Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hammett wrote "It"; you should read it

Dashiell Hammett's story "It" appeared in Black Mask in November 1923, a month after "Crooked Souls," two months before "The Tenth Clew," and five months before "The House in Turk Street" kicked off the high point of Hammett's short fiction.

Three of those stories are included in the Library of America's volume of Hammett's crime stories and other writings. "It" is not included, which is one reason to look for it in Mysterious Press' reissue of all Hammett's Continental Op stories.

"It" is a bit talkier than some of Hammett's short stories, but the talk has the Op and his interlocutors trying to hash out the case in question (a man's disappearance), and Hammett makes of it a pretty good mystery. In this case, the talkiness is, arguably, a plus. The story also offers the novelty of placing the big summing-up-the-crime scene (remember Sam Spade's speech to Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon?) at the beginning of the story rather than near the end.

Throw in the deadpan wit that Hammett had already perfected from his earliest published work, plus a wry existential final line, and you have a story that deserves a place with Hammett's best short fiction.
“`Yes, we were pretty good friends, but not especially thick. You know what I mean: we had a lot of fun together but neither of us meant anything to the other outside of that. Dan is a good sport—and so am I.'

“Mrs. Earnshaw wasn’t so frank. But she had a husband, and that makes a difference.”
 © Peter Rozovsky 2016

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