Hammett: The Complete Op

Say what you will about Frederic Dannay — and we’ve said so much about him on this site that his name is threatening to take over the Tag Cloud — but at least in his ten collections of Hammett’s shorter fiction he managed to get each and every Continental Op tale into uniform editions. Even today, if you want to get each and every Op, you still need to track down a couple of the Dannay edits — or the pricey original pulp publications.

Yeah, Dannay butchered “Death and Company” in his edit, taking changes already made at King Features and adding more. Changed some titles. If only he’d gotten it right, we wouldn’t need the piecemeal collections that have been appearing post-Dannay — I’d never have bothered with Crime Stories from Library of America if I already had a complete set of the Dell Mapbacks with authentic first appearance texts (yes, yes, stickler people — I know that the last two collections, Woman in the Dark and A Man Named Thin never made it into mapback reprints — I’d have them stuck off to the side as backup for the Maps).

Library of America volumes currently have prestige, but the Dell Mapbacks are forever cool.

In my review of Crime Stories I lamented the fact that they didn’t go for a complete collection of the Continental Op stories. In theory, they could have — a lot of space was wasted on material such as the short novel Woman in the Dark, already easily available in its own trade paperback edition, and the fragment of the early draft of The Thin Man (if you’re going to use fragments, then why not the partial draft for an Op story titled “Three Dimes”??? — that’s something Hammett fans might want to see, that wasn’t already in another book), plus miscellaneous standalone crime tales that don’t add up to much. When Dannay gathered almost every story Hammett wrote in ten collections, yeah, the standalone crime tales seemed to have some purpose, but just a handful taking up space in one book where the page count could have been used for something grander? I’d rather have seen more Op stories, including a missing classic such as “Corkscrew” and even the tight little actioner “One Hour.”

Since they couldn’t find the original pulp text for “This King Business” by the time they issued Crime Stories in 2001, it’s possible that other texts might have been impossible to track down (I’m getting the sense that “Who Killed Bob Teal?” may be a tough one to locate, as well). But a stab at it would have historic. Instead, sure, the largest story collection so far — but someday I expect that we’ll get larger collections.

What Hammett — or Hammett fans — need at this point is one nice big book with all the Op tales, and another big book with the rest of his short stories. Boom. Boom. You spend your money, you get what you want.

At this moment, after you acquire Crime Stories, you still have to buy some recent editions to round up the strays —  the 1999 Nightmare Town for a few other Op tales, the 1966 Random House version of The Big Knockover for “Corkscrew,” and you’re still left with two loose Ops: “Death and Company” from Dannay’s The Return of the Continental Op (1945) and “It” from Dannay’s Woman in the Dark (1951) — and after you run those down then you need to hop back to Terry Zobeck’s pure text posts to find out how the original texts read.

I’ve heard that one prominent New York editor has said that there is no market for a Complete Op, that no one would buy it. That’s one opinion.

Personally, I’d buy a copy of the complete pure text Op tales, instantly.

A guy from the Netherlands came out on the tour last month and wanted to get all the Op stories — I gave him the info as above, told him good luck in hunting it all down. He’d have gone straight to a bookstore and bought a Complete Op.

I think any Hammett fan would — and any and all Hammett fans that emerge as the years march on.

The only big question facing whoever finally assembles all the Op stories in one big book will be whether to use the original pulp texts, as Library of America chose to do with Crime Stories — or use preferred texts and titles in the cases where Hammett edited the stories, especially for the proposed but never published story collection Including Murder.

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