Hammett: Including Murder

A few months back Evan Lewis of Davy Crockett’s Almanack let me know he was drifting into town, so I lined up a day where I could show him and his wife as many of the lost byways, precipice gradiants, obscure Victorians, and noir sites as they could endure.

If we’d ever met before, it was during the 1982 Bouchercon that I chaired, and Evan checked to see if I had a copy of an item from that era.

He asked how many issues of Clues: A Journal of Detection I had in my collection.

Easy one. Exactly one issue — featuring an interview with Tony Hillerman in which he talks some about how much he likes the writing of Charles Willeford. I’ve got that one somewhere in a box of Willeford stuff.

I may have seen a couple of other issues along the way — Clues has been around almost as long as the Hammett Tour, after all — but I’d never been tempted to subscribe, given the academic bent of the magazine. In Robert E. Howard circles especially, I’m known for butting heads with various academics, but then it’s possible REH criticism has an overall lower grade of academics than other disciplines.

And of course there are critics and there are great critics, there are academics and there are professors who have legendary stature. In hard-boiled circles, the late E. R. Hagemann is one of the legends — compiler of A Comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1951 from Pop Press in 1982. I’ve had that title since publication, with a letter inserted that I got from Hagemann thanking me for letting him know that “H. W. Guernsey” was a penname for Howard Wandrei, brother of Donald Wandrei — and Hagemann added some data sent to him by Will Murray, that “Leslie Charles Bowyer Lin” was an alias for Leslie Charteris of The Saint fame (“I goofed here,” he noted) and “Scott O’Hara” was actually John D. MacDonald (“another mishap”). A cornerstone work, the few errors can’t really do more than make a slight chip in the marble.

It turned out that Hagemann also had edited a whole section of Clues v2n2 for Fall/Winter 1981 concerning Pulp Detective Fiction — and Evan had an extra copy for me. Back then Clues was published by Bowling Green’s Pop Press and Evan Lewis was using the name Dave Lewis for his articles, including one in the Hagemann section about Frederick Nebel — “The Backbone of Black Mask.” Among other pieces, Will Murray provided an essay on Doc Savage author Lester Dent, one of his specialities. Hagemann contributed a really nice article on Cap Shaw, which has been reprinted in Blood and Thunder — but anyone with a major interest in hard-boiled crime fiction should track down the original seminar, one of the best I’ve ever seen —

And I’d never heard about it, as far as I can remember. Really amazing. If something this good is out there, sure, there’s probably more interesting essays I’ve never heard about, maybe even in other issues of Clues.

Yeah, I’ve got the excuse that those were pre-Internet years. This one slipped through the cracks. Whatever.

It goes on the shelf next to Hagemann’s Black Mask index, and I’m glad to have it.

The most startling piece in the seminar was “Including Murder: An Unpublished Hammett Collection” by Robert S. Powell — again, something I can’t recall ever hearing of before. Apparently among the Hammett papers in the Humanities Research Center in Texas, where Lillian Hellman housed various unpublished story drafts and fragments and so on, Powell found no less than sixty-nine 8½ x 11 pages under the title Including Murder. The address is 620 Eddy Street. The author’s byline: Dashiell Hammett.

On the sheets are paste-up pages taken from Black Mask of five Continental Op tales. Some of the planned contents are no longer with the archives, since the page numbers run from 1 to 30 — break — and then from 103 to 141.

Powell details several title changes Hammett contemplated, but more significantly “numerous instances of slight rewording or changes in sentence construction, obviously made to clarify or accelerate narrative.” He gives five examples each from “The Gatewood Caper,” “Bodies Piled Up,” and “Night Shots.”

Five more examples show Hammett editing “melodramatic excesses in dialogue and narrative. Punctuation, too, is less exaggerated.”

I looked over the examples in wonder:

 

and the room showed no signs of having been the scene of a struggle

to

and the room showed no signs of a struggle

and

“Dresses well and doesn’t look like a rowdy — but harder than hell! A big game hunter! Our meat, I bet you!” “It doesn’t look bad,” I agreed.

to

. . . A big game hunter.” “It doesn’t look bad,” I agreed.

 

I almost couldn’t believe it. This Powell guy was like some kind of proto Terry Zobeck!

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