Hammett: From Poisonville to Red Harvest, “Chapter One”

Red Harvest Part 1 cover

A couple of months ago I was prowling through the inventory of Mean Streets posts to salvage as yet unpublished material from the backlog. A few tentative ideas that got to skeletal mock-up stage I just deleted — weeding the noir garden, you know.

I had in mind finding a post Terry Zobeck did back circa 2014/2015, something that could make a suitable Xmas treat for loyal readers — folk surfing in for the first time might find it incredibly arcane.

Dig in, and you’ll figure it out.

Terry was finally getting ready to do a dream project — what would have been the latest in his “pure text” surveys of Hammett. He really wanted to do a textual comparison between the Knopf version of Red Harvest and the  earlier serial version that ran in Black Mask. The thing stopping him was the fact that he didn’t have all the issues of the pulp.

Then pulp dealer Paul Herman came out on the tour, and was willing to provide copies of the missing mags. Terry was on — a top secret, epic project for Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Terry had made his bones with Zobeck: Series One. Beginning with “This King Business” he covered all Hammett’s fiction not yet collected in pure text versions.

Zobeck: Series Two would have shown the editing Frederic Dannay did back in the day, but on stories you could read pure texts for in books available today — for people interested in that sort of thing.

Zobeck: Series Three — Poisonville to Red Harvest.

But then Terry and I began pondering, What If they just publish the whole thing someday — will the effort be worth it? Going through a story at a time is one thing. A novel? Well, hell. That’s a lot of work.

During PulpFest in 2015 Paul Herman rebutted that line of thought: If Terry doesn’t do it, who will ever do it?

Terry popped in the opening, but then something derailed him. And finally in 2017 the Black Mask text was reprinted in The Big Book of the Continental Op.

Whether or not Terry may want to mosey along on the rest of the comparisons — I wouldn’t insist — I figure any Hammett fans who stuck with him in his mighty quest to establish pure texts will enjoy a glance at Chapter One.

Here’s Terry:

I first read Red Harvest sometime around 1969. I’d always been a fan of gangster and PI films, but had never read any novels about them. It was my introduction to Hammett and it had a huge impact, one that continues to this day.

I don’t remember exactly when I first learned that Red Harvest had been extensively revised from its original publication in Black Mask. It may have been from my first reading of Richard Layman’s biography of Hammett, Shadow Man.

Legend had it that nearly every paragraph had been reworked. Reading this original version became something of a Grail quest for me.

In 2001, when I had a chance to spend some time with Layman and Hammett’s daughter Jo I took the opportunity to make a pitch for reprinting it, much like Otto Penzler eventually did with the Black Mask version of The Maltese Falcon a few years ago. But apparently there wasn’t sufficient demand for such an edition to make it practical.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever reading it given the rarity of those issues of Black Mask— two years ago I bid on “The Cleansing of Poisonville”, the first of the four parts of the serialized novel that appeared in successive issues of Black Mask starting in November 1927. It ended going for about $2,700, far beyond what I was able to bid.

You can imagine, then, how thrilled and excited I was when Don contacted me last year to tell me that Paul Herman, a Mean Streets follower and rare book dealer, was willing to provide us with a photographic copy of the four issues in his possession. Don and I quickly decided I should undertake documenting the edits Hammett made to the original serialization to turn it into a publishable novel — at least by the Knopf’s standards.

This would be the largest and most complex assignment I had taken on for the Mean Streets since I started this work more than three years ago. But it would be a labor of love.

I’ve not completed the project yet, so I’ll be doing this in near real time over the coming weeks and months. So far there hasn’t been that much substantial revision to document — plenty of wordsmith, but not much of substance, with the exception of the pulp version setting the action in 1927.

According to the legend, there are far more murders and other mayhem in the original than in the novel, but I haven’t come upon any of that yet.

So, let’s begin the investigation. The edits are documented similar to what we’ve been doing with the short stories. I’m comparing the original magazine version to the 1929 Knopf first edition. The page, line, and whether from the top or bottom of the page refer to the first edition. The text that is struck-through is from the first edition, the underlined text is the original from the pulp.  This time around we get through the first two sections of “The Cleansing of Poisonville” which correspond to the first chapter of Red Harvest.

Page       Line        Top/bottom     Text

3             1             top                   Chapter 1

3             2             top                   A Woman in Green and a Man in Gray

3             3             top                   called Poisonville in 1920, in the Big Ship in Butte by a red-haired mucker named Hicky Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. But Hhe also called his shirt a shoit., so I didn’t think anything

3             7             top                   Later, when I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation twist,. I still didn’t see

3             11           top                   A few years later In 1927 I went to Personville

3             7             bottom             Then I rode went up to the Great Western Hotel

4             15           top                   They brought me to a house His house was set in a hedged grass-plot on a corner.

4             14           bottom             The maid who opened the door [This portion of the original paragraph starts a separate paragraph in the book]

4             11           bottom             a slender blonde woman of something less than thirty, in green crepe, came to the door.

4             9             bottom             I repeated my explanation tale to her

4             4             bottom             a brown and red square room

5             2             top                   No. San Francisco

5             9             top                   “I’m afraid Yyou’ll find it a dreary place,.Sshe shrugged and returned to her digging with:

5             13           top                   She looked at the clock over the fire on the mantel and said:

5             11           bottom             I didn’t say anything. [This line should be part of the next paragraph]

5             10           bottom             She laughed – a brief short laugh with something sharp in it.

5             8             bottom             “I’m really not ordinarily so much of a busybody as you probably think not curious about other people’s affairs, really,” she said gaily. “But you’re so excessively secretive that I can’t help being curious you goad me on.

5             3             bottom             I let her get whatever she could out of a grin. [Should be part of the next paragraph]

5             2             bottom             Downstairs a A telephone bell rang downstairs.

6             3             top                   She began: “I’m afraid I’ll ha—“ [This sentence should be a part of the next paragraph]

6             8             top                   within earshot of my seat.

6             13           top                   The telephone hook rattled. Then Hher quick steps sounded down the hallway – rapid steps.

6             13           bottom             Avenue, and at the square small white garage.

6             11           bottom             Presently a slender women in dark coat and hat come into sight hurrying from house to garage. It was Mrs. Willsson. She drove away in a Buick coupe. It was Mrs. Willsson. [This is part of the preceding paragraph]

6             7             bottom             At five minutes after past eleven, automobile brakes screeched outside.

6             2             bottom             “I’m awfully sorry,.she said, Hher little tight-lipped mouth moving moved jerkily,.but yYou’ved had all this waiting for nothing.

7             2             top                   I said I would get in touch with him at the Herald in the morning. and I went away wondering why. [This sentence should be broken into two paragraphs at “and”]

7             7             top                   .     .     . II

7             8             top                   [The first two paragraphs of this section should be a single paragraph]

7             8             bottom             even to the thick lips, though he didn’t wasn’t look much more older than thirty. – a His face was broad, thick-featured face with and intelligent intelligence in it.

7             3             bottom             “What’s the rumpus? I asked this fellow him.

8             4             top                   if God don’t mind looking at the bullet holes in him.”

“Who put them there shot him?” I asked.

8             8             top                   “Somebody with a gun.” [Should be part of the preceding paragraph]

8             9             top                   I wanted information not wit. I would have tried to find a less wity informant in my luck with some other member of the crowd if the red tie hadn’t interested me. I said:

8             12           top                   “Sure. I’m a stranger in town.” I said. “Hang the Punch and Judy on me.That’s what strangers are for.”

8             14           top                   “Mr. Donald Willsson, Esquire, publisher of the Morning and Evening Heralds, son of the well-known Mr. Elihu Willsson,” he recited in a rapid sing-song, was found lying in Hurricane Street a little while ago, shot very dead, having been shot several places. by parties unknown,” he recited in a rapid singsong.

8             12           bottom             “Yeah Thanks.”

8             8             bottom             “By gad God, I’m glad to meet you!”

8             4             bottom             It identified me as Henry F. Brannan (a lie) Neil, A.B. seaman, member in good standing of the Industrial Workers of the Word, seaman’s No. ——-. There wasn’t a word of truth in it.

9             1             top                   [In the magazine this is part of the preceding paragraph] I passed it this card to Bill Quint. He read it carefully, front and back, returned it to me my hand, and looked me over from hat to shoes, not trustfully.

9             7             top                   We walked down the street together, turned a corner, strolled along—aimlessly so as far as I know.

9             13           top                   “Yeah. I got another that proves I’m a timber-beast.,” I said.

9             15           bottom             “No, Yyou won’t.

9             13           bottom             “To Hhell with Chi! I run ‘em here.” He nodded at a restaurant door and asked: “Drink?”

9             7             bottom             “Hello,” “Hullo!” to some of the boys and girls at tables and bar, and guided steered me into one of the green-curtained booths that lined the wall opposite wall the bar.

9             4             bottom             We spent the next two hours drinking whiskey and talking [should be part of the preceding paragraph]

9             2             bottom             The gray man didn’t think I was a good Wobbly, didn’t think I had any right to the red card I had shown showed, and nor to the other one I had mentioned. He didn’t think I was a good wobbly.

10           3             top                   he considered it his duty to get the low-down on me find out how come,

10           6             top                   That was all right with me. I was more interested in Personville affairs. He didn’t mind discussing them. They were something he could hide behind between casual poking into my business with the red cards, my radical status. [Should be part of the preceding paragraph]

10           11           top                   Elihu Willsson—father of the man who had been killed this night—

10           13           top                   heart, soul, skin and guts skin, guts and soul.

10           13           bottom             of any importance in the city. Along with these pieces of this other property

10           11           bottom             a couple of Rrepresentatives, the governor, the mayor, and most of the Sstate Llegislature.

10           7             bottom             Back in the war days, when the I.W.W.—in full bloom then throughout the West—was blooming, they

10           5             bottom             The help hadn’t been exactly pampered, and Tthey used their new strength

10           3             bottom             Old Elihu gave in to them what he had to give them, and bided his time.

10           1             bottom             In 1921 1919 it came. Business was rotten slack. Old Elihu He didn’t care whether he had to shut down for a while or not. He tore up the agreements he had made with his men and began cut wages, lengthened hours, generally kicking kicked them back into their pre-war circumstances old place.

11           5             top                   Of course the help had yelled for help action.  Bill Quint was had been sent out from I.W.W. headquarters in Chicago to give them some action it to them. He was had been against a strike—a walkout an open walk-out. What Hhe advised was the old sabotage racket

11           10           top                   But that wasn’t active enough for the Personville crew wouldn’t listen to him.

11           13           top                   So tThey struck. [Should be part of the preceding paragraph]

11           14           bottom             Old Elihu could hire hired gunmen, strike-breakers strike-breakers, gunmen nNational gGuardsmen

11           8             bottom             Italian history Machiavelli. He had won the strike, but he had lost his hold on the City and State affairs. To beat the miners Wobblies he had to let his hired thugs lieutenants run wild. When the fight was over he couldn’t get rid of shake them off. Personville looked good to them and they took it over. Elihu was an enfeebled czar. He had given his city to them his hired thugs. and now he wasn’t strong enough to take it away from them. Personville looked good to them and they took it over. They had won his strike for him and now they took the his city for their spoils. He couldn’t openly break with them. because he was responsible for all they had done during the strike. They had too much on him. He was responsible for all they had done during the strike.

“They” I asked. “Have thy got names?”

12           3             top                   Bill Quint and I were both fairly mellow by the time we had got this far. “Uh-huh.” Quint He emptied his glass again, and pushed his hair out of his eyes and brought his history up to date:. We were both fairly mellow by the time we had got this far.

12           7             top                   [This should be part of the preceding paragraph] “The strongest of ‘em now is probably

12           9             top                   He’s got a loan shop joint down on Parker Street, does a lot of bail bond business, maybe handles most of the burg’s hot stuff, so they tell me, and is pretty thick with Noonan, the chief of Police. This kid Max Thaler—Whisper—has got a lot of friends too. A Llittle, slick dark guy with something wrong with his throat—a gambler. They call him Whisper because he does, which is a pretty good reason. Can’t talk. Gambler. Those three, with Noonan, just about help Elihu run his city, help him more than he wants. But he’s got has to play with ‘em them or else.”

12           9             bottom             “You mean the his old man had him—?”

“Maybe, at that, but that’s it’s not my guess.

12           6             bottom             It wasn’t like the old devil Elihu, even if he was is getting close to the grave along in years, to let anybody cop anything from him without hitting back take his city away from him. But he had to be cagey with these guys.

12           2             bottom             and used him for as his monkey—a damned nice fatherly trick. Don starts a reform clean-up campaign in the his papers—cClear the burg city of vice and corruption,which means clear it of Pete and Lew and Whisper Max, if it goes far enough. Get it? See? The old man’s using the boy to shake pry ‘em loose. Well, I guess they got tired of being shook pried.

There seems to be a few I could find things wrong with that guess,” I said.

There’s more than a few Uh-huh, you could find things wrong with everything in this lousy burg Poisonville. Had enough of this gut-paint?”

I said I had. and Wwe went down to the street. Bill Quint walked as far as my hotel with me told me he was living in the Miner’s Hotel in Forest Street. His way home ran past my hotel, so we walked down together. In front of my hotel it a beefy man fellow with the look of a plain clothes man copper in civvies stood on the curb and talked talking to the occupant a man in of a Stutz touring car.

I looked past the beefy man and saw Thaler’s profile., It was young, dark, and small, with pretty features as regular as if they had been cut by with a die—pretty features.

13           2             bottom             “Uh-huh,” the gray man agreed, “and sSo’s dynamite.”

To be continued . . .

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