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Dashiell Hammett: Crime Stories and Other Writings (Library of America) Hardcover – September 10, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The first great author in the hard-boiled detective genre, Hammett remains one of the most entertaining, as demonstrated by this largest single gathering ever of his short fiction. This collection's main distinction is that editor Steven Marcus uses the original story texts from their appearance in Black Mask magazine, recovering occasional pieces of lost wording, chapter breaks and other niceties. However, because Hammett is such a standard figure, most of these stories will be familiar to mystery fans from readily available collections. Marcus repeats everything except "Tulip" and "Corkscrew" from The Big Knockover (1966), edited by Lillian Hellman, and every story from The Continental Op (1974), which he edited. The recent Nightmare Town (2001) scooped the original Nick and Nora-less Thin Man fragment out from under him, plus "Zigzags of Treachery," "Two Sharp Knives" and others that would have made this book a highly desirable purchase. Only "Arson Plus," "Slippery Fingers" and "Creeping Siamese" are unique to this selection. Unless you make a line-by-line comparison, you won't notice great differences between these texts and those in the other books (still, the Black Mask wording is the most satisfying). One senses a missed opportunity for the major collection Hammett fandom has longed for: the complete Continental Op short stories, in order, original texts, under one set of covers that would be irresistible. Nonetheless, for the non-specialist, this volume stands as the best compendium yet of this classic crime author's shorter fiction.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Hammett is hot: besides this collection, a new book of his letters is now available, and a scholarly biography is forthcoming. This anthology binds 24 of his top stories in their original form sans editorial cuts plus an early take on The Thin Man and some other goodies. This is a great companion to the publisher's 1999 release of Hammett's Complete Novels and is essential for all libraries.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
DASHIELL HAMMETT: CRIME STORIES AND OTHER WRITINGS collects two dozen of the 36 stories Hammett published about the Continental Op, most of them novelettes. And distinguished, authoritative writing it is. The novels RED HARVEST and THE DAIN CURSE initially consisted of four Op novelettes apiece. I personally have never seen any of those eight segments published home or abroad in their original standalone form (and I've looked). That leaves only four other stories to collect if you want them all on your shelf. Three are easy to source. That fourth and elusive final Op caper, available nowhere but THE RETURN OF THE CONTINENTAL OP (1945), cost me as much as I paid for this volume! 'Death and Company' is, ultimately and unfortunately, for only the most diehard of collectors, a disappointing seven-page vignette. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the weakest entry in the Op's otherwise superlative casebook, it's unsurprising it's uncollected with the others. With the exception of 'This King Business' all 36 stories first appeared in Black Mask, the most feted extinct pulp magazine this side of the equally defunct Weird Tales. THE MALTESE FALCON also debuted in the Mask's pages before Knopf brought it out in hardcover; they'd already published HARVEST and DAIN.
If you're reading this you probably appreciate the exploits of the Op, one of the pioneering first person hardboiled American private dicks, but not the first. Carroll John Daly's 'Three Gun Terry' sneaked onto Black Mask's table of contents months ahead of the Op. Terry Mack is Daly's pilot fish for his enormously popular Race Williams character, a homicidal maniac who rationalizes his shooting sprees as private detecting. The name of one of the stories in DASHIELL HAMMETT: CRIME STORIES AND OTHER WRITINGS is `Bodies Piled Up,' a title as gruesome as Daly's `The False Burton Combs' is clever for its misdirection. I shan't give away its secret to the few who've not read it. Cap Shaw didn't suffer journalistic fools lightly and even though he hated Daly's stuff he published it anyway because a Race Williams yarn touted on the Mask's cover boosted sales by 10,000 issues. Daly's stories are ridiculous enough to be farces, glutted with a toughness as counterfeit as a schoolboy's playground bluster. In his lifetime Daly enjoyed more glory in Black Mask than Hammett, but in the long run the Hammett legacy enjoys more success and respect, not that that ever does deceased authors any good. This is not to say Daly's writing sucks, it often makes for entertaining lightweight reading, but it's all hat and no cattle. The Op's romps in the Mask are steeped in a realism still resonant and relevant. If I may borrow a phrase from Hollywood Detective Dan Turner, the Op's adventures are as serious as `a rodney probing [one's] sacroiliac.'
Hammett's strengths as a storyteller and prose stylist as well as his background with Pinkerton's enabled his work to endure. On a side note, Lillian Hellman claimed Hammett didn't work for the agency for as long as he often alluded to. His own publisher Knopf hailed him as better than Hemingway, a conceit, of course, but one I happen to agree with. I'll take Hammett's drunken private eyes and femme fatales over Hemingway's drunken sportsmen and forlorn expatriates anytime. Not to rip on Papa, but why read something to depress yourself? Hemingway's characters don't liberate and lift the spirit the way Hammett's do. To this day Hammett's influence on mystery novelists remains immense, justifying the mythic proportions of his literary reputation.
Every Op story in DASHIELL HAMMETT: CRIME STORIES AND OTHER WRITINGS is good, if not great. In the product department the consumer gets his money's worth, excellent fiction on nice paper expensively bound. Library of America puts together handsome well-constructed editions designed to be read often and resist as much manhandling as an old medical desk reference printed in the forties. The quality of Library of America's books cannot be overemphasized; I own other collections from this same house, their books are built to last and can handle wear and tear. And they don't have those godawful Deckle edges.
Update 3/30/2017: The book I was waiting for (containing all the Op stories) is about to be released later this year: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Book-Continental-Op/dp/0525432957/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490932361&sr=8-1&keywords=big+book+continental+op
It's a collection of short stories by Dashiell Hammett of the 20's and 30's. I had heard of "The Thin Man" and of course, the "Maltese Falcon"; saw the movie but never read the books due to the simple fact that I have never read everything I wanted to, even yet. By reading a simple background regarding him, Mr. Hammett had been a Pinkerton Detective himself, thus undoubtedly providing himself with a wealth of source material without even having to flex his own imagination in the process. That truth is stranger than fiction has been a given since time primeval, and some of these stories have twists obviously derived from nothing short of actual human fumbles and foibles.
Hammett draws you in with the set up of the tale as the first facts - or manipulated semi-truths - are pulled out almost by sheer force from the people who need his help and have come to him for it; then proceeds to allow you to follow this professional investigator through his day; during the "shadow", the "background checking" the careful refusal to be swayed by details unrelated to cold, hard facts.
In the tangle of treachery, there's the sordid story of a maligned doctor who assumes the identity of another and finds himself in a mess no amount of wiggling can get him out of now; a tale of bank robbery done the simple way through the manipulation of a messenger by the wiles of a beautiful but dangerous woman; a trip across the Border of Mexico and back again, as the P.I. follows his nose (and the money) in arresting the flight of the criminal. And when he comes up with the bogus name of "Shine Wisher" in flash of inspiration under pressure, one immediately thinks of "Mrs. Doubtfire" for some reason! Across the years comes kindred spirit!
The original attempt at writing "The Thin Man" is included, and I thought it's formula was better than the one he ended up finishing. It stops mid-stream, since he scrapped it, but it's inclusion here was important in demonstrating his work.
The list goes on, each story stands alone in it's uniqueness; yet the same driving human frailties are firmly behind the underlying motives in each of them. It's a tribute to the resourcefulness and creativity of the human brain as well when it is shaped towards "the other side of the street"- so many finely tuned "different" criminal approaches yielding to the same vital desires for "Dominions Illegal" - and if as much effort had been placed in different channels toward better objectives.......but oh, well, We all know that - and it isn't why we pick up an crime or adventure novel.
In the censorship of the day, Hammett's characters are muted in explicity of acts performed; yet nothing is lost because the message is clear. People who became criminals and victims sought help and escape; it took sex, sin and money to fuel the fires, just as it does today.
It's an amazing work, surely based on fact as well as fiction - and I highly recommend it to those searching for excellent P.I. stories that are complex and varied, yet unlike some of the earlier authors, are easy to read because the details of the cases are spun in a straightforward style, though yielding none of their objective complexity; and also give nothing away until everybody is ready for it. After reading this, I also see how many of the current writers may have used his method as inspiration. Throughout, there is amusement running steadily just beneath the surface, as though the man himself can't believe the circumstances that drive people to such things or just how they believe they will get away with it.
Talent from long ago that wrote so sublimely for the entertainment of others may be gone, but should not be forgotten easily.
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