Hammett: “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer”

BM January 1926

Remember the fireworks going off boom! and bang! a couple of days ago?

As I watched the explosions I was thinking, yeah, if they only knew that Terry Zobeck was about to finish off — complete, fini — his now years-long project of tracking down pure texts on the short fiction of Dashiell Hammett, some of those puffs of color would be in honor of Terry.

You want cause for celebration? The birth of a nation or the wrap-up on Zobeck: Series One is occasion enough for some kind of party.

And now here is Terry Zobeck, to put the nails in the coffin of Mr. Cayterer:


It’s been a little over four years since we started the effort to document the changes Fred Dannay made to Hammett’s short stories when he began reprinting them in the early 1940s, first in the pages of EQMM, and then in a collection of 10 digests over the next 20 years.

When we kicked off this project there were 21 stories that remained unavailable in their pure text form. Story by story, we checked 20 tales for pure texts.

But we’ve been stuck tracking down the final story, “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer” from the January 1926 issue of Black Mask. (Cover image above courtesy, once again, of Galactic Central).

Until now.

On Hammett’s birthday this past May, Don posted a blog announcing the University of South Carolina’s acquisition of Hammett archives of books, magazines, letters, and other memorabilia from the collections of Jo Hammett and Richard Layman. This news prompted me to email Rick asking if he had an inventory of the materials he provided the University. To my surprise, among the donations he detailed was included a pdf of every story Hammett published in Black Mask.

Yes, including “Nails.” Not being shy, I immediately requested a copy of the story, which Rick kindly provided.

From Hammett’s career as a book reviewer we know he had little patience for the conventions of the Golden Age Mystery. The authors of these books raised Hammett’s ire with their thorough ignorance of proper police procedure and the ways of criminals. His most damning criticism of such stories was that they lacked excitement. This makes his rare forays into the style all the more curious. “The Diamond Wager” — an un-ironic pastiche of such stories — ranks among his worst, its obscurity justly earned.

That’s not the case with “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer.” Going over it for this blog was the first time I had read the story in many years. My recollection of it was that it was poor, with a general feeling that it was low-ranking Hammett.

Upon re-reading it my opinion has risen somewhat. What I recognize now is that Hammett was having fun with those conventions — something that was completely lacking with “Wager.”

“Nails” is a curious mixture of the Golden Age and hardboiled styles.

Robin Thin, the story’s narrator, is a 30-something effete young man in the employ of his father’s detective agency. Robin would rather be a poet than a detective. While his narrative style and dialogue is verbose and staid, the dialogue of all the other characters, especially his father, is quite tough. The tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition is rather amusing. This is a gimmick that Rex Stout would have great success with in his Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels, the first of which, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934. I wonder if he was influenced by “Nails”?

Given how long it has taken us to track down the pure text of “Nails,” it is somewhat ironic that Dannay made very few edits to it — none of them substantial or significant. Perhaps, given the story’s more traditional style, he found it less in need of editing. Dannay did not reprint the story first in EQMM; it was collected straight into The Creeping Siamese in 1950.

As usual the following list provides the page number, the line number and whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the affected text — Hammett’s original wording is underlined. The page numbers refer to the story as it appears in The Creeping Siamese.

Page    Line     Top/Bottom     Text

37        10        top                   Papa questioned the promoter while scowling sidewise at me.

39        12        top                   What did he say when you sent him word of the leak—if anything?

40        3          bottom             “Oh, no, sir! Not anyone.” [This should be part of the preceding paragraph]

41        15        bottom             Papa asked when we were in the street.

43        15        bottom             humor in his thin face.

44        17        top                   about your you troubles [This is an obvious copy edit error]

45        12        bottom             “You mean kissing?” [This should be a separate paragraph]

48        5          top                   “Got a couple of hours to spare?” he asked,

49        11        top                   them stayed staid for longer

49        18        bottom             That was why they never stayed staid long.

50        7          top                   I have stayed staid with him

54        15        bottom             and bring them here. Hurry.

55        8          bottom             “I’m going to —” [This should be a separate paragraph]


And there you have it, the last of Zobeck: Series One. Coverage of 21 Hammett stories that had not been available in their pure texts to readers since their original appearances in the pulps and slicks of the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve learned that a few stories were reprinted without any edits by Dannay. Some, like “Nails,” were tinkered with only slightly. But others, like “This King Business,” “Corkscrew,”It” and “Death and Company” had substantial edits that lessened the impact of the story. (That these stories all feature the Continental Op make the edits all the more unfortunate.)

In recent years two important volumes, Vince Emery’s Lost Stories and The Library of America’s Crime Stories & Other Writing, have collected the majority of Hammett’s stories in their pure text versions. I’m especially pleased that our efforts led to the LoA reprinting their volume so that the pure text of “This King Business” could be included.

Additionally, the past three years have seen publication of two volumes of rare and previously unpublished Hammett material, The Return of the Thin Man and The Hunter and Other Stories. I’m hopeful that someday we will see publication of Hammett’s complete stories in their pure text versions.

Don and I plan to continue documenting the edits Dannay made to Hammett’s stories — stories that have been reprinted in pure text form, but checking to see what Dannay did to them back in the day — with Zobeck: Series Two.

Next up, “Slippery Fingers.”

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Hammett: In Constant Jeopardy!

As I’ve reported on a few times, the quiz show Jeopardy! just loves Hammett trivia.

On Wednesday June 24 our favorite gumshoe/crime writer popped up again in the category A Bit About Authors, the $2000 clew:

For refusing to testify against fellow communists, this “Maltese Falcon” author spent 5 months in prison.

And the guy who buzzed in got the correct answer, as one would hope: “Who is Dashiell Hammett?”

Will they eventually run out of Hammett clews — or is “Who is Dashiell Hammett?” an endless source?

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Sinister Cinema: Publicity Shots

Lyle Talbot Nancy Hult Don Herron Stephen Talbot

How about we kick off a new month with some publicity shots from the Archives of Stephen Talbot?

Steve popped these to me recently. Pic at top, left to right, Lyle Talbot, Nancy Hult, Don Herron (me!) and Steve from 1982, doing a group shot during the release party for the KQED documentary The Case of Dashiell Hammett, said party tossed in the third floor of John’s Grill.

Steve noted that “my father, Lyle Talbot,” served as “the voice of Hammett in the documentary.” He says that “Nancy Hult, the KQED publicist (best publicist I ever had!)organized the party and went on to marry Hollywood producer Sid Ganis, who for many years was president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.” And he describes us as “the one and only Mr. Don Herron, wearing your Maltese Falcon tie; and yours truly, as happy as I can be, celebrating the release of this Hammett TV biography.”

Yep. The Good Old Days. I should mention that the ties with a Maltese Falcon image threaded into them were worn by the bartenders and head waiters in John’s in that era, but I was given my tie by none other than Fritz Leiber. Fritz went into John’s to have dinner one night and discovered that they had used his article “Stalking Sam Spade” in the new menu. They picked up his tab as a gesture of thanks, gave him a tie — but by 1981 or 1982 he figured the tie would be better used by me as I gumshoed the mean streets leading the tour. I wore it for quite awhile, until it became obvious the threads were becoming bare, and then I retired it. Smithsonian material — or at least another item for the Hammett Tour collection in Bancroft Library.

Steve also sent me the pic at bottom, “an old publicity still of Mae West and my Dad in a nightclub scene in a 1936 movie called Go West, Young Man.” If you’ve read the blog for awhile you know I enjoy the whole Degrees of Separation idea — and here in one post is evidence for your eyes that I am merely One Degree of Separation from Mae West:

Mae West and Lyle Talbot in nightclub

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Tombstone: Two-Gun Bob

howard gravePhoto above courtesy the Crider Family Archives, circa 1980. Left to right, at the Robert E. Howard grave in Brownwood, Texas: James Reasoner and Angela, Allen and Bill Crider.

The Crider clan lived in Brownwood in that era. If the approximate date of 1980 is accurate, Reasoner’s first novel, Texas Wind, would hit print that year. It would not be his last. Bill Crider is also reasonably prolific. And Angela Crider Neary just released her own first book in February of this year.

Today marks anniversary 79 of the day Robert E. Howard put a pistol to his head in his Chevy, parked in the drive outside his home in nearby Cross Plains, Texas. At the age of 30, he ended his life. But the literary legend lives on.

I’ve been to the tombstone in Brownwood a few times myself. Fans and fellow writers have been stopping by for many years, and no doubt will continue to do so for many years more.

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Hammett: A Neo-Dash Update

Got a note in from Steve Talbot, who surfed into These Mean Streets after his name was evoked during the little rumination on Naming Kids Dashiell the other day.

“I can’t believe I made The Case of Dashiell Hammett 33 years ago!” Steve said.

His son Dashiell — Dash — “is now 35″ and a lawyer in LA. “Back in 1980 when he was born in San Francisco,” Steve says, “I think he was the first kid I knew to be named Dashiell — in honor, of course, of Samuel D. Hammett.”

Steve remembers wheeling “a two-year-old Dash around town with you on one of your Hammett Walking Tours. Now on my visits to LA, I push Dash’s son (my first grandson) around Hollywood.”

I told Steve that I think he should take the next generation of Talbots into the great Musso and Frank at the earliest opportunity, if he hasn’t done so already. I can’t imagine that Steve’s dad Lyle Talbot didn’t make the Musso and Frank scene in his day. Might even be a good topic for Steve, who continues to do documentary work for PBS.

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Frisco Beat: And an “Adios” to the Powell Hotel. . . .

On May 19 I made my way to the bar in John’s Grill for a meeting with the Greek writer Fondis Ladis, in the burg doing research on a biography of Blackjack Jerome.

As I hiked up the first block of Powell Street I noticed that the entrance to the Powell Hotel was shrouded by a large plywood construction shed. Believe I kind of noticed the plywood a couple of weeks back, but didn’t pay much attention. This time I gave it a couple of minutes.

Obviously a major renovation to the Powell is going on, and some signage announced that what was once the Powell will be open “fall 2015″ as the Axiom.

The building itself will be the same, but who knows what changes the boutique job will wreck on the original lobby and mezzanine? They’ll probably be pretty but for us Charles Willeford fans, they won’t be pretty.

As related in my book Willeford and elsewhere, the Powell is where Willeford claimed he stayed when he was writing his first novel, and also serves as the basis for the hotel in his lone Private Eye novel Wild Wives, the place where PI Jacob Blake hangs his shingle.

For those Willeford fans who got a look at the place before May, what you saw was pretty close to the way it looked when Willeford slept there.

For the people who missed it, consider this an update: the Powell is now history.

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Hammett: Birthday 121


Shot above, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett — who get stacks of their old mail officially donated to the University of South Carolina today, the 121st anniversary of Hammett’s birth.

Terry “Mr. Pure Texts” Zobeck and I had a little present for Hammett in the works to celebrate the birthday, but decided to hold it back for a few days and give the new library donation pride of place. This trove will become a mecca for Hammett and Hellman scholars, like the Ransom Center in Austin did, after Hellman donated literary papers from her and Hammett.

The bulk of the papers and photos seem to be coming from Jo Hammett, daughter of Dashiell Hammett — basis for her book Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers, but she also had a large stack of letters from Hellman that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t been explored by people interested in that sort of thing. And it must be Hammett biographer and bibliographer Rick Layman’s connections in South Carolina that landed the collection there — he is donating his personal collection of Hammett books and magazine appearances to bulk it up even more.

Based on the blurb, I can’t tell if two areas of potential research will be covered by the donated materials.

One is — and this comes up quite often as a question on the tour — how did Hammett’s wife handle the question of their “divorce” (divorce in quotes, since the papers filed in Mexico apparently did not legally result in a divorce). I’ve seen various of the papers Jo had in house, and it seemed to me that sometimes her mother would fill out a school paper (say for a field trip or the like)  saying that she and Hammett were still married, and that other times they would be “divorced.” Be nice to have all the papers in one place, lay them out on a table, and see if the data jumped back and forth or if after a certain point the data stayed the same. At best a minor point, but something that having access to the right set of papers probably could answer. That’s the sort of thing library collections really come in handy for. . . .

The other thing that I can see someone having real fun researching would be: How did Hellman pay out the royalties from Hammett’s writing in the era when she was handling the estate? Did she give his two daughters a fair and square share of the monies? Did she send along merely some token amount? Apparently Jo’s husband kept track of the payments when he was alive, so if that kind of info is at USC someone could juggle it against royalty statements from, oh, Random House, and figure things out (if said scholar can get access to the publishers’ record books).

People who like Hellman can prove her a just warden of the property — or people who don’t like her can show she took more than she gave, as the case may be.

If enough background data exists to make the case either way.

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Tour: Sons and Daughters

li'l tom

On the tour for May 17 Angela Crider Neary introduced herself, specifically as the daughter of Texas writer Bill Crider, who gets mentioned here from time to time. Crider and I agreed that the John Carter of Mars movie was great, and I usually dip into his blog to keep up with obscure subjects — archaeology, who died, vast sprawling libraries and whatnot. I’m not quite as interested in alligators as Crider seems to be, but then who can ignore a nearby gator? With impunity, anyway. . . .

Also, Angela qualifies for the extensive list of Writers Who Have Walked the Walk with her recent book about cat detective Li’l Tom — also a San Francisco Mystery, for those of you into that collecting game. With Telegraph Hill, the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, and other archly local features.

Angela describes it as a “cozy animal mystery,” which begs the question: Is it a mystery with cozy animals or a cozy mystery with animals?

(And that reminded me of a vaguely similar — birds are the heroes — book I read once, about lab pigeons in Berkeley undergoing smoking experiments, with Bogart movies constantly on the TV screen and a handler who reads The Maltese Falcon to them. Something like that. The pigeons escape and get to San Francisco, trying to work a Sam Spade vibe as they scour the gutters for ditched butts. Frisco Pigeon Mambo by C.D. Payne. I gave that one to Hammett’s daughter, pretty sure she’d like it, and she did. Said “it was cute.”)

And then partway through the tour a guy joined in while I was expounding on the history of pulp magazines. At the end he told me that his dad was a writer, too — Avram Davidson.

“I knew Avram!” I told Ethan Davidson.

More accurately, I met Avram, author of a few mysteries but mostly science fiction and fantasy. He was one of the writers I thought about profiling back when I was doing articles for Firsts: The Book Collectors Magazine. Pretty sure I have a complete collection of his first editions, up until recent years. Not for everyone, but if you read fantasy I’d plug as his two best books The Phoenix and the Mirror and The Enquiries of Dr. Eszterhazy.

I also really liked as a teenager the novel The Island Under the Earth, first book of a series, of which Davidson didn’t write any more. Which partly explains why he never took off, as many other writers of his era did. A crusty old guy. I’m glad I met him.

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Frisco Beat: A Big New Wrinkle in Mapback Thinking

Got another note from Nathan Ward — which as an aside, reminds me that maybe when his new bio of Hammett hits the stands later this year, I could do another Biography Month celebration here on Up and Down These Mean Streets, like I did after reading the bio of Jim Tully back in 2012.

This time Nathan pops in a link to crime maps of San Francisco, which do “elevations” of parts of town where various crimes occur. Yeah, The Tenderloin is pretty flat in real life, but when it comes to crime, it is Everest compared to Nob or Russian Hills.

“These crime maps appeared in Fast Company in 2010,” Nathan writes, “but I did not see them then. It makes mountain ranges of areas where crimes occur in town, category by category.

“What’s funny is how The Tenderloin is its own mountain range throughout, which shows you didn’t need a 3-D map to tell you that.”

Yeah, the TL has its rep, and that rep isn’t just based on anecdotal word-of-mouth about muggings and drug sales, it has stats behind it, too. Check out the site for entirely different views of mountainous San Francisco.

Nathan adds, “It would be cool, however, to use this technology to map out the Op stories and their crime locales. Like the Mapbacks, but 3-D.”

I wonder how a “Hammett fiction elevation” would fit in over or next to the real life stats? I’m thinking it would match reality pretty well.

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Tour: Back in May 1994

1994 tour shotIn the history of the tour, Steven Meikle from Edinburgh is pretty damn famous — he saved for something like five or six years so he could haul in to San Francisco and take the Hammett Tour that fell closest to the 100th anniversary of Hammett’s birth. Hammett was born May 27, 1894, so in May 1994 Steven was merrily prowling the mean streets.

And he had a camera along to prove it. If you want to see what things looked like 21 years ago, Steven has opened a Flickr page documenting the experience. Put your cursor over the images to get an ID tag. “The descriptions in quotation marks,” Steven tells me, “are what I had written on the reverse of the photographs.”

You know, back when people printed up photos.

The inset shot of me above is from the Steven session — standing under the street sign (just out of frame) for Dashiell Hammett Street, top of the block at the corner of Pine.

At that point, Monroe Street had been renamed Dashiell Hammett Street for only six years.

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