Given his druthers, I suspect Hammett would have continued in that vein, turning out stories that would have been more appropriate in True Detective than in Black Mask. Thankfully, Black Mask’s readers wouldn’t let him. Being fans of such wildly unrealistic private dicks as Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams, they were a bloodthirsty bunch, demanding ever more action.
Blood Money began life as two 1927 Black Mask novelettes, “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money.” At one point, Afred A. Knopf wanted to published them as a novel. Hammett refused, but in 1943, Lawrence E. Spivak, the company that had been churning out his pulp stories in digest format, did the deed under the title $106,000 Blood Money. Both stories were reprinted in EQMM around the same time, and underwent light editing from Frederic Dannay. In short order, Tower Books did a hardcover edition as Blood Money and Dell followed suit with a gorgeous mapback.
Spivak did another digest version, this time called The Big Knockover, and Dell reissued the Blood Money mapback with a new, less-gorgeous cover, so the “novel” was actually published five times. Though I have all five, I chose to read the Tower hardcover for the ultimate experience.
Part 1, originally “The Big Knockover” is a trip to Fantasyland, with a hundred or more mobsters coming from across the country to converge on San Francisco and rob two banks at once. When the mastermind and his core supporters escape, the Op stays on their trail, and delivers their just deserts in Part 2, originally“$106,000 Blood Money.” Part 2 is more grounded in reality, but is every bit as entertaining. Hammett’s prose had been steadily improving, and by this point it was flat-out amazing. Even though I just finished the book, I already want to read it again.
Since 1966, when Random House issued their version of The Big Knockover, a 13-story hardcover collection edited by Lillian Hellman, the two tales have appeared as separate novelettes. Too bad. Together, they're every bit as novelesque as the two official Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Currently, the Blood Money saga appears as a small part of the 2001 collection Crime Stories and Other Writings. It deserves better. But on the plus side, that volume restored both stories to their original Black Mask text.