Hammett: “Night Shots”

Terry Zobeck is back with another set of pure text corrections for a Continental Op story you thought you knew inside out — but if you’ve been relying on the reprint version used in books for the last sixty-six years and not on the original pulp, you were wrong.

Here’s Terry:

Back in August of last year, discussing the Sam Spade stories, I made the crack that “They Can Only Hang You Once” from 1932 borrowed its weak plot from 1924’s “Night Shots” — and that it hadn’t worked any better then.

Reading the pure text of “Night Shots” for this review, I have to say I was too harsh. Don’t get me wrong, the plot remains weak, but the characters inhabiting it and Hammett’s telling of it are superior to the Spade story. Hey, it is an Op story and even a lesser Op story is worth reading — as the Black Mask editor summarized the story more than eighty years ago:

Mr. Hammett’s nameless detective is lured into a sweet little domestic mess with an outside mystery; as usual, he walks into a lot of excitement, not all of which comes from the muzzle of a gun.

The Op is sent to San Joaquin County, east of San Francisco, to find out who is trying to kill old man Exon. The most interesting character he encounters is a fellow named Galloway, Exon’s son-in-law. He appears to be amused by the whole affair, rather than worried. As he tells the Op:

I’m not insisting upon results. My wife is very nervous, and for some peculiar reason she seems to like the old man. So, to soothe her, I agreed to employ a private detective when she asked me to. My idea is that you hang around for a couple of days, until things quiet down and she feels safe again. Meanwhile, if you should stumble upon anything — go to it! If you don’t — well and good.

As events unfold, the Op has several run-ins with Galloway that usually end with them grinning at each other while hiding their thoughts. As the Op puts it at one point, “I grinned back at him. That was the only sort of an answer you could give this bird.”

“Night Shots” was the seventh Op story and first appeared in the February 1, 1924 issue of Black Mask. Frederic Dannay reprinted the story in the May 1946 issue of EQMM and collected it later that year in Hammett Homicides. Most recently the story was reprinted in Nightmare Town (1999), using Dannay’s edited version.

A fairly short tale — only 12 pages in Black Mask — but Dannay made quite a few edits to it, again to the detriment of the story — including an admission by the Op of his less than professional behavior in questioning some of Exon’s laborers.

If you’ve been following these reconstructions, you know the drill by now: the edits are identified by page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the text corrections, with Hammett’s original text that was deleted underlined. The page numbers refer to Hammett Homicides:


Page no.    Line #     Top/bottom     Text

63                 3                top                and blew smoke at the ceiling for several thoughtful minutes.

63                 17              top                and I understand that Dr. Rench hopes to keep him on his back for at least another week at the very least.

63                 16              bottom         I just want to make the situation clear to you first.

63                 4                bottom         and no traces of anybody. That, I think, is all.”

64                 2                bottom         and I’ll have them checked up, and see what we can find that way.

64                 1                bottom         [Before this paragraph should be:] He raised an indolent hand in protest.

65                 10              top                and he chuckled banteringly.

65                 18              top                if hating weren’t such an effort if it didn’t require so much energy—

66                 18              top                whose names I can’t remember. That’s all I can tell you.

66                 8                bottom         convinced me that she struggled always with a fear that she would not be able to hold him, that she was about to lose him.

67                 18              bottom         were committed by foreigners; which, while enough for them, didn’t satisfy me.

67                 13              bottom         [The break between paragraphs should be titled “II”]

68                 5                bottom         a San Joaquin County town—and he balanced a fat blond child on each knee while he talked to me.

69                 11              top                “Four-five years, I reckon. Came in 1918 or ’19.

69                 12              top                [After line 12 should be this paragraph:] He shifted one of the kids around to keep from having an eye jabbed by a stubby finger, and shook his head.

69                 15              top                Shand scratched his head roughfully thoughtfully [an obvious typographical error in the Dannay version that was corrected in Nightmare Town].

69                 18              bottom         But naturally I don’t never set in, myself. I just stay away so I won’t see nothing.

69                 1                bottom         Exon, the nurse, said, was asleep, [Dannay corrected an obvious error in punctuation]

70                 17              top                ill at ease, nevertheless—possibly a result of my failure to learn the least thing of importance all day.

70                 1                bottom         [Should be a separate paragraph:] I threw myself across the room, out into the hall.

71                 18              top                [The rest of the paragraph, beginning with “Presently, while my eyes still searched” should be a separate paragraph]

71                 8                bottom         lazy as ever. He had apparently arrived while I was sending Figg to the phone and running downstairs—otherwise I would have heard his car.

72                 17              top                [The break between paragraphs should be titled “III”]

72                 8                bottom         although she was still unconscious

73                 2                top                unmercifully that day. Detectives are only human-or at least this one is—and I don’t mind confessing that some of my humiliation and chagrin was worked off on those people.

74                 6/7             top                But I had expected that—had felt it before on somewhat similar occasions—and I knew it would pass. But whether it did or not, I meant to stay here until something happened—if it was only the rising of the sun. Nothing else was going to be pulled off in this corner of the house without my being in on it!

74                 14              top                [Should be a separate paragraph:] In my narrow hiding-place I stood still and listened.

74                 5                bottom         [The break between paragraphs should be titled “IV”]

76                 7                top                He reached over for shook my hand and shook it gravely.


Once again, I am deeply indebted to Mr. Clark Evans of the Library of Congress Rare Book Room for arranging my access to these fragile pulps and for helping me to photograph them.

If you’ve been counting down along with us, you know that there are only four stories remaining for which we’ve not identified the pure texts: “Corkscrew,” “Mike, Alec, or Rufus,” “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer,” and “Who Killed Bob Teal?”  I’ve located copies of the first two in the rare book collections at Yale and Ohio State University, respectively. I’ve written to both libraries to learn whether they can provide me with copies of the stories — I’m awaiting their answers. In the meantime, if any of you out there can help with any of these four stories, please drop Don a line.

Next time: a look at Hammett’s fascinating article “Vamping Sampson.”

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