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,... read more
Nine short stories, many featuring the Continental Op. Includes the unfinished novel, Tulip, and a memoir by Lillian Hellman.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful: A great writer flexes his muscles, December 1, 2001 Reviewer: Paul Dana from San Francisco, CA USA 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!" Note: Subsequent editions of this collection sometimes include "$106,000 Blood Money," which Hammett ill-advisedly wrote as a sequel to "The Big Knockover." Good as this second tale may be, I believe it could have been written just as easily -- and to better effect -- as an independent story. (There is some evidence that Hammett at one point thought of combining the two as a novel.) I much prefer to leave "Knockover" on its own and let it end there, without the more-than-slightly unsatisfactory resolution of "$106,000 Blood Money." Each story in this collection shines on its own and reveals facets of Hammett's innate genius. Oh, yeah: There's also a reminiscince by playwright Lillian Hellman, which may or may not have any bearing upon the actual Dashiell Hammett. Decide for yourself.