Continental Op / Dashiell Hammett


GM Logo 256Good Mystery

Find a good murder! 


 A Proud Amazon Associate 


Dashiell Hannett & The Continental Op


Dasiel HammettSamuel Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, a screenplay writer, and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse).

In addition to the significant influence his novels and stories had on film, Hammett “is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time” and was called, in his obituary in The New York Times, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.” Time magazine included Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest on a list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.

Hammett was born on a farm called Hopewell and Aim in St. Mary’s County, in southern Maryland. His parents were Richard Thomas Hammett and Anne Bond Dashiell; his mother belonged to an old Maryland family whose name was Anglicized from the French De Chiel. Hammett was baptized a Catholic and grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. “Sam”, as he was known before he began writing, left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He served as an operative for the Pinkertons from 1915 to February 1922, with time off to serve in World War I. However, the agency’s role in union strike-breaking eventually disillusioned him.

Hammett enlisted in the Army in 1918 and served in the Motor Ambulance Corps. However, he became ill with the Spanish flu and later contracted tuberculosis. He spent most of his time in the Army as a patient in Cushman Hospital, Tacoma, Washington. While there he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, whom he later married. Hammett and Dolan had two daughters, Mary Jane (1921) and Josephine (1926). Shortly after the birth of their second child, Health Services informed Dolan that due to Hammett’s TB, she and the children should not live with him full-time. Dolan rented a home in San Francisco, where Hammett would visit on weekends. The marriage soon fell apart, but he continued to financially support his wife and daughters with the income he made from his writing.

Hammett became an alcoholic before working in advertising and, eventually, writing. Hammett wrote most of his detective fiction during the period that he was living in San Francisco (the 1920s), and specific streets and locations in San Francisco are frequently mentioned in his stories. He was first published in 1922 in the magazine The Smart Set. Known for his authenticity and realism in his writing, Hammett drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton operative. As Hammett said: “All my characters were based on people I’ve known personally, or known about.” Raymond Chandler, often considered Hammett’s successor, summarized his accomplishments:

Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of, The Glass Key, is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before. – Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

From 1929 to 1930 Dashiell was romantically involved with Nell Martin, an author of short stories and several novels. He dedicated The Glass Key to her, and in turn, she dedicated her novel Lovers Should Marry to Hammett. In 1931, Hammett embarked on a 30-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. He wrote his final novel in 1934, more than twenty-five years before his death. It is not certain why he moved away from fiction; Hellman speculated in a posthumous collection of Hammett’s novels that “I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do new kind of work, he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker.”

Hammett devoted much of the rest of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong anti-fascist throughout the 1930s and in 1937 he joined the Communist Party USA. He suspended his anti-fascist activities when, as a member (and in 1941 president) of the League of American Writers, he served on its Keep America Out of War Committee in January 1940 during the period of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The League again abruptly shifted its political position, resuming its anti-fascist stance, with the German invasion of the USSR in the summer of 1941.

In early 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett again enlisted in the United States Army. He was a disabled veteran of World War I, a victim of tuberculosis, and a Communist, but he pulled strings in order to be admitted. He served as a sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper. In 1943, while a member of the military, he had co-authored The Battle of the Aleutians with Cpl. Robert Colodny, under the direction of an Infantry intelligence officer, Major Henry W. Hall. While located in the Aleutians he fell victim to emphysema.

After the war, Hammett returned to political activism, “but he played that role with less fervor than before.” He was elected President of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) on June 5, 1946 at a meeting held at the Hotel Diplomat in New York City, and “devoted the largest portion of his working time to CRC activities.” In 1946, a bail fund was created by the CRC “to be used at the discretion of three trustees to gain the release of defendants arrested for political reasons.” Those three trustees were Hammett, who was chairman, Robert W. Dunn, and Frederick Vanderbilt Field, “millionaire Communist supporter.” On April 3, 1947, the CRC was identified as a Communist front group on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, as directed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9835.

The CRC’s bail fund gained national attention in 1949, when bail in the amount of $260,000 was posted to free eleven men appealing their convictions for criminal conspiracy and advocating the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence. In July 1951, their appeals exhausted, four of the convicted men fled rather than surrender themselves to Federal agents. The US Southern District Court of New York issued subpoenas to the trustees of the CRC in an attempt to find the fugitives. Hammett testified on July 9, 1951 in front of US District Court Judge Sylvester Ryan, facing questions by Irving Saypol, the US Attorney, described by Time as “the nation’s number one legal hunter of top Communists”.  Hammett took the Fifth and as soon as his testimony concluded, he was found guilty of contempt of court. He served time in a West Virginia federal penitentiary. According to Lillian Hellman, “he had come to the conclusion that a man should keep his word.” In 1953 he again testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but refused to cooperate with the committee. No action was taken, but this stand led to his being blacklisted, as a result of McCarthyism.

A lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking worsened Hammett’s tuberculosis contracted in World War I, and then according to Hellman “jail had made a thin man thinner, a sick man sicker … I knew he would now always be sick.” He may have meant to start a new literary life with the novel Tulip, but left it unfinished perhaps because he was “just too ill to care, too worn out to listen to plans or read contracts. The fact of breathing, just breathing, took up all the days and nights.”

Hammett became “a hermit”, his decline evident in the clutter of his rented “ugly little country cottage” where “the signs of sickness were all around: now the phonograph was unplayed, the typewriter untouched, the beloved foolish gadgets unopened in their packages.” Hammett could no longer live alone and they both knew it, so the last four years of his life he spent with Hellman. “Not all of that time was easy, and some of it very bad.” On January 10, 1961, Hammett died in New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, of lung cancer, diagnosed just two months before. As a veteran of two World Wars, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

He wrote only five full length novels, some 53 novelettes and short stories and was involved in several screenplays.

The Continental Op is a master of deceit in the exercise of his profession. In his 1927 Black Mask story “$106,000 Blood Money”, for instance, the Op is confronted with two dilemmas: shall he expose a corrupt fellow detective, thereby hurting the reputation of his agency; and shall he also allow an informant to collect the $106,000 reward (equivalent to approximately $1,443,996 in 2016 dollars) in a big case even though he is morally certain – but cannot prove – that the informant has murdered one of his agency’s clients? The Op resolves his two problems neatly by manipulating events so that the corrupt detective and the informant get into an armed confrontation in which both are killed.

Decades of witnessing human cruelty, misery, and ruin, as well as being instrumental in sending hundreds of people to jail, or to the gallows, have greatly weakened the Op’s natural sympathy with his fellow men. He fears becoming like his boss, “The Old Man”, whom he describes as “a shell, without any human feelings whatsoever”.

In the penultimate chapter of The Dain Curse, a female client, whose life the Op has saved three times, while also curing her of morphine addiction, says to him:

“You came in just now, and then I saw -“
She stopped.
“What?”
“A monster. A nice one, an especially nice one to have around when you’re in trouble, but a monster just the same, without any human foolishness like love in him, and – What’s the matter? Have I said something I shouldn’t?”

The Op is the first major hardboiled detective later developed in such characters as Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and others.

Edited from Wikipedia: Dashiell Hammett & Continental Op

More on Dashiell Hammett

More on The Continental OP 


The Continental OP Novels


red harvestRed Harvest (1929)

Available in paperback, ebook, and audible editions.
Book  eBook  Audible  Amazon.ca

Best Review
****

Note: An evil town!

When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty – even if that meant taking on an entire town. Red Harvest is more than a superb crime novel: it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.

More on Red Harvest


dain curseThe Dain Curse (1929)

Available in paperback, ebook, and audible editions.
Book  eBook  Audible  Amazon.ca

Best Review
****

Note: Dying to meet her?

The Continental Op is a short, squat, and utterly unsentimental tank of a private detective. Miss Gabrielle Dain Leggett is young, wealthy, and a devotee of morphine and religious cults. She has an unfortunate effect on the people around her: they have a habit of dying violently. Is Gabrielle the victim of a family curse? Or is the truth about her weirder and infinitely more dangerous? The Dain Curse is one of the Continental Op’s most bizarre cases, and a tautly crafted masterpiece of suspense.

More on The Dain Curse


hammett writings$100,600 Blood Money (Novelette)
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

 

Best Review
****

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

Note: The hunt for a criminal mastermind!

(Black Mask, May 1927) In the aftermath of “The Big Knockover”, the Op hunts the double-crossing mastermind, as do “half the crooks in the country”.


Continental Op Short Stories


continental opArson Plus  
Collection: Continental Op / Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, Oct. 1, 1923) (as Peter Collinson) Suspecting insurance fraud, the Op investigates the burning of an isolated farmhouse and its reclusive inhabitant.


continental opSlippery Fingers
Collection: Continental Op / Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, 15 Oct. 1923) (as Peter Collinson)


continental opCrooked Souls
Collection: Continental Op / Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

AKA: “The Gatewood Caper” (Black Mask, Oct. 15, 1923) A bullying lumber baron has lost a daughter to kidnappers, but the Op isn’t convinced – of anything.


The Black Hat That Wasn’t There
Collection: The Woman In The Dark, Edited by E. Queen

Not currently available.

Not found

Note: A rare item found only in two places – according to legend!

AKA: “It”  (Black Mask, Nov. 1, 1923) 

Hammett, Dashiell. The Woman In the Dark. Edited by Ellery Queen. Spivak, 1951.


continental opBodies Piled Up (AKA: House Dick)
Collection: Continental Op / Nightmare Town

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

AKA: “House Dick”) (Black Mask, December 1, 1923) (NT). Posing as a killer hunting a killer works too well as the Op gets caught in a crossfire.


continental opThe Tenth Clew
Collection: Continental Op / Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, January 1, 1924) A rich man is killed with a typewriter and the Op gets dumped into San Francisco Bay.


continental opNight Shots
Collection: Continental Op / Nightmare Town

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, February 1924)  In a lonely country house, the Op investigates pot-shots aimed at a sick old scoundrel.


continental opZig Zags of Treachery
Collection: Continental Op / Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, March 1, 1924) When a prominent surgeon commits suicide and an unknown wife shows up, the Op and other agents follow suspect after suspect to untangle a decades-old conspiracy.


hammett writingsThe House in Turk Street
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, April 15, 1924) (CO) (CS). Routine questions on a quiet street tumble the Op into a den of thieves.


continental opOne Hour
Collection: Continental Op / Nightmare Town

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, April 1924) (NT) (RO). In a busy hour, a hit-and-run leads the Op to a print shop where he’s mobbed.


hammett writingsThe Girl with Silver Eyes
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca  eBook

(Black Mask, June 1924) Following on “Turk Street”, a dead poet leads the Op to a dark night’s shootout outside a rough-and-tumble roadhouse.


hammett writingsWomen, Politics and Murder
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

AKA: “Death on Pine Street” (Black Mask, September 1924) The Op shuttles between a hysterical wife and a dead-pan mistress, knowing both are liars, to learn who killed a city contractor.


hammett writingsThe Golden Horseshoe
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, November 1924)  The Op finds a hophead husband who ran away to Tijuana, but the wife he left behind turns up dead.


continental opWho Killed Bob Teal?
Collection: Continental Op / Nightmare Town

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

(True Detective Stories, November 1924) A fellow Continental detective was killed while shadowing a suspect, so the Op and a city cop retrace his steps.


continental opMike, Alec, or Rufus
Collection: Continental Op / Nightmare Town

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

AKA: “Tom, Dick or Harry”) (Black Mask, January 1925) The cops are stumped by a robber who ran into an apartment house and didn’t come out, but not the Op.


hammett writingsThe Whosis Kid
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, March 1925) On a hunch, the Op trails a stick-up artist and worms his way into a “double-, triple- and septuple-cross.”


hammett writingsThe Scorched Face
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca  eBook

(Black Mask, May 1925) Hunting two missing daughters, the Op uncovers a rash of debutante suicides and disappearances.


big knockoverCorkscrew
Collection: The Big Knockover

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca  eBook

(Black Mask, September 1925) The Op is appointed Deputy Sheriff of Corkscrew, Arizona, where cowboys keep getting killed.


hammett writingsDead Yellow Women
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, November 1925) The Op braves the dark alleys of Chinatown to learn why a seaside mansion was raided by Asian strangers.


hammett writingsThe Gutting of Couffignal
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, December 1925) On a wealthy summer island, the Continental Op tries to thwart an invasion when the lights go off and machine guns fire up.


hammett writingsThe Creeping Siamese
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in paperback and hardcover editions.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, March 1926) 


hammett writingsThe Big Knockover
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in paperback and hardcover editions.

Hardcover  Paperback  eBook  Amazon.ca  Paperback

Note: Originally Bloody Money

(Black Mask, February 1927) An army of imported gangsters raided two banks, and the Op dodges bullets and fists to find the mastermind.  Also published as Bloody Monday as part of the $160,000 Bloody Money novelette


hammett writingsThe Main Death
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, June 1927) The Op ignores a suicide to get back $20,000 – at gun point.


hammett writingsThis King Business
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Mystery Stories, January 1928) Seeking a wayward son in the Balkan country of Muravia, the Op learns the boy is funding a kingly coup.


hammett writingsFly Paper
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available in hardcover and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca  eBook

(Black Mask, August 1929)  The Op finds a “wandering daughter” who liked rough “yeggs” and ended up dead.


hammett writingsThe Farewell Murder
Collection: Hammett: Crime Stories

Available only in hardcover edition.

Book  Amazon.ca

(Black Mask, February 1930) The Op struggles to prove a vendetta-bent sadist wasn’t nine hours away at the time of a grisly killing.


return opDeath and Company
Collection: Return of The Continental Op
Available only in paperback edition.

Book

(Black Mask, November 1930) Edition edited by Ellery Queen


Stories republished as part of Red Harvest

“The Cleansing of Poisonville” (Black Mask, November 1927). Summoned to “Poisonville”, the Op finds his client was murdered. The dead man’s father rules the town, so the Op strikes a deal to clean up the town “with a free hand”. Dodging double-crossing cops and crooks, he exposes the murderer. And refuses to call off the “cleansing”.
“Crime Wanted – Male or Female” (Black Mask, December 1927). Stirring up trouble, the Op un-fixes a fight and investigates a year-old “suicide” of the police chief’s brother, just as someone dynamites the City Hall holding cells. “Poisonville was beginning to boil out under the lid.”
“Dynamite” (Black Mask, January 1928). A raid on a bootlegger’s roadhouse makes the cops miss a bank robbery. As the mob ruling “Poisonville” gathers for a “peace conference”, the Op tosses “dynamite” that exposes multiple frame-ups and shatters the partnership.
“The 19th Murder” (Black Mask, February 1928). Getting “blood simple as the natives”, the Op wakes to find he may have ice-picked his female informer, so runs from the law while steering the mobs into a final battle for control of “Poisonville”.

Stories republished as part of The Dain Curse

“Black Lives” (Black Mask, November 1928)
“The Hollow Temple” (Black Mask, December 1928)
“Black Honeymoon” (Black Mask, January 1929)
“Black Riddle” (Black Mask, February 1929)


Continental Op  DVD Collections


dain curse dvdDain Curse
1978 TV Series

Available in DVD set

DVD Set

Note: Murder and deception await!

Academy Award-winner James Coburn is in this twist-packed thriller from mystery legend Dashiell Hammett. When a case of diamonds goes missing, hard-boiled private eye Hamilton Nash (Coburn) investigates and uncovers a tangled web involving the Dain family, a bloodline cursed with sudden, violent death. Disturbed graves, robberies and human sacrifices are just a few of the perils uncovered before the final shocking revelation in this stylish whodunit, now presented in its full miniseries length. The stellar cast also features Jason Miller (The Exorcist), Beatrice Straight (Poltergeist), Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries), Jean Simmons (Spartacus) and Paul Stewart (Kiss Me Deadly).


Dashiell Hammett Bibliography


Good Mystery home




Comments are closed.