. It is only years later, after the now-famous author of The Maltese Falcon has parted with the “worthless” obsidian bird, that he first hears rumors suggesting it possesses metaphysical qualities that correspond to a powerful, wish-fulfilling black stone cited in early-Christian, Hindu, Arabic, and Egyptian legend.

Ordinarily, Hammett would respond to such a yarn with mere incredulity. But he cannot deny that his life has changed since losing the black bird (five acclaimed novels and dozens of stories written in the time the statuette served as a paperweight on his writing desk, but nothing in the months, then years, then decades, since its loss).

Hammett, the blocked author, becomes entangled again with the crooks and scam artists from the old case, each as complex and dangerous as his or her fictional counterparts, each still interested in the “real” black bird and the talismanic power it possesses — from San Francisco in the Nineteen-thirties, to Hollywood at the height of its glamor in the Forties, to new York City after the Second World War, to a Federal Penitentiary at the time of the McCarthy hearings, and finally, to a Long Island estate and a midnight confrontation between the dying Hammett and the beautiful former lover for whom he refused to “play the sap” years before, who proves now to be both his most formidable rival and his last hope.

REVIEWS:

“Stories within stories, mysteries within mysteries, characters within characters, birds within birds, writers within writers within writers. I know this for sure: I very much enjoyed reading Hammett Unwritten.”

-The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper

“It’s a sort of literary conceit-within-a-conceit-within-another-conceit, and it succeeds very well. Readers who prefer to just focus on the story at hand will be rewarded with an exciting tale with a compelling protagonist (Hammett was a real-life larger-than-life character), and those who enjoy literary games-playing will have fun sorting it all out.”

Booklist, December 1, 2012

“[An] imaginative mashup of meta-mystery with meta-biography…. Fans of Hammett and noir ought to enjoy requisite shocks of recognition.”

Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2012

“[T]he kidding with the author’s identity is typical of the misdirection and sly twists that drive Hammett Unwritten’s crazy-quilt plot. … Hammett’s encounters with [his] bunch yield more than enough funny business to keep the story boiling merrily along. …what is even more tantalizing is the book’s take on Hammett’s personal demons, especially his monumental case of writer’s block.”

Toronto Star, March 24, 2013

“Invents a credible backstory that weaves actual people and episodes from Hammett’s life together with a fanciful tale of the Black Falcon that explains Hammett’s thirty-year-long case of writer’s block.”

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, August 2013

“This mash-up of biography and mystery novel is fascinating…”

Mystery Scene Magazine, April 2013

“Hammett Unwritten is full of brilliant one-liners and twists. Even a hardcore fan who’s read a biography or two might be surprised by all the details. Facts are cleverly sandwiched among a dozen falsehoods, and by the end a reader almost buys the half-truth that Owen Fitzstephen wrote this novel. Mystery lovers, especially hardboiled fans, should appreciate this satisfying con and double-cross perpetuated by Gordon McAlpine.”

   -San Francisco Book Review

Hammett Unwritten delivers solid mystery writing and tries several unexpected things…and somehow makes them all work…. Hammett Unwritten accomplishes the next-best thing to writing the unwritten—it satisfies the insatiable longing for another Dashiell Hammett novel… In a way far more satisfying than the truth could ever be, it also answers the nagging question of why Hammett never wrote another book. What’s remarkable…is McAlpine’s unfailing and seemingly instinctive knowledge of what fans of Hammett—and other famously blocked writers—most want to know…. [It] gives his life the hard-boiled second act it most certainly deserved.”

Paste Magazine, March 12, 2013

“[I]t’s fun to go along with Hammett as [McAlpine] investigates the legend. Fans of Hammett’s work–and The Maltese Falcon in particular–should enjoy the many references to his work and the novel’s blending of fact and fiction. In the end, it almost doesn’t matter what’s true, only that it’s a story well told.”

Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review, February 15, 2013

“Everything is a homage to Hammett and his works and life shaken together — the good and the bad — to create a story that will keep the reader riveted to the pages…. Hammett Unwritten tells a story but raises questions about the nature of fiction and those who create it that will stay with you long after you finish the book.”

Gumshoe Review, February 2013

“The author has a particular gift.… The clever ending had me riveted. The Maltese Falcon is one of the best Hammett stories out there, and the author couldn’t have created a more fun ode to one of the fathers of hardboiled mystery.”

Crime Fiction Lover, February 8, 2013

“Anyone who has read The Maltese Falcon, or seen the movie – and that’s all of us, isn’t it? – will want to read Hammett Unwritten. It’s a great read and you’ll enjoy playing games with Gordon McAlpine, following the twists and turns of his quirky mind. He may be right. The novel is clean and terse. It could have been written by Hammett. Highly Recommended.”

I Love a Mystery, February 28, 2013

“Gordon McAlpine has created not just a pastiche or a homage, but rather a refreshing, brisk, yet fully and brilliantly realized work in the form of Hammett Unwritten—a work that is nearly perfect and manages to pay homage to Hammett’s celebrated work, while still being an incredibly engaging read for the uninitiated…. [An] inspired tale that delivers as expertly drawn meta-fiction and a compelling mystery.”

Reviewing the Evidence, March 2013

“Great fiction causes the reader to reconsider everything he’s learned about the various ‘fictions’ that have come before, and I challenge you – nay, I dare you – to read Hammett Unwritten and not reach the same realization I did: you can never – ever – think about The Maltese Falcon in the same way ever again.… HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  I loved it from start to finish…. You owe it to yourself to pick this up and read it today.”

Lunch.com, April 11, 2013

“A fresh meta-biographical fiction that brings to life the great mystery writer. …Plenty of fun entertainment…Hammett fans will appreciate this bio-noir.”

MBR Bookwatch, April 2013

“If you seek an excellent portrayal of Hammett, if you like noir, or the trials and tribulations of writers and artists during the McCarthy era, then Fitzstephen’s Hammett Unwritten is highly recommended.”

Historical Novel Society, May 2013

“[A] spectacularly original novel…Hammett Unwritten is a brave and risky business, playing games with such a beloved and iconic literary work, but the author succeeds in making his wild story credible and fascinating.”

The Mysterious Bookshop Newsletter, Otto Penzler’s Favorite, September 2013

 

 

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