Hammett: “Magician” Trackdown

Lately M. P. Shiel has been in the air around here — I’ve been easing my way through the first two of three volumes of the biography of Shiel from the pen of Harold Billings (on the side reading upcoming potential bestseller novels about werewolves in Manhattan and surfer dude Private Eyes, on assignment). And good old John D. Squires has just tumbled to the origins of the quote where Hammett called Shiel “A magician.”

As I mentioned in the recent post about Shiel, the thought had been that some of us presumed that John Gawsworth, a big booster of Shiel in his last years, would have solicited the quote from Hammett, most likely after seeing the rave review of Shiel’s novel Lord of the Sea dropped into the Continental Op story “The Gutting of Couffignal.”

JDS tells me that a guy named Terry Zobeck on the FictionMags chat group just discovered the origin of the quote in a review Hammett wrote for the July 3, 1930 New York Evening Post — reprinted on page 103 of Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade from none other than Vince Emery! Jeez, I’m also going to have to sit down someday and read each and every page from Vince’s Ace Performer series, looks like. . . . 

So, pull your copy of the Vince tome off the shelf (I presume everybody has a copy), and check it out. One mystery solved, thanks to Terry Zobeck.

The question that remains unanswered, at least for the moment, is whether Shiel himself knew about the quote — did he have tear sheets of the review in his files, from which Gawsworth pulled the blurb for the 1948 collection The Best Short Stories of M. P. Shiel? Or was Hammett’s review unknown to Shiel until the wily, nose-to-the-ground Gawsworth somehow tracked it down?

Somebody get on this one.

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