Hammett: Some Corrections If You Please

Awhile back I did a link to a review of The Big Book of the Continental Op by Jesse Sublett. I’m sure there are numerous reviews of Big Book of the Op I haven’t linked to yet, and never will, but Jesse got the nod because he was part of Posse McMillan, and it gave me an excuse to summon up once more the dope on the copies of Measures of Poison signed by eleven contributors during the Bouchercon in Austin in 2002.

Just yesterday a guy happened to ask me if I had any idea who did some of the signatures that day, and I told him, Yes, I do — and I pointed him to my definitive explanation. You’ll never find a clearer guide to that set of John Hancocks.

I don’t think I even read the review before I quickly mocked up the link. I wasn’t worried about any errors that occurred — essentially, I consider any article done for a paper and most magazines to be at best marginal on accuracy. Reader, beware. . . .

But I’m not the only gumshoe patrolling These Mean Streets, and you guys know that Tenderloin Terry Zobeck is picky as hell. A stickler for accuracy. A tireless defender of the facts. And so forth.

“I just dropped into the Mean Streets,” Terry said, “and saw the link to Sublett’s review of the Big Op Story collection.  I felt like the Op reading that sign behind the Mexican bar and counting the number of lies, in this case the number of errors.

“How could he make so many mistakes in a couple of paragraphs?”

Here’s a sample paragraph from the review, that got Terry’s attention:

Born in 1896, Dashiell Hammett was a detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency between 1915 and 1922, his employment interrupted by service in the trenches in World War I. The latter ruined his health. Wracked by TB, he turned to writing to support himself and family. His first story in the American hard-boiled style, “Arson Plus,” appeared in Black Mask in October 1922. Hammett set down standards for the genre with a deceptively stark prose style, American vernacular and cadence, and an unsentimental point of view. The stories bristled with realism, urgency, and momentum. Hammett is best known for his monumental first novel, The Maltese Falcon, featuring detective Sam Spade (immortalized in the film, starring Humphrey Bogart and a stellar supporting cast) and his later, alcohol-soaked Thin Man novels, featuring Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy in the film adaptations). In between came a personal favorite, The Glass Key, helmed by a fixer named Ned Beaumont. Which leaves the vast treasure of short stories featuring a certain nameless operative of the Continental Detective Agency, referred to as an operative, or “op.”

The Maltese Falcon was Hammett’s first novel?” Terry asks. “He ruined his health in the trenches of WWI? Hammett a left-winger when he created the Op? And best known for his Thin Man novels, plural?  Yikes!”

But from that otherwise innocuous and no doubt forgettable little post, Terry figured out that we had encountered each other a decade before the official meeting at PulpFest in 2012.

“And you are in Measures of Poison?  I’d forgotten that,” he said. “I must have met you in Austin if only for a second. I was there and bought a copy from Dennis. I remember the signing.”

Ships that pass in the night. This blog, in its still formless infancy, was only two years old.

Terry wouldn’t start contributing until 2011.

He might want to read or reread that story I did for Measures of Poison, specifically because Dennis McMillan asked me for a neo-pulp yarn. That one was written for guys like Terry, even if I didn’t know who he was at the time.

I just knew he was out there.

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