By Joe Gores

From Chinatown's darkish alleys to the fog-shrouded Golden Gate, crooked politicians ran San Francisco. To Hammet, retired Pinkerton detective and suffering author, it was once all simply grist to his fictional mill. until eventually the evening his buddy walked right into a baseball bat. Then Hammett hung up his typewriter, wear his gumshoes and went out into the brawling, swaggering urban to discover the brutal assassin.

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Alter the ingredients to a beadle and a workhouse – the scenes may be the same, but the whole flavour of vice will be lost, and the boy will turn out a perfect pattern. 28 As already noted, one of the most concerted attacks in this phase of the Newgate controversy came from Thackeray, whose Catherine: A Story was written specifically – according to the advertisement that accompanied volume publication – ‘to counteract the injurious influence of some popular fictions of that day, which made heroes of highwaymen and burglars, and created a false sympathy for the vicious and criminal’.

35 These ranged from notorious murder trials such as 32 The Newgate novel and sensation fiction, 1830–1868 the Road Murder (1860), in which the sixteen-year-old Constance Kent was acquitted of the bloody murder of her four-year-old brother, and the 1857 trial of Madeline Smith, who was accused of killing her lover by putting arsenic in his cocoa, to the Yelverton bigamy-divorce trial which drew attention to marital irregularities and the chaotic state of the marriage laws. The changing state of upper and middle-class marriage was also highlighted by the reporting of the proceedings of the new Divorce Court, created after the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857.

The essential characteristic of this age and land is publicity. There exists a press which bares at once to the universal eye every example of guilt that comes before a legal tribunal. In these very newspapers which would forbid a romance writer to depict crime with all that he can suggest to demonstrate its causes, portray its hideousness, insist on its inevitable doom . . the meanest secrets of the prison-house are explored. 34 In the 1860s the sensation novel and the sensation debate were also closely intertwined with developments in the newspaper press.

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