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Crime/Mystery Series: The Continental Op

"Now I'm a detective because I like the work....And liking the work makes you want to do it as well as you can. Otherwise there'd be no sense to it. I don't know anything else, don't enjoy anything else..."
--The Continental Op
Dashiell Hammett



Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op

About the Author

There are some quite good web sites and pages about Hammett:

(Hammett also created some other now-famous characters: Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon, and Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man, but neither ran to a series: there were a few early, weak short stories with Spade, collected into a follow-up book when the Bogart movie hit it big, and, despite the flood of highly entertaining "Thin Man" movies, there was only the original book--in which Charles is not the titular thin man.)

Two small side notes: one, Hammett's given name was originally pronounced duh-SHEEL, being an Anglicized spelling of an old French name; but as his fame grew and time went on, it evolved into the now-standard form DASH-ul; two, besides his books, Hammett created and wrote a few early scripts for the popular radio detective program "The Fat Man", a solo PI named Brad Runyon but clearly in direct line of descent from the character of the Continental Op (an amusing name contrast with "The Thin Man").


About the Character

There is a dedicated "Op" web site, and some good Op-centered pages as well:

(In case you came to this page you are reading from a search engine instead of through its site, I will here repeat the brief remarks on the main mystery/crime page that points here.)

The "Continental Op"--an "operative" of the Continental detective agency (a thin fictive cover for the Pinkertons)--recounts his tales in the first person, but never tells us his name. He is unheroic: middle-aged, short, overweight. But he is a professional: he is good at what he does, and does it, as he says, because he is good at it, because he enjoys doing something difficult that he is good at. His assignments usually take him through the sleazy, corrupt underside of society; there is drama, but not melodrama: he is, after all, a professional, and the stereotypical blazing guns and flying fists of bad imitations of this classic are not his chief stock in trade. The Op is a man who cooly does his job, but he is not amoral. Especially in the masterpiece Red Tide, he imposes his own concepts of right on his environment, sometimes out of all proportion to what his nominal assignment requires. The Op was the first of what came to be called the "hard-boiled" detectives. (Note: Hammett had worked for the Pinkertons for several years, and so knew his material first-hand.)


The Books

Hammett wrote three dozen Continental Op stories for magazine publication; later, two sets of four each were reworked into the two Op novels, leaving 28 distinct stories. All of Hammett's Op tales save two short stories have been collected into three volumes, two from the fine Library of America project; the first is an omnibus including the two Op novels, which has the wonderful added bonus of including all of Hammett's novels, meaning you also get The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, and what not a few consider Hammett's premier work The Glass Key; that volume is the illustration they put in dictionaries next to the phrase "no brainer". (Nonetheless, the lists below do include the older individual Op books as well.)

(You might cast a glance at the Miskatonic University Press's web-site page The Lazy Gink's Guide to a Complete Hammett Collection; despite the whimsical title, it's quite useful; you can further amuse yourself by looking up Miskatonic University.)

In these lists, the links are all to used-book searches for the title (via Abebooks). Some few can still be found in print new, but not many. As usual, the search results are sorted from lowest price up (note that, as always in used-book searches from this site, the price sort is by actual book price, not total shipped price, though each listing also always shows the true total shipped cost; occasionally, a slightly more expensive title will be slightly cheaper shipped--but the differences are never much and you can easily eyeball those cases.) Most titles represent a number of varying editions, from original hardcovers to late paperback reprints.

The Individual Novels

But the omnibus volume listed farther below seems a better idea.

The Story Collections

In considering the story collections, note that the various older ones contain nothing not in the newer ones, which collect everything in fewer volumes, often with introductory notes or other useful or pleasing extras: that is, don't bother with the older ones unless you're pinching pennies very hard.

Regrettably, though, even the newer, better short-story omnibus pair somehow manage to omit two Op stories; the completist would thus need two other old Op collections, which are now quite expensive.

There are some different collections with the same title: the links will automatically take you to the correct editions for each. (Note, though, that some searches for particular older collections may also turn up other collections that happen to include the title story from the one being sought.) The entries below the line are what seem best to seek today.

The Novel Omnibuses

The newest one, the Library of America edition, is the nicest, and also has some nice notes by Steven Marcus, a Hammett scholar.





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(essential one-time reading)
Introductory Material:
    Literate Mystery Series:
 a brief list of the series discussed here


(the heart of the site)
The Series (alphabetical by character last name):
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    The Continental Op
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