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The Continental Op Paperback – Jul 17 1989

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (July 17 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722588
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.9 x 20.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #245,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'...the Continental Op features in seven superb stories in this collection. Please, dear reader, I beg you, buy this book and treat yourself to the work of a true master of the crime genre.' -- Vincent Banville IRISH TIMES 'Orion's magnificent Crime Masterworks series ...has collected seven of the finest Continental Op short stories in a single volume... It is a magnificent collection, marking year zero in the hard-boiled school of crime fiction... Hugely recommended.' BURTON EVENING MAIL 'Some of the best examples of Hammett's work, painting a bleak picture of an American society warped by brutality, greed and treachery.' WESTERN DAILY PRESS --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
"The Continental Op" contains seven short stories featuring Dashiell Hammett's terse, sharp-witted, and always unnamed operative from The Continental Detective Agency. "Black Mask" magazine published 36 Continental Op stories by Dashiell Hammett between 1923 and 1930 (eight which were later transformed into novels), so this is just a smattering. These stories are not as thematically complex as many of Hammett's novels, but the Op's first person narration renders the characters especially vividly. And his sardonic internal monologues sting like a branding iron, and leave about as strong an impression. Though Hammett's scathing cynicism is better articulated in his novels, "The Continental Op" is an excellent showcase of the elements which have made Hammett's work so popular for over eighty years: blunt talk, economic and very readable prose, femmes fatales, contemptible but colorful criminals, violence, mystery, and a decidedly unglamorous "everyman" protagonist who lives by his own strict code of conduct.
Unlike Hammett's novels, this collection of short stories includes an introduction by the book's editor, Steven Marcus. It won't be news to readers who are familiar with Dashiell Hammett's life and works, but readers who are new to Hammett may find the progression of Hammett's career, personal life and politics, discussed in Marcus' essay, interesting and helpful in placing his work in context. "The Continental Op" is an excellent introduction to the writing of Dashiell Hammett, similar to the manner in which the American public discovered his works in "Black Mask" during the 1920s. And if you're already a Hammett fan, these wonderfully entertaining stories are not to be missed.
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Format: Paperback
In my humble opinion, the key to Dashiell Hammett's greatness is found in his unique writing style. His sentences flow across the page. Their words sing out to you. Many imitators have come and gone but none have matched his smooth yet jarring prose. The Continental Op, edited by Steven Marcus, is a collection of seven short stories all featuring the title character. As you know, the Continental Op is that nameless San Francisco detective whose personal life away from the job, if indeed he has one, remains the greatest mystery of all. All the stories contained in this volume are first rate. They all drip with delicious descriptions of greed, deception and betrayal. They are all skillfully constructed to maximize suspense and reader interest. The first time around, you'll want to read slowly so as to savor each phrase, while at the same time you'll want to hurry up and get to the end to find out what happens. Read this book. You will not be disappointed. No other collection of short stories has ever packed more of a wallop.
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Format: Paperback
For a man who actively wrote for only a short period of time, it's amazing Dashiel Hammet has such a high percentage of quality stuff. "The Thin Man", "The Glass Key", "The Maltese Falcon" all defined the modern detective story and the image of the modern detective. Guys like Sam Spade and Nick Charles--always clever, sometimes handsome and tough, never-say-die, except to opposing bad guys.
So I was intrigued by the Op character when I ran across him in "Nightmare Town", another collection of Hammett stories, I pursued more.
The Op is based on Hammett's own experience working as an agency detective with parts of other real-life colleagues thrown in. He's middle-aged, short, overweight, has thinning hair, and is always cautious (for good reason). He has a workmanlike approach to his job, focuses on the facts, and avoids entanglements with dames. He takes pride in a job well-done, and has an appropriately-placed sense of right, wrong and how justice should be served.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 'Op' stories, even though their setting is the America of seventy or eighty years ago and the jargon is sometimes obscure. The plots are good, characters believable, and the protagonist is a likable, clever, and tough detective.
Some of Hammett's best writing is within these pages. All you detective story fans-if you haven't read it, pick this one up for sure.
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Format: Paperback
During the years of radio drama, Dashell Hammett's Nick Charles and Sam Spade had their own weekly radio shows, and movie flings. But one series based on a Dashell Hammett character was puzzling: "The Fat Man". He was named J. Maxwell Smart, weighed 240 lb., and of course was one tough character. Yet, you'll never find him under that name in any Hammett story. The radio, tv, & movie character was, in fact, based on the nameless Continental Op.
Truly, he is the most interesting of Hammett's series characters. He is tough, ethical according to his code, and keeps his true emotions buried under the toughness and the physical bulk. He is a cynic, one who assumes that each person involved is undoubtedly lying. On the occasions that a female character makes a play for him, he assumes that she has an angle. And he, in turn, formulates his own lies which have the effect of bringing out the truth. There are times that he is as surprised at the outcome as the reader is.
Hammett is skillful in the way he keeps the op in character, and the reader needs to be alert to catch some of the subtleties such as a restrained sense of humor when the crooks trap themselves by thinking he's after them when he's completely unaware of what they've done; a buried feeling of remorse when a client is murdered because the op had the wrong assumption; a decision not to unnecessarily involve an erring wife who's resigned herself to having her infidelity revealed.
These stories indeed have literary value while being engrossing crime stories. If you enjoy today's tough police detectives such as Harry Bosch, you will find these far earlier stories engrossing.
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