The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels Paperback – Jul 17 1989
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From the Inside Flap
Short, thick-bodied, mulishly stubborn, and indifferent to physical pain, Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op was the prototype for generations of tough-guy detectives. He is also the hero of most of the nine stories in this volume. The Op's one enthusiasm is doing his job, and in The Big Knockover the jobs entail taking on a gang of modern-day freebooters, a vice-ridden hell's acre in the Arizona desert, and the bank job to end all bank jobs, along with such assorted grifters as Babe McCloor, Bluepoint Vance, Alphabet Shorty McCoy, and the Dis-and-Dat Kid.
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.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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!Read more ›
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")?
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.
Most recent customer reviews
A short story writer to rival O'Henry (master of the ironic twist), the man who quietly escorted detective fiction from the pulp stands to the literature shelves hits his stride... Read morePublished on April 12 2001 by thecastlebookroom
Irresistible stories, expertly selected & introduced by Lillian Hellman. More compelling even than the other Hammett short stories collection, "The Continental Op" -... Read morePublished on July 29 1999 by Alex. Avenarius (Faterson@pobox.sk)
The Continental Op stories are classics in the genre, and not as well known as the Maltese Falcon or the Thin Man. Read morePublished on Jan. 14 1999
If you want to see Hammett playing around with the boundaries of his genre, read this book. It is great to see him give us the hard-boiled western, for example. Read morePublished on Dec 18 1997 by firstname.lastname@example.org