Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett: Podcast Episode by Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett: Podcast Episode by Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929) marked Hammett’s transition from short stories to novels. His portrayal of the Continental Op as a “hard-boiled” detective eventually became a prototype for many detective stories to come. A former detective, Hammett knew his stuff.

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Podcast Transcript: Red Harvest

Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.

Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …

Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …

Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.

Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn …

Carolyn Daughters 0:58
Sarah, we have this crazy, wonderful book to discuss today.

Sarah Harrison 1:04
I love Red Harvest. I hope everyone reads it.

Carolyn Daughters 1:09
I’ve never read this book before. I’ve read Dashiell Hammett. I’ve read The Thin Man. I read The Maltese Falcon.

Sarah Harrison 1:16
Did he write The Thin Man? We’ve got to read that, too.

Carolyn Daughters 1:19
Yes. And then he has this book called Red Harvest, which we’re going to discuss today. All I can say is it’s amazing. But before we dive too deep, we want to make sure that we mention our sponsor. Today’s sponsor is Grace Sigma.

Sarah Harrison 1:43
It is a fantastic sponsor.

Carolyn Daughters 1:44
It is a boutique process engineering consultancy run by Sarah Harrison. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries as finance, telecom, and government. They use lean methods to assist in data dashboarding, storytelling, training, process visualization, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled, Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more at gracesigma.com.

Sarah Harrison 2:21
Do it. Thank you, Carolyn. We also have a super special, very exciting listener award to give out today. If you’ve listened to even the last episode of the podcast, you know who this person is. We want to give an award and therefore a sticker to Eli Simon Milliman from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He was actually our guest last week, so if you didn’t get to hear Eli’s contributions to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, rewind. Rewind. Wait, you can’t do that anymore.

Carolyn Daughters 3:00
Because we have rewound back to 1982, folks.

Sarah Harrison 3:05
Great year. Go back and listen to Eli’s episode. Eli, thank you so much for being our guest. And thank you for being our valued reader and listener.

Carolyn Daughters 3:15
He was a great guest, and he was on both episodes for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And he brought a lot of really interesting thoughts and observations to the conversation. We hope you have a chance to listen to both episodes.

Sarah Harrison 3:27
And if you liked the episode, consider giving us a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. I believe we’re on every possible platform.

Carolyn Daughters 3:42
Including Apple podcasts and Spotify, really wherever you listen to Tea, Tonic & Toxin. That review means the world to us, and it also helps increase our exposure so people like you who love the greatest mysteries ever written can find us and listen to us.

Sarah Harrison 4:02
Thank you.

Carolyn Daughters 4:04
You can also comment on the books that we’re reading on our website teatonicandtoxin.com or on our Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin and Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin.

Sarah Harrison 4:25
Can and should. We would love if you have some comments. The earlier that you comment, we may be able to even incorporate some of them into the episode, and we would love to do that do you.

Carolyn Daughters 4:37
And then we’re going to send these stickers out to anybody who is our listener of the episode. They’re beautiful.

Sarah Harrison 4:48
They’re gorgeous, designed by Carolyn Daughters.

Carolyn Daughters 4:52
And magically printed somehow by Sarah.

Sarah Harrison 4:56
With magic. And sealed with wax. A surprise wax. A mystery wax.

Carolyn Daughters 5:07
I will tell you one thing. It is not an octopus.

Sarah Harrison 5:07
The most mysterious of creatures.

Carolyn Daughters 5:08
Let’s talk a little bit about this book. I’m gonna give a summary here so we’re all on the same page. If you have not read Red Harvest yet, but you are just thrilled to be listening to us right now, we don’t want to stop you. So here’s a short summary. Red Harvest is a 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. The unnamed narrator and protagonist is an operative simply known as the Continental Op. A prominent businessman named Donald Willsson summons the Continental Op to the mining town of Personville, known by many as Poisonville. Willsson wants the Continental Op to clean up the city’s crime infested streets and put an end to the rampant corruption. However, Willsson is murdered soon after the Op arrives in town. The Continental Op decides to find the murderer and even go so far as to clean up Poisonville. He quickly finds that bootleggers,gamblers, thieves, loan sharks, and a crooked chief of police are all vying for control of the town. In response, he uses lies, cunning, violence, and manipulation to pit the criminal organizations against each other. In a bloody quest for justice, he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Ultimately, the Continental Op succeeds in dismantling the criminal empire, but at a great personal cost, highlighting the dark and morally ambiguous nature of the world he inhabits. Time magazine included Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest in its 100 best English language novels from 1923 to 2005. They noted that Dashiell Hammett created the prototype for “every sleuth who would ever be called hard-boiled.” Today, we’re excited to talk about Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. It’s our seventh book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Red Harvest and all of our 2023 books selections on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com.

Sarah Harrison 7:08
In Red Harvest, did we know what Willsson wanted? I thought we didn’t exactly know. So that was funny. He brought this operative there to meet with him. And at the time Willsson was supposed to meet with the operative, he went out to another meeting. Nobody knew where he went. And he got killed at that meeting. He never came back and said what he wanted.

Carolyn Daughters 7:35
We don’t know for sure that Donald Willsson was bringing the Continental Op into Personville to try to clean up the city, necessarily.

Sarah Harrison 7:46
I don’t remember knowing that. I thought he didn’t quite know it himself. But he made the case into like, well, I’ll just solve this murder then.

Carolyn Daughters 7:57
That the father or the son?

Sarah Harrison 7:58
No, the operative. The Continental Op.

Carolyn Daughters 8:05
Willsson brought the Continental Op there ostensibly to solve some problem and never ever gets a chance to meet with the Continental Op. And maybe we’ll just call him the Op?

Sarah Harrison 8:16
That’s funny, too. I didn’t realize until you actually specifically said he was unnamed that he was unnamed. In fact, I was like, but wait, I think I know his name! And I started looking for his name. And I was like, no, no. We know one of his pseudonyms he gives out.

Carolyn Daughters 8:38
He seems to have on him a bunch of cards that he has collected over the years. One is from the International Workers of the World, the Wobblies, and it’s got a name on it, and so forth. And he hands these cards out liberally, from what I can tell, to say this is who I am. I don’t believe we learn his name. He never meets with Donald Willsson. So they never sync up on exactly why he’s there. But he works for the Continental detective agency. He’s there to solve some problem. And Donald Willsson, who was killed before we ever meet him, is described as the only honest man in town.

Sarah Harrison 9:26
Is Donald Willsson described in that way in Red Harvest, or just on the back of the book?

Carolyn Daughters 9:30
I think in Red Harvest he is described as an honest man. People who the Op talks to describe him as just a good guy, a clean guy, a guy who didn’t go along with his father. A guy who maybe was more honest than most.

Sarah Harrison 9:48
The impression I got was that it wasn’t exactly clear what Donald was up to. Some people said his father was using him. Some said that his father was the one that put them in the ground in the first place. Or that he was doing what his father wanted, which made him seem not particularly clean. I don’t know. To me, nothing came across as particularly super honest like, wow, that’s a great guy. What a shame.

Carolyn Daughters 10:20
We know so little about him. But pretty much everybody else we meet in this town is completely sordid.

Sarah Harrison 10:29
Yeah, they are. It is a terrible town.

Carolyn Daughters 10:32
It’s a bad, bad place. I think it’s based on Butte, Montana.

Sarah Harrison 10:40
What? I don’t think of anywhere in Montana as this bad.

Carolyn Daughters 10:49
This town is apparently a little bad. And there’s a mining community and Butte, and it’s loosely based on events that happened there.

Sarah Harrison 11:06
That’s really interesting. I guess in my mind, it was a more industrial place. But you’re right. It’s a mining operation. So yeah, those can be pretty rural.

Carolyn Daughters 11:18
Red Harvest is right off the bat so interesting. And you could teach an entire class on the first chapter. You could just say, today we’re going to talk about the first chapter. And you would read it aloud and just go sentence by sentence. Would you be interested in reading the first paragraph?

Sarah Harrison 11:53
“I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.” Tell me about Richardsnary.

Carolyn Daughters 12:38
It’s a dictionary but more formal.

Sarah Harrison 12:38
What dictionary?

Carolyn Daughters 12:44
It’s Richardsnary. Dick, as short for Richard.

Sarah Harrison 12:49
Oh! Okay.

Carolyn Daughters 12:51
The language in Red Harvest is amazing. I’ve underlined, I don’t know, like a million things.

Sarah Harrison 12:58
I didn’t get that until now.

Carolyn Daughters 13:03
Right from the first paragraph, we get what the town is , what it was called. We get this whole sense of these guys who couldn’t command their “r’s” and those who could. “A few years later, I went to Personville and learned better,” and in that you get this whole sense of a person, you get a whole sense of a town. You realize this is Poisonville. It’s like, I don’t know how many words 50. It’s a lot for 50 words. And then when he gets there, there are several amazing paragraphs. “The city wasn’t pretty. Most the builders had gone in for godliness. Maybe they had been successful at first. Since then the smelters whose brick stacks stuck up tall against a gloomy mountain to the South had yellow smoked everything into uniform dinginess. It goes on. It has a very contemporary feeling. It reminds me a bit of how Bleak House opens. There’s fog and everything’s dingy and dark. Everything is off. It’s not as it should be. And it’s the perfect setting for the tale that’s about to unravel in Bleak House — and in Red Harvest.

Sarah Harrison 14:35
Bleak House was one of our early books, but it just keeps bringing back to me a lot of the books we’ve read this year. Like, what a revolution, the Industrial Revolution was. Because the writers are very impressed by a lot of this stuff. It’s just making a weird mark on the world in different ways. And that keeps coming up over and over. And just almost as the backdrop of so many of these books we’ve been reading.

Carolyn Daughters 14:39
This is Butte, Montana, which is lovely, by the way.

Sarah Harrison 14:46
They mentioned mountains too. So I guess I really wasn’t even thinking about it being based on a real city, but that makes sense.

Carolyn Daughters 14:55
The mountain town here is being described not unlike the way Arthur Conan Doyle describes Salt Lake City in A Study in Scarlet.

Sarah Harrison 14:39
In The Hound of the Baskervilles? Oh, no, A Study in Scarlet. Okay. I was thinking about the English countryside. When he’s talking about Utah and what a desolate deathtrap it is.

Carolyn Daughters 15:49
And Sarah and I are thinking Salt Lake City is really beautiful. That whole area is gorgeous, right? So it’s feeling like that. You’re not getting that beauty. You’re getting the darkness, dinginess of the place, of the work being done and of the people living in it.

Sarah Harrison 16:10
Well, there’s a real dissonance, too. If you think about Montana, and you think about the gorgeous mountains in Montana. It reminds me of the first time I was new to Colorado, and I went driving through the mountains. And I was just driving Route 6 West and I was like, Whoa, it’s glorious. It’s wild. It’s untamed. And then I ran into all the casinos, and the traffic. And it felt wrong. I was just like, This doesn’t feel like how I think mountains should feel. So his description of these gaudy houses, and they’re all full of the yellow dinginess from smelters, That’s not how mountains should feel. There’s a real difference there.

Carolyn Daughters 16:53
This is not Aspen. Or even modern-day Butte. It’s set in a place in time. Dashiell Hammett uses language in such an interesting way. There’s a scene at a casino where a prize fight is going to happen. And he’s describing how everybody’s packed into this hot, miserable place. And then he does this thing that is not often done. He puts one word and a punctuation mark and one word followed by a punctuation mark. “Smoke. Stink. Heat. Noise.” It’s a really interesting way to shorthand how the narrator’s brain is working.

Sarah Harrison 17:46
The whole book, the moment I started reading it, I was like, Whoa, did we miss some books? Normally, I feel like we see the development along somewhat of a gradient. It changes a little, it refers to the past, it makes a lot of references, it makes a lot of literary references. I don’t think I counted one literary reference, right. In Red Harvest, the language is totally different than anything we’ve read. The detective is totally different. Did we miss some books? Or where did he come from?

Carolyn Daughters 18:23
I think we did miss some books, but they weren’t necessarily in this genre. Okay, so let’s use The Sun Also Rises as an example published in 1926. Hemingway and others writing at the time are influencing the way books are and will be written. Hemingway is a distinctly American author, as is Dashiell Hammett. They’re putting their mark on how stories are told and not just following the anglocentric storytelling structure that everybody has put forth with, even language and tone. It’s going to feel fresh, and new. And in this Atlantic essay, this writer Ted Gioia talks about this transition to an American world and literature. He said, “No one told stories in that crisp uncluttered way before 1926. But soon other ways of pushing a narrative forward would seem slow paced and old fashioned.” And I have to say Red Harvest moves at a clip

Sarah Harrison 19:41
Yes, it does. When we had solved the murder a third of the way through, I was like, What’s the rest of Red Harvest about? What is this weird book? But it was really a page turner.

Carolyn Daughters 19:53
It’s unexpected. When the Op figures out out who murdered Donald Willsson a third of the way through, I had the same reaction you did. I thought, what’s the rest of Red Harvest about?

Sarah Harrison 20:09
He wraps it up real quick.

Carolyn Daughters 20:12
And he did pretty sweet job of it, too, I have to say I didn’t,

Sarah Harrison 20:16
He’s very clever. That’s interesting. You talk about the distinct American voice that arises in the 20s. What brought that about?

Carolyn Daughters 20:29
It’s the post-war era. So you’re going to have the modernists emerging from this chaos of war. And they’re going to do a whole lot of things with literature that have never been done before. So what dominated before World War One was a triple-decker, three-part novel. They were large and weighty things. Think, Charles Dickens. And at the turn of the century, there were already shifts. So you can have like, E. M. Forester writing A Passage to India, which is still going to borrow that structure, but it’s a much slimmer book. Writers are going to start playing with with a lot of different ideas. But as of the 1920s, many authors are just going to throw out that model, and really make it new.

Sarah Harrison 21:24
That’s interesting. What’s interesting, too, is as a fan of film noir and that sort of thing. And I think the name of our music selection for this podcast is Film Noir.

Carolyn Daughters 21:40
I love our song.

Sarah Harrison 21:42
It’s awesome. It read like I was watching an old noir movie, which was really shocking to me in a couple of ways. One, that I’m reading a book and it sounds like that. But, two, I don’t know how you feel about this, but it didn’t feel dated to me. Even though it’s sort of culturally in time, or it’s using “of the moment” sort of vernacular speak, I don’t necessarily know what they’re saying. I might have to look some stuff up or just not know. But it doesn’t feel dated. It just feels noir. Is noir dated? Once you become a genre. Are you timeless?

Carolyn Daughters 22:27
I don’t know.

Sarah Harrison 22:27
What sense did you get?

Carolyn Daughters 22:29
It does feel modern. It feels alive. I don’t know why it does. It was published in 1929. I mean, by all intents and purposes, it shouldn’t feel fresh. But it does. What’s your thought?

Sarah Harrison 22:44
I don’t know. To me, I thought it must have something to do with becoming a movie genre, like an actual genre, and you can imitate it. And so it almost encapsulates it and makes it timeless rather than dated. I don’t know if that’s a phenomenon. But that’s what I came up with.

Carolyn Daughters 23:09
Right. So by that idea, then, The Lord of the Rings never becomes dated, for example.

Sarah Harrison 23:17
It’s a fantasy genre or something.

Carolyn Daughters 23:23
It’s a good question. I think the the dialogue is so crisp, the plot moves so fast, but it doesn’t feel cursory and it doesn’t feel slapdash. It feels intentional and thoughtful. And the progression makes sense. And I think there’s something to be said for honoring that pace and the way people talk to each other and the way scenes move forward. You’ve got to keep up with it. Whereas with a lot of the books we’ve read, many of which I love, you’re stuck in a scene for ages and you don’t know why you’re in it and you’re like, Okay, these people have been talking to each other forever. Why are they still talking to each other? Red Harvest just moves so fast. We’re going to see this again next month. We are going to read The Maltese Falcon, which is pretty cool.

Sarah Harrison 24:23
That’s exciting.

Carolyn Daughters 24:24
We have a named protagonist and a third-person narrator in that book. Red Harvest has a first-person narrator. Sam Spade’s personality comes off every single page in a way that is startling and fresh and always interesting. And the pacing of that book is incredible.

Sarah Harrison 24:49
Reading Red Harvest, it’s clear we’re reading a new thing. It’s not like all books changed. Agatha Christie is still writing and is still amazing throughout all of this time, but this is a new thing. It’s not like the other things.

Carolyn Daughters 25:03
We read Trent’s Last Case earlier this year and did a couple podcast episodes on it. It feels so different. There are entire scenes and parts of that book. I’m not sure why they’re in the book. Ultimately, I thought Red Harvest was really interesting.

Sarah Harrison 25:33
I did like it.

Carolyn Daughters 25:35
It’s fairly slow paced. And at times, it feels like the characters completely lost track of the fact that there’s this murder. You don’t ever lose track of that in Red Harvest. There’s no page you’re on where you’re wondering, like, what’s this here for?

Sarah Harrison 25:57
There are like 20 murders.

Carolyn Daughters 26:02
At one point, there’s a paragraph in Red Harvest where the Op lists everybody who’s died so far. I didn’t even recognize half the names.

Sarah Harrison 26:11
That’s funny. I like that you mentioned Elihu, the pirate. He was a weird character. He was interesting. Super weird. He’s kind of an old robber baron sort of character.

Carolyn Daughters 26:30
That’s a perfect way to describe him. He is the pirate. At one point, the Op calls him a pirate and Elihu owns it. He’s like, Yep, that’s me. If I wasn’t a pirate, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Sarah Harrison 26:48
He mentioned he had worked for the Anaconda, which was interesting. I’ve read about the Anaconda mining company in a number of other books. At first thought it was fictional, but it must have been real. Is it still a mining company? I’ll Google that. A famous mining company, apparently. That was interesting. He does own it. And he’s like, if I hadn’t been a pirate, I’d still be working for the Anaconda. And I’m like, Well …. Let’s think about that.

Carolyn Daughters 27:19
I think what happened, right, so he owned Personville. The quote says, “heart, soul, skin and guts.” President of the mining corporation, the First National Bank, owned The Morning Herald and The Evening Herald.

Sarah Harrison 27:35
It’s an “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of town. You’ve got your old banker who owns everything. You had to go to him.

Carolyn Daughters 27:46
He owned people. He owned a U.S. senator, a couple of representatives, the governor, the mayor, state legislature. Dashiell Hammett doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s like, Elihu owned these people. He’s so direct. Dickens, who’s one of my favorite authors ever, would have summed up everything we just said in a full chapter. And it would have been beautiful and wonderful. But Dashiell Hammett does it beautifully and wonderfully in a paragraph. He owned everything in the state including key people. What did you think about the idea of what happened when there was going to be a strike? Elihu hires these thugs to help him set things straight, and then things go to hell in a handbasket essentially.

Sarah Harrison 28:49
Obviously, I can’t agree with his choices. But it’s weird to me that he feels that he’s justified. “Of course I am. Because that’s how I got where I am today.” And I was like, Well, are you in a good place really, cowering in your bed while someone tries to murder you? You have plenty of money. Your son just got murdered. You don’t seem to care all that much. So I’m not quite sure that your vindicating yourself in saying, Well, you had to be that, to do that. It’s like he’s the only one that’s allowed to be a criminal. He has to manage the crime, and his other crimes got out of hand. He wants things to go back to where he owns all the crime again. And then it’s a better place. It didn’t seem obvious that it would be because he’s the progenitor of all the other crimes. So if it just goes back to you, you are still the seed from which the terrible situation arose. So you’re just back to being the seed. And there’s every indication that it would just continue to grow in terribleness again.

Carolyn Daughters 30:10
That gets really weird at the end of Red Harvest. You made some great points here. (These notes are also on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com.)

Sarah Harrison 30:29
Check it out.

Carolyn Daughters 30:32
Do you have to be a robber baron to make it? Is this the deal? Do you have to own everything in town? Do you have to own the people?

Sarah Harrison 30:46
Is that real, or is that just in your mind because you’re justifying your situation? Two, is that really even a valid way to define it if your son’s getting shot down in your own town, and you’re about to get killed in your own bed. And he’s like, that’s how I got where I am today. Well, I think you did a bad job. I think your path has not been on track.

Carolyn Daughters 31:15
Where is Elihu today. He has destroyed lives. He has destroyed a town to get everything he has. What does he have?

Sarah Harrison 31:29
Money. You seem to have money to throw about in a big house.

Carolyn Daughters 31:35
He’s not married. One son who is killed.

Sarah Harrison 31:41
One son. He hates Donald’s wife. And then he gets killed.

Carolyn Daughters 31:48
Yes. And Elihu seems to have written some love letters to Dinah Brand.

Sarah Harrison 31:55
Oh, yes. Some embarrassing love letters, apparently, to Dinah Brand.

Carolyn Daughters 31:59
I would love to read them. He has destroyed so much to get where he is. My question is this: where is he?

Sarah Harrison 32:17
It seems like he’s nowhere except in his mind in a position of power.

Carolyn Daughters 32:22
A nice house. At one point, this guy tries to kill him in his bedroom, and he kills the guy first.

Sarah Harrison 32:29
He sleeps with a gun. So that’s a great lifestyle.

Carolyn Daughters 32:34
I kept thinking if you had any means at your disposal, why would you stay in this town instead of going anywhere else but this town?

Sarah Harrison 32:45
It’s weird. To me, it just feels like self-deception. Like maybe you’re just a terrible person. And you want to feel like it’s not only justified but necessary? I think it isn’t.

Carolyn Daughters 33:03
I would have bought a nice place on the coast in California or somewhere in Europe.

Sarah Harrison 33:10
Yeah. Sell your crappy town. Go live with your son in France.

Carolyn Daughters 33:16
Or don’t sell the town. Let your son run it or run the business or find some guy to run the business. And then various thugs seem fairly successful at what they’re doing. And I kept thinking the same thing. This is a weird question. Maybe it’s a childish question. I don’t know. I keep thinking if you have a certain amount of money, would you just keep doing what you’re doing forever? Or would you say, I have this amount of money and now I’m gonna go buy the house on the coast?

Sarah Harrison 33:59
I feel like that comes back to this proverb: If you love money, you will never be satisfied with money. It’s the love that can never be satisfied. If you love relaxation and you have some money, you’ll use it to purchase relaxation. If you love your family, and you have some money, you’ll do things to benefit your family. But if you love money, all you can do is try to get more money. And then you have these terrible spirals. It was funny, too. The Continental Op was telling Whisper, “Hey, I’m for you. This is your minute to get out of town.” But Whisper didn’t take him seriously. He’s like, Nah, I’m gonna stay on. And the Op was like, it’s not gonna be good anymore. Sure enough, it wasn’t.

Carolyn Daughters 35:04
It’s one of the few kindnesses that happen from the Op towards somebody else.

Sarah Harrison 35:10
There was a lot of weird moral codes. But I was like, No, those aren’t moral codes.

Carolyn Daughters 35:21
What felt like a moral code?

Sarah Harrison 35:23
One thing that kept coming out to me was Dinah. She was ready as soon as she and Whisper broke up. She was ready to sell him out. Even her relationship with Dan, the lunger who lived with her, was interesting. Dan was like, Don’t do that. That’s dirty.

Carolyn Daughters 35:48
He had consumption, I guess.

Sarah Harrison 35:50
There was a whole scene, but she’s gonna do it anyway. Then she’s going to this party with Reno, and she risked her life to save Reno from getting shot.

Carolyn Daughters 36:04
I know that was weird, right?

Sarah Harrison 36:05
Who was the one that killed her? Reno. Who’s the one that left her by the side of the road? Reno left her to get killed — not just left her, but left her to get killed and throw him off his trail.

Carolyn Daughters 36:17
So strange.

Sarah Harrison 36:20
Why did she stick her neck out for Reno? Certain things felt like sort of moral or I’ve got my buddy’s back. But they don’t.

Carolyn Daughters 36:34
That’s a great example, though, that Dinah had Reno’s back a couple times. But for the most part, nobody seems to have anybody’s back.

Sarah Harrison 36:38
Dan had Dinah’s back.

Carolyn Daughters 36:40
That’s true.

Sarah Harrison 36:41
When he thought Whisper killed her. He went to kill Whisper.

Carolyn Daughters 36:41
Dan was one of the few.

Sarah Harrison 36:50
He tried to kill the Op. But that wasn’t because he had Dinah’s back. That was a totally different interesting scenario. I really loved how the Op explained that.

Carolyn Daughters 37:09
Tell us about that.

Sarah Harrison 37:11
When Dinah’s gonna sell out Whisper, and Dan’s like, don’t do it, you see that she’s really physically aggressive. And so this guy has consumption, or tuberculosis. He’s pretty weak and sickly, and he lives with Dinah. He is her protector. But man, she beat him up in front of the Op. And then Dan tried to shoot the Op, and the Op beat him up. Which the Op said he did to treat Dan like a man and give him back his pride because Dinah had just humiliated him in front in front of another man.

Carolyn Daughters 37:59
And the humiliation would have been a double-down if the Op had said, you’re not worth beating up.

Sarah Harrison 38:05
Right. So he beat him up enough that he felt like a man again. That’s wild. That’s how Dinah felt, too. But it’s believable.

Carolyn Daughters 38:18
When I was reading. I was like, this is not right. This is crazy.

Sarah Harrison 38:22
Dinah’s like, I felt I understood men, but you guys are nuts. But no, who am I to say? It made sense. I’ve certainly I could see in certain men I know that that could possibly be true. But I wouldn’t have thought of it. He seems. He seems pretty quick on his feet, this Op.

Carolyn Daughters 38:45
He’s been around the block a few times. He seems confident. I would say excessively confident at times, because there are times where he’s walking down the street and doesn’t seem to have care. He’s at Dinah’s house and says, Hey, let’s go out to dinner. Everybody’s getting shot and killed in this town.

Sarah Harrison 39:11
Including everyone’s shooting at you, dude. The Op is a target

Carolyn Daughters 39:13
Both the Op and Dinah. And there they are, about to walk out the door. And she’s the one hesitating. He’s like, come on, we’re hungry, let’s get dinner. There were times where I thought he had a screw loose, where I thought he doesn’t seem to have processed the severity of the situation.

Sarah Harrison 39:35
He seems to have excessive confidence in his ability to handle the situation and I’m not super sure he cares if things go wrong. I’m not super sure he holds his life that dearly. I don’t know.

Carolyn Daughters 39:51
Let’s talk about the Op for a second. I think he’s the perfect guy to clean up this town, at least on paper. What is his deal? Who is this guy? What is his personal or moral code?

Sarah Harrison 40:14
That’s a super simple question. Let me sum that up for you. Well, first of all, taking on the job was so weird. He solves the murder. And what I love most about this Op is almost this Superman ability. But instead of seeing through people’s skin, he sees through their minds. He sees through a situation really clearly in Red Harvest. He figures out Elihu, and Elihu will spend $10,000 to clean up the town. Is this to avenge his son? No. It’s because his thugs are out of hand and almost killed him. So he’s scared. I was like, oh, that’s clever. That’s pretty cool. Why does the Op take the job? Is it because he loves justice? No, it isn’t. At least that’s not what he says. He says it’s because he’s really mad. that Noonan tried to kill him. I wouldn’t even say from my perspective that I was super sure Noonan tried to kill him. It seemed Noonan wouldn’t mind if he got killed a couple of times. But the Op is like, “nope, Noonan tried to murder me.” And he talks about the moment that he knew Noonan was gonna get murdered because of what he said. And how he enjoyed it.

Carolyn Daughters 41:48
I thought Noonan, who is the Chief of Police, was after the Op.

Sarah Harrison 41:53
Well, sure. It seems like he wouldn’t mind, but at the same time, I don’t feel like I’d stake my life on it.

Carolyn Daughters 42:03
The Op takes things really personally. He bases an entire desire to harvest a town …

Sarah Harrison 42:14
He blew up the whole town over it. If he is to be believed, and I’m not confident that everything everyone says in Red Harvest is to be believed.

Carolyn Daughters 42:24
We see this in other Dashiell Hammett. We’re gonna see it in The Maltese Falcon with Sam Spade, where some of the decisions he makes are based on a guy who personally insulted Spade or punched him in his face. The personal code, or moral code — the code that these protagonists are living by, is if you cross me, I’m going to make you pay. But I’m not gonna give you tit for tat. You’re going to try to kill me, and I’m going to blow up the entire town.

Sarah Harrison 43:08
I’m gonna get it back with interest.

Carolyn Daughters 43:10
I’m going to go nuclear on you. Which is what he does. It blew my mind what he does and how quickly he gets the wheels turning.

Sarah Harrison 43:25
It’s one of those weird sticky situations where you can be like, Well, it’s in the name of justice. These are all bad guys. But you’re not coming out of the shiny and pure.

Carolyn Daughters 43:38
I didn’t feel necessarily like the Op was intended to be this hero. He felt more like an antihero to me. He’s the main guy. He’s doing a lot of stuff. Some of it is borderline heroic, if seen in a particular light, but a lot of it is just his own personal journey. You crossed me. I’m going to make you pay. And it’s big what he does. It’s almost as if he has done this before or as if he knew what to do.

Sarah Harrison 44:19
He has that sense of being able to see through every person and situation. And he’s on the side of justice. He’s a detective. He’s not out there personally bootlegging. He’s not going to initiate a crime. I think maybe that’s why he feels vindicated or justified and blowing everyone out by any means necessary. He goes to Reno for an alibi because he doesn’t know if he has killed Dinah Brand or not. And I thought he was testing to see if Reno did it. Reno plays it cool. And I thought okay, Reno didn’t do it. Man, it was Reno that did it!

Carolyn Daughters 45:04
And it turns out the Op did suspect right now even when the Op came to Reno.

Sarah Harrison 45:08
But he also wasn’t putting himself in the clear entirely until he proved it out. He was trying to figure out if he did. He doesn’t think he did. But he didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle yet.

Carolyn Daughters 45:24
The Op is a really good detective.

Sarah Harrison 45:27
Yeah, he is. I mean, almost supernatural with the way he can see through things.

Carolyn Daughters 45:33
There were times where he states how something played out. And I’m surprised by it, but then he explains how he determined who a particular murderer is. And I think to myself, that actually makes sense. I missed it. So, like, with Donald Willsson, there were all these questions, like, Who would use a .32 to kill Willsson? And when the Op confronts Albury, who is the bank teller, I didn’t suspect Albury. Did you suspect him?

Sarah Harrison 46:10
Not a minute. Though it makes total sense after the Op explains it. The Op knows Albury is the only guy that knew he certified that check to Dinah.

Carolyn Daughters 46:18
Yes. Albury used to bank gun, which would have been a .32.

Sarah Harrison 46:24
Not that I would have known that. That’s not fair on me.

Carolyn Daughters 46:28
And various other clues that the Op is able to point to. The Op is not letting us in to every thought in his head. Not by a longshot.

Sarah Harrison 46:37
He’s not letting us into any thoughts, I believe. He tells us the results of his work. But as far as his thoughts … I don’t feel like I know any of his thoughts.

Carolyn Daughters 46:48
We’re not in his head.

Sarah Harrison 46:49
If he doesn’t say it out loud and it’s not recorded on the page, I don’t know.

Carolyn Daughters 46:56
It almost feels like he’s giving us a report of everything happening.

Sarah Harrison 47:00
You talked about the moral code. So Whisper gives the Op a tip about the fight. That’s a friendly thing to do. It’s gonna make the Op some money. The Op uses that tip to get everybody killed. The Op goes around spreading this tip, he meets McSwain, he gets Whisper to break up with Dinah, he gets the fighter killed, McSwain goes on the run. I was like, what? When the Op started spreading that tip around in order to like flip the tables, I felt like he was acting in bad faith. I mean, I see why he did it. But Whisper was trying to be nice. And the Op took that to blow everything up.

Carolyn Daughters 47:51
Whisper was throwing the Op a bone, and the Op then used it to start his process of blowing up the town.

Sarah Harrison 47:59
I had no idea what he was doing. Like, why are you doing that? What’s happening? Why would you do that?

Carolyn Daughters 48:09
McSwain is the one who killed Noonan’s brother. The chief of police had a brother who died. His name was Tim. We we think Whisper killed Tim.

Sarah Harrison 48:27
That’s what Dinah says. That’s the story Dinah tells.

Carolyn Daughters 48:30
But what was actually overheard is “Macs–,” and they think it’s “Max.” Whisper is a nickname for Max Thaler. And so they think it’s Max, Whisper, but the Op, because he’s a detective genius, realizes it’s the first part of McSwain. And even when I saw that, I was like like, oh my god.

Sarah Harrison 48:57
The Op says no men call Whisper “Max. 100% of men call Whisper, Whisper.” Which, by the way, is the greatest villain name of all time. I loved Whisper’s character. He was maybe my favorite.

Carolyn Daughters 49:14
I liked him, too.

Sarah Harrison 49:15
He was great. And the way the died at the end was so great. Everything about Whisper. I feel like Whisper had a more solid moral code that I could wrap my hands around more than the Op.

Carolyn Daughters 49:29
In what way?

Sarah Harrison 49:31
Whisper never touched Dinah. He never did. When one of his guys tried to, even after he was broken up with Dinah, he shot his guy. He was very much like, no, she’s my ex girlfriend but we’re not gonna hurt her. Even she thought Whisper was gonna kill her. He never did. He never touched her. And it was really funny when they described like Dan stabbing Whisper, and he had a funny look on his face like he didn’t know Dinah had gotten killed. And he kept himself alive. He bandaged himself up to have some last fight in him. He’d do a good turn if you did him a good turn. When the Op got him off of a charge, he tried to give him a tip on the fights.

Carolyn Daughters 50:17
Whisper had had his own code.

Sarah Harrison 50:19
Whisper was a little more consistent. I felt like the Op was a “by any means necessary” kind of guy.

Carolyn Daughters 50:29
To keep these characters straight, I wrote out a sketch.

Sarah Harrison 50:34
It’s a wonderful thing to do.

Carolyn Daughters 50:38
For example, I put “Max Thaler (Whisper) – runs gambling houses killed by Dan and/or Reno Starkey.

Sarah Harrison 50:58
Before he killed Reno, he asked Reno if he killed her. And he did. And then he killed Reno. He just he was cool, consistent bug.

Carolyn Daughters 51:10
Noonan, the chief police, was killed by Whisper. But I needed this cheatsheet because at some point, so many people are dying, and I couldn’t keep straight who killed whom.

Sarah Harrison 51:22
There’s a lot of killings.

Carolyn Daughters 51:24
So many killings, and the Op has this amazing ability to rattle them all off like he’s been studying it for a test. Meanwhile, I’ve been reading it, and I’m like, who killed Whisper?

Sarah Harrison 51:43
Well, Reno didn’t even emerge until the middle of the story, and then he becomes a super main character. There was a lot happening.

Carolyn Daughters 51:51
I thought that was odd, too.

Sarah Harrison 51:52
Did he take over for Lew Yard or Pete the Finn? One of them got killed. And so Reno took over his organization.

Carolyn Daughters 52:07
Lew Yard is the loan shark. Pete the Fin is the bootlegger.

Sarah Harrison 52:12
Reno took over for one of them. And that’s when he emerged. I think it was Lew Yard. I think Lew got killed early on, and Reno took over his organization. Because Pete the Finn is the one that merged with Noonan and put a bunch of his guys on the police force. So Pete was still around for a bit.

Carolyn Daughters 52:36
And there’s this criminal attorney named Charles Proctor Don, and we never learned who killed him. I don’t think.

Sarah Harrison 52:44
That guy. He was a weird insert.

Carolyn Daughters 52:48
We barely know him. He seems super quirky and formal and weird. And then the next time we see him, he’s dead.

Sarah Harrison 52:56
It was like around behind an indoor staircase with his feet sticking out. So strange.

Carolyn Daughters 53:09
Let’s talk for a minute about harvesting. Like Red Harvest, the name of this book. I play this game sometimes. The game is “What would I name this book.” I don’t know. I might have called this book Poisonville.

Sarah Harrison 53:40
I could see that.

Carolyn Daughters 53:43
But it’s called Red Harvest. And the Op’s job, at least the job he establishes for himself after the first third of Red Harvest when he solves the murder of Donald Willsson, is basically to harvest the town.

Sarah Harrison 54:11
I like the quote, you included. “It’s a job I like, and I’m going to do it.” Maybe that best sums up his motivations. Although why he likes it. I don’t get exactly. But he does.

Carolyn Daughters 54:26
This idea that he’s going to set the town straight. I don’t think ultimately that’s his goal. I think his goal is to teach a whole lot of people a lesson, sometimes in the grave.

Sarah Harrison 54:40
I almost wonder — work we love is work that allows us to exercise our faculties to the limit. It’s challenging, but in a way that we can succeed. And for the Op, the stakes are really high. It’s not that he loves justice. Clearly, it’s not that he loves any sort of truth or ideal per se. I think he just likes being good at his job. He has all these talents. His other operatives don’t have that. He calls in two other operatives to help tail people.

Carolyn Daughters 55:22
They’re good operatives.

Sarah Harrison 55:23
They’re good in the way that he defines good. They’re good at doing what he wants. They can tail somebody and then give reports and keep their mouths shut. But they don’t know what he’s doing. They can’t see through a situation like he does. They can’t pit person against person. They can’t measure what’s going to happen orhat’s implied by certain conversations.

Carolyn Daughters 55:49
He puts them in an awkward position because he wants them to blindly follow his direction.

Sarah Harrison 55:57
I mean, it’s also a position of safety, too. When they get picked up, they honestly can’t say anything about what he’s doing. They have no idea.

Carolyn Daughters 56:10
And one of the two other operatives who show up is suspicious and wary of the Op.

Sarah Harrison 56:22
He has moral qualms and eventually leaves.

Carolyn Daughters 56:26
He heads back and the other guy decides to say. I think the other guy’s the comedian guy. He’s always always telling jokes.

Sarah Harrison 56:34
He’s also considered the dense guy or the dummy.

Carolyn Daughters 56:38
Very good at following an order.

Sarah Harrison 56:40
And willing to put his trust in the Op.

Carolyn Daughters 56:43
Would you have trusted the Op?

Sarah Harrison 56:45
I don’t know well enough to say

Carolyn Daughters 56:50
That would tell me no, from my perspective, because I didn’t know him well enough.

Sarah Harrison 56:53
Well, they had worked together, though. I mean, the Op trusted this guy. He thought he would be a good guy. He considered him a good operative. Presumably, they have the same opinion of him. There’s different codes and different jobs. When you think about something like the military, there are codes you follow or ways you treat people that I think have to be trained into you? I don’t know.

Carolyn Daughters 57:23
So then the Op would have been like, either the lead on this case or a higher ranking operative, one or the other.

Sarah Harrison 57:55
Because the dense guy, Mickey … Dick Foley is the Canadian guy, I think, who has qualms about everything and leaves. Well, the Op couldn’t say definitively that he didn’t kill Dinah. He couldn’t say quite what he was up to.

Carolyn Daughters 58:05
At that point, Dick Foley’s like, I don’t know what we’re embroiled in here, but I’m out of this. I personally have reservations when I’m meant to go do something or somebody wants me to go do something, but they don’t really want to tell me why they want me to do it.

Sarah Harrison 58:23
It would take a high level of trust, very high, in somebody’s character that I’m on the right side of this thing. For that reason, I am a person that would have trouble joining an armed force because I’m like, do I trust what I’m going to be told to do? Maybe I don’t.

Carolyn Daughters 58:42
And judgment about need to know. Sometimes it has a basis and sometimes it’s baseless. Maybe the Op wanted them to not be in the know. So if they were questioned, they could legitimately say they had no idea.

Sarah Harrison 59:06
But because they do get questioned. Mickey gets picked up and questioned.

Carolyn Daughters 59:10
But he also doesn’t want them to know because there’s a chance that they’re going to say, “I’m out of here.”

Sarah Harrison 59:15
Maybe. We don’t know what he’s thinking. He doesn’t tell us really any more than he tells them.

Carolyn Daughters 59:23
And meanwhile, the Op has these two guys helping him out, and he pits the thugs against each other. And as he says, Everybody sat around and behaved and watched everybody else in this room where he calls this peace conference “while I juggled death and destruction.”

Sarah Harrison 59:47
That was a really interesting conference.

Carolyn Daughters 59:48
We’re gonna do a second episode and talk more about Prohibition. And Dinah Brand, who I think is an amazing character in a lot of ways. We’ll talk about whether Poisonville poisoned the Op.

Sarah Harrison 1:00:16
The Op might think so.

Carolyn Daughters 1:00:18
He says it’s not his fault. This town that has poisoned him. At one point even says maybe Dinah is responsible for poisoning him.

Sarah Harrison 1:00:18
We have we more key key details to talk about in our next episode.

Carolyn Daughters 1:00:24
You can learn more about Red Harvest on our website teatonicandtoxin.com. You can share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. And subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode.

Sarah Harrison 1:00:36
We hope you will listen to that episode next. Stay tuned. Until next episode, stay mysterious.

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