Hell Man

        "My views on Hammett expressed [above]. He was tops. Often wonder why he quit writing after The Thin Man. Met him only once, very nice looking tall quiet gray-haired fearful capacity for Scotch, seemed quite unspoiled to me. (Time out for ribbon adjustment.)"

—Raymond Chandler, Letter to Alex Barris

Why should we be surprised to see the Continental Op, that chunky and deglamorized veteran of the pulp pages of Black Mask back in the 1920's (not to mention Sam Spade, Ned Beaumont, and Nick Charles), published upscale like this 70 years later, with everything arranged so nicely on acid-free paper, and with a ribbon to mark our place as though this volume were the Bible or poetry or something? But that's just the point. This book is a bible of an inverted kind, and poetry too—also inverted. But we shouldn't be that surprised, because this same volume (these five novels) was in effect published by Knopf, though not so nicely or so scrupulously edited, as The Complete Dashiell Hammett in 1942. This stuff has been retreaded so many times—and in so many languages—that it is hard to keep score. That's why it is classic, get it? Not because the schoolmarm told you so, but because you bought it cheap when you wanted to, off the rack down at...

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