Hammett: A Tiny Tweak for “This King Biz”

Just when you think you’ve got something wrapped-up. . . .

Earlier this month Terry Zobeck and I wrote Fin/30/Fade-to-Black on Zobeck: Series One, the investigation into “pure texts” on the 21 Hammett short stories yet to be reprinted using the original texts from the pulp or slick magazine appearances. While we’ll poke along on Zobeck: Series Two and other projects that may pop to life, I thought for sure we had that one nailed down tight.

But a few days ago I got an e winging in from Michael Stoler, who said,  “I took your tour back in late March; I know you remember some of your guidees; I was the tall skinny guy with glasses and thinning black hair, celebrating his 47th birthday, who had been reading Raymond Chandler and asked you an infinite number of questions, which you gracefully answered.”

So far, so good — if I can field a query, I am happy to do so.

“On your recommendation,” Michael continued, “I started reading The Big Knockover in the paperback, starting with the title novella, and now going back to the shorter stories. I was reading ‘This King Business,’ and came to the part in which the young American millionaire Lionel Grantham, whom prominent ‘Muravians’ are supporting to be the figurehead of a royalist coup in a Balkan republic, talks of how something similar was tried in Albania, just after ‘the First World War.'”

Michael wondered why a story published in 1928 would use that expression:

So why would a character, or Hammett, have referred to the “First” World War, when there was as yet no inkling of a second? At that time, people referred to “the” World War, or the Great War.

I asked Terry Zobeck to do a quick check of the original pulp, and he discovered that “first World War” in that first publication of the story was just “war.”

But Terry also discovered that he did not have that specific correction in his 2011 post on “This King Business,” which began this whole exercise: “Well, this is embarrassing. I wish I could say that Hammett was prescient or a devotee of H. G. Wells. But I can’t. I missed this one. Our correspondent’s logic is absolutely spot on.”

So Terry added a fix and I went in for a surgical insertion, and all is now well — as far as I know — in the pure texts world. A tiny tweak, but one you want done.

I also asked Terry to double check the third printing of Library of America’s Crime Stories collection, to make sure they had the right wordage, and he says they did and do. So, that “pure text” is indeed a pure text. But remember, you want the third printing on that book, not the previous two, for the best text on “This King Business.”

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