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Mystery Monday Review – The Big Knockover and Other Stories

The Big Knockover and Other Stories
by Dashiell Hammett

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Hammet was a master of PI fiction in the 1920s. These long stories star The Continental Operative, the nameless detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency. The writing is lucid, the tone hard-boiled and the settings realistic.

The Gutting of Couffignal (1925). The Op is employed by a rich dude to guard the presents at the wedding reception of the rich dude’s daughter. An audacious attack by a gang of robbers nets millions in booty. His attempt to recruit the locals on the exclusive island fails since “You can’t fight machine guns and hand grenades with peaceful villagers and retired capitalists.”

Fly Paper (1929). A debutante hangs out with the wrong people and finds that living on the edge with violence-prone knuckle-walkers is to her taste. The Op lands right in the middle of four marriages that are all rotten in unique ways. This story also shows Hammett’s penchant and supreme ability to set a large number of characters to bounce off each other.

The Scorched Face (1925). The Op is assigned to find two missing daughters. He uncovers evidence that connects a many socialite suicides and disappearances. The subtext of unbridled sex and its unfortunate consequences for vulnerable people – especially women – reflect an unease many people felt in the 1920s as Victorian mores were discarded.

This King Business (1928). The Op is sent to a Balkan country to extricate the wayward son of a rich guy. The son has found himself bankrolling a revolution for a crew of wily Slavs. The treatment of freebooting – i.e., funding coups out of sheer ignorance and misguided adventure and idealism – holds powerful interest in this story.

The Gatewood Caper (1923). Another wayward daughter case. It’s good, but feels half-done, as if its writing were rushed, that the writer should’ve revised a couple more times.. The setting of the Pacific Northwest – lumbering land – is persuasive.

Dead Yellow Women (1925). Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Op and a Master Chinese Tong Boss match wits. In places it feels like a satire of a Yellow Peril story. The description of the maze-like interior of the criminal mastermind’s mansion is a tour de force.

Corkscrew (1925). The Op is a fish out of water when he assigned to clean up remote Corkscrew, Arizona. This ought to remind the astute reader of the masterwork Red Harvest. A gunslinger remarks, “A hombre might guess that you was playing the Circle H. A. R. against Bardell’s crew, encouraging each side to eat up the other, and save you the trouble.” The Op replies, “You could be either right or wrong. Do you think that’d be a dumb play?”

Tulip (1952) is a fragment of an autobiographical novel Hammett attempted near the end of life. Not consistently convincing as fiction, it at least presents Hammett’s ideas about literary form and content.

The Big Knockover (1927). Another audacious crime – the robbery of two banks at the same time. Unlikely that such an operation could be planned as carefully as the story would have it, but it has a lot of action and witty dialogue.

106,000 Blood Money (1927). This presents the sequel to The Big Knockover. Like many aftermath stories, it is less satisfying than the original, because the characters are made of cardboard. With hinges.

 

 

 

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