The Continental Op (short for Continental operative) has done a lot of returning. After making his debut in the story "Arson Plus" in the October 1, 1923 issue of Black Mask, he returned in 27 more magazine adventures. Eight of those stories formed the novels Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, allowing him to return in book form. He returned again in the '40s, with reprints in EQMM, Mercury digests and Dell mapbacks. And just last week he returned again, in the new story "The Continental Opposite" in the May 2015 AHMM (see preview below).
But before we get into details, Patti Abbott is frolicking in the Big Apple today, and I promised to share the links for this week's FORGOTTEN BOOKS. Here's the list as of 6am Pacific. I'll be adding more links as I find 'em. If I miss yours, don't be bashful. Comment here or berate me in private at email@example.com.
Sergio Angelini: Frantic by Katherine Howell
Brian Busby: Death by Deficit by Richard Rohmer
Bill Crider: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Fifth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed.
Martin Edwards: Pablo Neruda's Forgotten Books
Curt Evans: Disturbance on Berry Hill by Elizabeth Fenwick
Ray Garraty: The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber (oo! good book!)
Ed Gorman: The Kingdom of Johnny Cool by John McPartland (reviewed by Bill Crider)
Jerry House: The Age of the Tail by H. Allen Smith
Rich Horton: Clash of Star Kings by Avram Davidson/Danger from Vega by John Rackham
John Hegenberger: Caribbean Blues by Multiple Hands
Randy Johnson: The Voodoo Murders by Michael Avallone
TracyK: Cast a Yellow Shadow by Ross Thomas
George Kelley: The Solar Queen series by Andre Norton
Rob Kitchen: Angels Passing by Graham Hurley
BV Lawson: Final Proof by Marie R. Reno
Steve Lewis: Awake and Die by Robert Ames
Todd Mason: Monad number 2, Damon Knight, ed.
J.F. Norris: Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland
James Reasoner: When the Devil Came to Endless by Charles Boeckman
Karyn Reeves: High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
Richard Robinson: The Big Knockover by Dashiell Hammett (great choice, RR!)
Kevin Tipple: Murder in Four Parts: A Dan Rhodes Mystery by Bill Crider (who?)
Prashant C. Trikannad: America, America by Elia Kazan
Now here's The Return of the Continental Op:
There was only one book, published in two editions, officially titled The Return of the Continental Op, and this is it. This collection, appearing as a Jonathan Press digest in 1945 and a Dell Mapback in 1947, contains two novelettes and three stories, all of which originally appeared in Black Mask.
The earliest story, "The Tenth Clew," (respelled here as "The Tenth Clue"), was first published in January 1924. It belongs to what I call the Op's "invisible" stage. The prose is straightforward and spare. It's not lacking in style, but it displays none of the distinct personality that emerges in later stories. Hammett's goal here was to lay out a puzzle for the Op to solve using the sort of investigative methods and agency resources Hammett himself used while working for the Pinkertons.
I have to believe that "Death and Company," which did not appear in Black Mask until 1930, was written around the same time. Like "The Tenth Clew," it's an enjoyable tale with a clever finish, but the Op is pretty much a ghost.
But in "One Hour," a short piece published only three months after "The Tenth Clew," the Op starts feeling his oats. Not only does he get more playful with his language, but he's plunged into a situation where he has to rely on his fists - and his gun - along with his brain.
The main attractions of this collection are the two novelettes, "The Whosis Kid" (from March 1925) and "The Gutting of Couffignal" (December 1925), where both the language and the action gets more wild and woolly. Black Mask readers asked for more action, and Hammett delivered.
In "The Whosis Kid," the Op gets tied up with a gang of backstabbing thieves whose antics anticipate those of Caspar Gutman, Joel Cairo and their cohorts in The Maltese Falcon. And in "The Gutting of Couffignal," the scene of the crime is entire town, where a criminal gang goes looting on a grand scale (this story was the pretty obvious inspiration for Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel Rough Weather.)
Meanwhile, near as I can tell, "Death and Company" has not been reprinted anywhere since the Dell mapback appeared in 1947. Out of print for 68 years! That's not only a damn shame, it's a disgrace. If any of you hardcore Op fans would like to read it (as edited by Frederic Dannay), write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll email you scans (and throw in the other orphaned Op story, "It" - aka "The Black Hat That Wasn't There").
As for the Op's most recent return, here's an excerpt from the May issue of AHMM:
A longer excerpt appears on the AHMM site, HERE.
The rest resides in the mag, now on sale at most Barnes and Noble stores, or in electronic format from the outfits below:
- Amazon offers single issues for Kindle, iPad or PC for $3.49. That's HERE.
- Barnes & Noble sells it for Nook, also $3.49, HERE.
- Google Play has it for android devices, $3.49, HERE.
- Magzter wants $3.99. HERE.