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The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels Paperback – July 17, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Short, thick-bodied, mulishly stubborn, and indifferent to physical pain, Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op was the prototype for generations of tough-guy detectives. He is also the hero of most of the nine stories in this volume. The Op's one enthusiasm is doing his job, and in The Big Knockover the jobs entail taking on a gang of modern-day freebooters, a vice-ridden hell's acre in the Arizona desert, and the bank job to end all bank jobs, along with such assorted grifters as Babe McCloor, Bluepoint Vance, Alphabet Shorty McCoy, and the Dis-and-Dat Kid.

About the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reissue edition (July 17, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722595
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ken Miller on July 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Dashiell Hammett's _The Big Knockover_ is a wonderful collection of stories by the master of the crime novel himself. The introduction by Lillian Hellman gives the reader excellent insight into her relationship with Hammett, as well as a glimpse of the author. For Hammett fans, the book is nearly worth the price for Hellman's introduction alone.
This collection is better than his Maltese Falcon, all the Sam Spade, and the Thin Man stories. Among Hammett's writings, the only novel to equal this collection, in my mind, is _Red Harvest_.
Stories in this book range from short to near-novella length. Topics range from the very typical Hammett plot (young woman is missing, wealthy dad pays for her return)of "The Gatewood Caper" to the offbeat noir-Western "Corkscrew" to the looting of an entire island ("The Looting of Couffignal").
The one "straight" story in the bunch, not a crime story at all, is "Tulip," published as a fragment. As it is, it doesn't pull much weight. To call the plot meandering would be generous.
The title story is a classic. A big bank-robbery caper starts looking bizarre when, days later, roomsful of America's highest profile crooks start turning up dead.
One bad story doesn't ruin the whole bunch. If you're a fan of Hammett's other books, give _The Big Knockover_ a chance.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Big Knockover" is a collection of 10 short stories, 9 of which originally appeared in "Black Mask" or "Mystery Stories" magazines, 1923-1929, and feature Dashiell Hammett's famous hard-nosed, always unnamed Continental Op detective. Several of these stories find the Continental Op out of his usual element in far-flung or exotic locales. "The King Business" takes place in a fictional Balkan nation of Muravia, of all places, and involves a political coup. "Corkscrew" is so named after an Arizona desert town, complete with cowboys, where the Op has been sent to break up an illegal immigration operation. The Op's adventures with the customary mode of transportation -horses- provides some comic relief. "Dead Yellow Women" takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown, where the mysteries of this immigrant culture prove confusing for the very American detective. I was surprised to see a Hammett detective in these unusual environments, but was entertained to find that there are thugs and grifters everywhere in Hammett's stories. The Op is never really out of sorts. He may not speak the language, but he's always at home in the criminal underworld. "The Gutting of Couffignal", "Fly Paper", "The Scorched Face", and "The Gatewood Caper" are more conventional Hammett, revolving around the debauchery of lowlifes and the dirty laundry of the wealthy. "The Big Knockover", after which the book is named, and "$106,000 Blood Money" are a two-parter about a spectacular caper in which an army of 150 crooks hold up an entire San Francisco city block and its aftermath. "Tulip" is the odd story out. It is the beginning of an unfinished novel that Hammett started late in life.Read more ›
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Alex. Avenarius ( on July 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Irresistible stories, expertly selected & introduced by Lillian Hellman. More compelling even than the other Hammett short stories collection, "The Continental Op" - which features a more conventional foreword & introductory remarks. Stories here are of a great variety, also of a wide timespan; and one of the best, I think, is the one "straight" story in the volume, 'Tulip': this is less hard-boiled than fascinating (if left in a fragmented form). All in all, one of the 20th century classics - not just in terms of classic mysteries, but of world literature; it can certainly compete with Hammett's finest novels such as "The Glass Key" or the similarly offbeat (since humorous) "The Thin Man".
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paul Dana on December 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are some great stories here. Let's discuss some of them in a minute. First, however . . .
During most of the 1920s and early 1930s, Dashiell Hammett was a compulsive writer and storyteller, possibly due to a personal need to make sense of his world and experiences. Later, he lost that compulsion. Following a brief prison term in the early 1950s (for his refusal to take part in the McCarthy-era witchhunts), he began to rediscover that earlier compulsion. Hence, the fragment of "Tulip," which he apparently intended as an semi-autobiographical novel. One wishes he could have lived long enough to complete more of it, at least.
Now to the meat of this short-story collection from his earlier days.
Hammett's most enduring character, the anonymous first-person narrating Continental Op, is the protagonist throughout. The stories vary widely, from the old-west (but not that old at the time of its writing) atmosphere of "Corkscrew" -- which would later serve as theme material for the novel "Red Harvest" -- to the comedy of "The Gatewood Caper"; there's the sinister undertones, interspersed with more comedic touches and a superb punchline at the end, of "Dead Yellow Women" as well as the total 'shaggy dog story' feel of "The Gutting of Couffignal" (in which everything apparently is intended to lead up to yet another punchline).
And then there's the title story itself, "The Big Knockover," perhaps the pre-eminent 'caper story' of all time: a carefully planned and executed bank robbery which falls awry in a trail of double-cross and deduction, yet which leaves its protagonist at the end to wryly remark (perhaps echoing Hammett's sentiments?): "What a life!
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