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The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels Paperback – Jul 17 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (July 17 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722595
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #438,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"The Big Knockover" is a collection of 10 short stories, 9 of which originally appeared in "Black Mask" or "Mystery Stories" magazines, 1923-1929, and feature Dashiell Hammett's famous hard-nosed, always unnamed Continental Op detective. Several of these stories find the Continental Op out of his usual element in far-flung or exotic locales. "The King Business" takes place in a fictional Balkan nation of Muravia, of all places, and involves a political coup. "Corkscrew" is so named after an Arizona desert town, complete with cowboys, where the Op has been sent to break up an illegal immigration operation. The Op's adventures with the customary mode of transportation -horses- provides some comic relief. "Dead Yellow Women" takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown, where the mysteries of this immigrant culture prove confusing for the very American detective. I was surprised to see a Hammett detective in these unusual environments, but was entertained to find that there are thugs and grifters everywhere in Hammett's stories. The Op is never really out of sorts. He may not speak the language, but he's always at home in the criminal underworld. "The Gutting of Couffignal", "Fly Paper", "The Scorched Face", and "The Gatewood Caper" are more conventional Hammett, revolving around the debauchery of lowlifes and the dirty laundry of the wealthy. "The Big Knockover", after which the book is named, and "$106,000 Blood Money" are a two-parter about a spectacular caper in which an army of 150 crooks hold up an entire San Francisco city block and its aftermath. "Tulip" is the odd story out. It is the beginning of an unfinished novel that Hammett started late in life.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
There are some great stories here. Let's discuss some of them in a minute. First, however . . .
During most of the 1920s and early 1930s, Dashiell Hammett was a compulsive writer and storyteller, possibly due to a personal need to make sense of his world and experiences. Later, he lost that compulsion. Following a brief prison term in the early 1950s (for his refusal to take part in the McCarthy-era witchhunts), he began to rediscover that earlier compulsion. Hence, the fragment of "Tulip," which he apparently intended as an semi-autobiographical novel. One wishes he could have lived long enough to complete more of it, at least.
Now to the meat of this short-story collection from his earlier days.
Hammett's most enduring character, the anonymous first-person narrating Continental Op, is the protagonist throughout. The stories vary widely, from the old-west (but not that old at the time of its writing) atmosphere of "Corkscrew" -- which would later serve as theme material for the novel "Red Harvest" -- to the comedy of "The Gatewood Caper"; there's the sinister undertones, interspersed with more comedic touches and a superb punchline at the end, of "Dead Yellow Women" as well as the total 'shaggy dog story' feel of "The Gutting of Couffignal" (in which everything apparently is intended to lead up to yet another punchline).
And then there's the title story itself, "The Big Knockover," perhaps the pre-eminent 'caper story' of all time: a carefully planned and executed bank robbery which falls awry in a trail of double-cross and deduction, yet which leaves its protagonist at the end to wryly remark (perhaps echoing Hammett's sentiments?): "What a life!
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By A Customer on Aug. 14 2001
Format: Paperback
These stories were written in the 1920s. If you liked his short stories and novels, you will want to read this book. "Corkscrew" is a short version of "Red Harvest" - get one gang to attack another in order to eliminate both and benefit a third group. "Dead Yellow Women" is about a scheme to provide cover for smuggling. Some things never change! "Tulip" was written in the 1950s, is partly autobiographical, and different from the other stories; not as good, in my opinion. The monetary figures from 80 years ago are way out of date!
Some of these stories appear to be similar to the turmoil in early 16th Century Italy. Could a Cesare Borgia have planned the "The Big Knockover"? In "$106,000 Blood Money" the Continental Op arranges the death of a traitorous detective, and then the bounty hunter who would claim this reward (leading to a nice bonus later?).
Why have detective stories gone out of fashion after the 1950s? Could a form of censorship be responsible for this (to hide the actions of these secret agents of the rich and powerful)? Are the "James Bond" stories an updated version of the private detective stories? Or have none-fiction writings become more popular since then ("The Invisible Government")?
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Format: Paperback
Dashiell Hammett's _The Big Knockover_ is a wonderful collection of stories by the master of the crime novel himself. The introduction by Lillian Hellman gives the reader excellent insight into her relationship with Hammett, as well as a glimpse of the author. For Hammett fans, the book is nearly worth the price for Hellman's introduction alone.
This collection is better than his Maltese Falcon, all the Sam Spade, and the Thin Man stories. Among Hammett's writings, the only novel to equal this collection, in my mind, is _Red Harvest_.
Stories in this book range from short to near-novella length. Topics range from the very typical Hammett plot (young woman is missing, wealthy dad pays for her return)of "The Gatewood Caper" to the offbeat noir-Western "Corkscrew" to the looting of an entire island ("The Looting of Couffignal").
The one "straight" story in the bunch, not a crime story at all, is "Tulip," published as a fragment. As it is, it doesn't pull much weight. To call the plot meandering would be generous.
The title story is a classic. A big bank-robbery caper starts looking bizarre when, days later, roomsful of America's highest profile crooks start turning up dead.
One bad story doesn't ruin the whole bunch. If you're a fan of Hammett's other books, give _The Big Knockover_ a chance.
ken32
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