Reshma Thomas writes in to ask:
Have you ever read any works from Dashiell Hammett? If so, what do you think of him as a person and as a writer? Are there any authors that remind you of him?
I have had limited, but enjoyable experience with Hammett's work. He was a very talented and influential writer -- his book The Maltese Falcon in particular had a huge effect on the development of popular fiction in the U.S.
He essentially created the genre of the American detective novel -- a distinct, more realistic and harder-edged form than that of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes -- and helped to garner literary regard for the mystery novel more generally.
All the subsequent American detective writers, from Raymond Chandler to Mickey Spillane and John D. MacDonald, all the way up to Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, owe him a debt. You can see echoes of what Hammett created in all of their works.
Hammett drew in some ways on his personal life -- where he had been a Pinkerton detective -- in his writings, but I don't know much about his life other than that.