Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Continental Op

Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) was born on this day in 1894. From The Writer’s Almanac:
In 1915, he got a job as a detective for the famous Pinkerton Agency, and this experience provided fodder for his later novels. He enlisted in World War I, but contracted tuberculosis, and that -- combined with his distaste over the increasing Pinkerton involvement with strike-breaking -- effectively ended his gumshoe career. He tried writing, using his Pinkerton experiences as a source for stories, and published his first story in 1922. It was published in a society magazine, The Smart Set, but his stories were really better suited to pulp detective magazines, and that's where they found a home. They weren't intellectual brain-teasers in the "Sherlock Holmes" mold; they were gritty and unsentimental and cynical -- what came to be known as "hard-boiled." His first two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse (both published in 1929), starred a character known only as the “Continental Op.”
In 2005, when The Maltese Falcon turned 75, January Magazine spent a lot of time with Hammett with a multi-part feature edited and executed by senior editor J. Kingston Pierce. “While he was often highly critical of his own writing,” Pierce wrote at the time, “Dashiell Hammett also came to recognize during his lifetime the unexpected impact of his labors. ‘I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of,’ he once remarked, undoubtedly in jest. Indeed, it’s hard to find people, at least in North America, who haven't been introduced to Hammett -- either by way of his novels or through the films made from his books and short stories.”

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