Hammett: More “Op” Coinage

After his first stab at tracking down when the term “The Continental Op” came into play, Terry Zobeck returns to the pulps and books to search for more clews.

When last seen he had found the Continental Op — cap C, cap O — first used in a tag line for “The Farewell Murder” in Black Mask, February 1930, the next to the last Op story, and I had asked if the term recurred in the final Op yarn, “Death and Company.” Here’s Terry with the answer:


For “Death and Company” in the November 1930 issue Black Mask used “The Continental Op” in both the Table of Contents — The Continental Op turns in a tough case — and in the intro for the story — The Continental Op tackles a Killer.

I also thought to check “This King Business” in the January 1928 issue of Mystery Stories — wouldn’t it have been a hoot if that editor had named him the Op? But, no, he is called “The American Detective.”

Another late Op tale, “Fly Paper,” Black Mask, August 1929, uses “The Continental Detective” (thank god he didn’t become the Continental Dick).

Of course, I don’t have quite a few of the Black Mask Op issues from 1923 through 1927, so it’s possible the name was used earlier, but if so, it wasn’t used consistently. I’m missing most installments of Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, as well, but then I remembered that Richard Layman included some pages from those serializations in his and Bruccoli’s Hardboiled Mystery Writers. So I checked. The first page of “The Cleansing of Poisonville” — no mention of the Op. “Black Lives,” the first part of The Dain Curse, calls him the “Continental Detective” just like “Fly Paper.”

And finally I thought to check Hammett’s letters. Lo and behold, in a July 14, 1929 letter to Harry Block, his line editor at Knopf, he mentions the Continental Op. The letter mostly concerns The Maltese Falcon, but about halfway through, Hammett is discussing other book possibilities when he notes: “Also I’ve about two hundred and fifty thousand words of short stories in which the Continental Op appears.”

By summer 1929 Hammett was calling his sleuth the Continental Op in correspondence and within seven months the term was first used in print with “The Farewell Murder.” Just as the Op saga was wrapping up for good.


This entry was posted in Dash and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.