Dashiell Hammett: Crime Stories and Other Writings (Library of America)


In the stories and novellas he wrote for Black Mask and other pulp magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, Dashiell Hammett took the detective story and turned it into a medium for capturing the jarring textures and revved-up cadences of modern American life. In this volume, The Library of America collects the finest of these stories: 24 in all, along with some revealing essays and an earlier version of his novel The Thin Man.

Mixing melodramatic panache and poker-faced comedy, a ...

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In the stories and novellas he wrote for Black Mask and other pulp magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, Dashiell Hammett took the detective story and turned it into a medium for capturing the jarring textures and revved-up cadences of modern American life. In this volume, The Library of America collects the finest of these stories: 24 in all, along with some revealing essays and an earlier version of his novel The Thin Man.

Mixing melodramatic panache and poker-faced comedy, a sensitivity to place and a perceptive grasp of social conflict, Hammett's stories are hard-edged entertainments for an era of headlong change and extravagant violence. For the heroic sagas of earlier eras Hammett substituted the up-tempo, devious, sometimes nearly nihilistic exploits of con men and blackmailers, fake spiritualists and thieving politicians, slumming socialites and deadpan assassins.

As a guide through this underworld he created the Continental Op, the nameless, laconic detective, world-weary and unblinking, who serves as protagonist of most of these stories. The deliberately unheroic Op is separated only by his code of professionalism from the brutality and corruption that run rampant in stories such as "Zigzags of Treachery," "Dead Yellow Women," "Fly Paper," and "$106,000 Blood Money."

Hammett's years of experience as a Pinkerton detective give even his most outlandishly plotted mysteries a gritty credibility, and his intimate knowledge of San Francisco made him the perfect chronicler of that city's waterfronts, back alleys, police stations, and luxury hotels. By connecting crime fiction to the realities of American streets and American speech, his Black Mask stories opened up new vistas for generations of writers and readers.

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Editorial Reviews

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. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The father of hard-boiled detective fiction, whose five novels got the Library of America treatment in 1999, now returns in two dozen stories and three related items: the early version of The Thin Man, first published in Nightmare Town (2000); a series of 29 one-sentence vignettes from his days as a Pinkerton detective; and 24 brief suggestions for writers of detective fiction. The good news is the careful editing of texts-editor Marcus has gone back to the Continenal Op's original pulp appearances and restored dozens of passages cut or revised for earlier book publication. The bad news is that, in accord with Library of America protocol, no explanation is given as to how the contents were selected, or why (copyright reasons?) all of Sam Spade's short encores were passed over. An invaluable collection, then, but not the definitive volume it might have been.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931082006
  • Publisher: Library of America
  • Publication date: 9/10/2001
  • Series: Library of America Series
  • Pages: 934
  • Sales rank: 301,195
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Dashiell Hammett
Dashiell Hammett
An elegant figure with a real background as a private eye, Hammett pioneered hard-boiled fiction with his plain-spoken dialogue and classic characters such as Sam Spade, Nick Charles, and the Continental Op. Opening the door for a slew of imitators, Hammett left an indelible mark with a relatively short body of work.


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.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Dashiell Hammett (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 27, 1894
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Mary, Maryland
    1. Date of Death:
      January 10, 1961
    2. Place of Death:
      New York

Table of Contents

Crime Stories
Arson Plus 3
Slippery Fingers 22
Crooked Souls 35
The Tenth Clew 52
Zigzags of Treachery 84
The House in Turk Street 123
The Girl with the Silver Eyes 146
Women, Politics and Murder 191
The Golden Horseshoe 219
Nightmare Town 264
The Whosis Kid 310
The Scorched Face 356
Dead Yellow Women 395
The Gutting of Couffignal 450
The Assistant Murderer 483
Creeping Siamese 522
The Big Knock-Over 538
$106,000 Blood Money 592
The Main Death 636
This King Business 659
Fly Paper 711
The Farewell Murder 745
Woman in the Dark 783
Two Sharp Knives 829
Other Writings
The Thin Man: An Early Typescript 847
From the Memoirs of a Private Detective 905
"Suggestions to Detective Story Writers" 910
Chronology 915
Note on the Texts 926
Notes 932
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