Hammett: A Couple of Thoughts on Including Murder

As I’ve been brooding over the Robert S. Powell article about the first Continental Op collection Including Murder, two kind of random thoughts hit me:

First, Powell describes the emendations in pencil on the tearsheets as being done in a “consistent hand” — which I take to mean that he doesn’t recognise Hammett’s holograph. Before anyone could use the corrections in any future editing on a Complete Continental Op volume, the marks would have to be by Hammett and not by someone else. I presume they are Hammett, of course — while I haven’t seen those I have held the long Knopf galley sheets for The Dain Curse hand-corrected by the author. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to become familiar with Hammett’s handwriting, which in its own way is as distinctive as that of H. P. Lovecraft (guys who can’t recognise authentic Lovecraft script kill me).

Second, while I have not the slightest doubt that the collection would have been all Op — not mostly Op with a couple of random standalone crime stories tossed in — I wonder how they would have referred to the Op on a finished book. Without checking all the stories thought to be in the lineup for the contents, my impression is that no one — not Hammett, not editorial blurbs at Black Mask — was referring to the anonymous narrator as “the Continental Op.”

Maybe as an op. As an operative for the Continental Detective Agency. As a short fat sleuth.

I suppose I need to do a reread on the whole series again, but I was kind of surprised as I was rereading Red Harvest a couple of years ago to find that the Op does (almost) call himself the Continental Op in chapter six, Whisper’s Joint: “I’m the Continental op who tipped Dinah Brand off. . . .”

But by late 1924 or early 1925?

I’d love to have seen blurb lines for the book, trying to explain the detective. Anonymous, tough, short, fat operative for a detective agency in San Francisco. . . .

Even better, Hammett might have had to coin the descriptive term for his Op on the spot, and might have come up with something else entirely. Not left it to default mode where fans such as Frederic Dannay prowled the stories and novels and decided on “the Continental Op.”

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