Hammett: “Bodies Piled Up”


After a hiatus during which he obviously spent some safari time in the pulp jungle hunting down rare and elusive pulps, Terry Zobeck is back to let us know the extent of the editing done to yet another Op tale by good old Frederic Dannay. Terry began this coverage with “This King Business” last summer, followed by “Death and Company,” then “One Hour” and most recently “It.” And of course he has detailed the editing on six other non-Op Hammett stories and the three shorts featuring Sam Spade. You can mount your own expedition into the wilds of the blog archives and track them all down, if curious.

Here’s Terry:

Recently, I managed to snag another issue of Black Mask containing a Hammett story, the pure text of which has long been unavailable — the December 1, 1923 issue with the Op story “Bodies Piled Up.” Dannay reprinted this story under the title “House Dick” in the April 1947 issue of EQMM, and then collected it in Dead Yellow Women later that year.  More recently, the story was reprinted in Nightmare Town (1999) using Dannay’s text.

“Bodies Piled Up” doesn’t deserve to be among Hammett’s forgotten stories; it is an Op story after all and, while not among the very best, it is entertaining. The Op is hired by the Montgomery Hotel in San Francisco as the temporary hotel detective or “house dick.” All is quiet until the final day when the Op follows a blood trail in one of the rooms and discovers three bodies stuffed into a closet. They come falling out one after the other when the Op opens the door, shocking even our hardboiled hero. And while the Op doesn’t do much detecting, there is a terrific three-way shoot-out at the end in a speakeasy between the Op and two gangsters.

Beyond changing a perfectly good title, Dannay took a light pencil to “Bodies Piled Up,” but at least one of the edits was especially unfortunate. One of the pleasures of the Op stories is his frequent asides about the tradecraft of manhunting, like when he tells us the particulars of shadowing in “Zigzags of Treachery.”  In “Bodies Piled Up,” Dannay deleted the Op’s ruminations on the usefulness of knowing the motive to apprehending a murderer.

As usual the following list provides the page number, the line number and whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the affected text — Hammett’s original wording is underlined. The page numbers refer to the story as it appeared in 1947 in Dead Yellow Women.

Page    Line     Top/Bottom    Text

81        Title                            House Dick Bodies
Piled Up

81        8          top                   Then
things changed. [Should be a separate paragraph.]

81        9          top                   the
assistant manager on duty at the time

83        1          top                   next
door to Develyn’s office, in fact.

83        10        top                   of
the their persons

83        10        bottom            and
telephoned Stacy.  She had seen no one
in the corridor nearby as she entered the room.

85        9          bottom            to
the guilty one. It is on this account that murderers are, as a rule, more
easily apprehended than any other class of criminals.

But a knowledge of the motive isn’t indispensable—quite a few murder mysteries are
solved without its help.  And in a fair proportion—say, 10 to 20 percent—of cases of where men are convicted justly of murder, the motive isn’t clearly shown even at the last, and sometimes is hardly guessed at

87        13        top                   and—so
the talk went—
an occasional judge

88        11        top                   Then
I jumped out of bed.  [Should be a
separate paragraph.]

89        11        top                   whose
clothes are always soiled; and the management hasn’t yet verified the rumor
that the country has gone dry

91        11        top                   but
I didn’t try to solve it now. I kept away from the bullets that were flying
around as best I could and waited.

91        4          bottom            His
dying face twisted into a triumphant grin.

91        1          bottom            He
shuddered and died.  [Should be a separate

With the addition of “Bodies Piled Up” to our collection of reclaimed pure texts, we now lack only the following seven stories; if anyone has any of these, please consider contributing to this project:

  • The Vicious Circle (reprinted as The Man
    Who Stood in the Way)
  • Night Shots
  • Afraid of a Gun
  • Who Killed Bob Teal?
  • Mike, Alice or Rufus (reprinted as Tom,
    Dick or Harry)
  • Corkscrew
  • The Nails in Mr. Cayterer
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