this is the 170th in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
The Big Knockover by Dashiell Hammett, introduction by Lillian Hellman, Vintage Books, 1989 – trade paper, mystery / crime fiction, 10 short novels & stories featuring the Continental Op
No Hammett isn’t forgotten, thank god, but his work may be seldom read, even amongst this group (that’s, you, faithful reader). So here goes.
This is one of the very nice trade paper editions of Hammett’s works published by Vintage Crime (once was Black Lizard), and it’s a dandy. But then everything Hammett writes is terrific, right? Right.
I admit that I have always been partial to Chandler over Hammett, sort in the way some people prefer Fords over Chevys (or vice-versa); both have their merits so it’s just a matter of taste. Well, the more Hammett I read, and the reading began with The Dain Curse many years ago, then a Spade story collection, then Red Harvest, then… well, you get the idea. So, to repeat, the more Hammett I read, the better I like it, and I liked it plenty from the start.
I’ve read all of the stuff (I think, but D. E. Lewis keeps finding stuff I’m not sure I have read) but still like to dip back in, as I recently did with this one. I still love Chandler too, but this is the most recent work of the two authors I’ve read.
This collection of “selected stories and short novels” (that’s right off the title page) runs 450 pages including a lengthy introduction by Hellman, and most every page is good, good stuff. When this book was first published in 1966, apparently no one noticed that these stories (with the exception of “Tulip”) had been edited in the ’40s and ’50s by Frederick Dannay for publication in EQMM and various Mercury digests. The original Black Mask versions remained unreprinted until 2001, in the Library of America volume Crime Stories and Other Writings. The original text of “This King Business,” unavailable at that time, was added to the third printing of that collection, which I believe was published in 2013.
The only story here that isn’t Continental Op is “Tulip”, which is a fragment of a story / novelette Hammett never finished. As writing it’s interesting, but compared to the Op stories, it made me restless to get on to something else. There’s not really a lot more to say about this one except if you don’t have it, get it, if you haven’t read it, why are you waiting? I heartily recommend everything the man wrote.
Table of Contents:
- The Gutting of Couffignal
- Fly Paper
- The Scorched Face
- This King Business
- The Gatewood Caper
- Dead Yellow Women
- The Big Knockover
- $106,000 Blood Money