Hammett: A Parable for Valentine

An even eighty-eight years ago today Knopf released a little tale of mystery and romance you know by the handle of The Maltese Falcon.

Yes, timed for release on Valentine’s Day.

Every Valentine’s Day for years now I’ve had to make the suggestion that the Falcon might just be the sickest Valentine’s Day novel ever. If it’s a romance — and you can see the outlines of a romance in it — then you still have the spectre of a noose hanging over the heroine at the end.

If they hang you — kind of makes you think romance isn’t the most significant aspect of the story.

Another unusual angle is that when Spade might be thought to be wooing Brigid O’Shaughnessy he drops a parable on her.

The Flitcraft Parable.

Again, not the usual malarkey of a regulation romance.

If you don’t know the Flitcraft angle (it’s in the novel but not in the Bogie flick), Brian Wallace just popped me an overview which wowed him — and written by Jim Nelson. You might remember Jim’s name from recent years, when he trudged along on the Fritz Leiber Tour I sometimes offer.

If interested, dip into Jim’s survey of the parable — and then reserve a few minutes to think about whether such a thing really fits into the whole Valentine’s Day scenario. A brain-buster, for sure.

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Death Lit: An Avram Davidson Vibe

The historied dark mantle of Prague cloaks 14 stories of crime in this superior entry in Akashic’s City Noir series. A fair number of collections from this series have rolled through my paws over the years, with this one and the recent Montana Noir far better than the average.

Oakland Noir, another new-ish one, was kind of a dud — and all things being equal, Oakland ought to have been one of the best in this set.

Akashic has been popping these items out since 2004, so I figure you ought to know by now if you enjoy them or not (someone must, because there are dozens, with more always in the pipeline). For Prague Noir specifically I’m tipping you off to one story which I know some of you might like, and if you don’t want to buy the whole package new then just wait it out — keep an eye open for a cheap used copy later on so you can read “The Cabinet of Seven Pierced Books” by Petr Stančík.

I started that one and instantly thought, man, this reminds me of Avram Davidson’s adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy, set in a more fantasticated version of Europe. You have the “autarchic detective, one Egon Alter” dropping casually into the action and many other touches which ought to delight Eszterhazy fans.

And I have no idea if Stančík has ever heard of Avram, much less has read a word he wrote. Could be a case of a mindset, a cultural background, nudging him in a similar direction.

I’m not encouraging everyone who reads these words to seek the story out. If you like Avram, yes. Or if you enjoy films by Wojciech Haas such as The Sandglass and The Saragossa Manuscript.

If you want a sample for consideration, the following paragraph riffing on the ghetto jumped out at me:

Alongside the ordinary poor souls, there were crooks, kabbalists, cheats, hucksters, mystics, pessimists, lusty murderers, ghost-hunters-for-hire and their demons who hadn’t found their back to the astral world, black and salon magi, wounded poets, old angel-hunting women, former alchemists, abstract painters, perpetuum motion inventors, honey counterfeiters, Lilliputian prostitutes, forgers, cannibals (due to hunger or preference), door-to-door hypnotizers, and other lost beings lived there.

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Rediscovered: Me and Willeford in a Comic Book

Brian Van Gold of Oakland just did a little homegrown comic book featuring me and Willeford — mostly Willeford. I show up in a one-page anecdote illustrating the time Willeford informed me that All Great Literature is Depressing.

I think this marks only the second time I have pulled a cameo in a comic book.

First was many moons ago after Roy Thomas had me and The Dashiell Hammett Tour show up in a four-issue mini-series featuring a revamped Jonni Thunder (who originally was a guy, but in the revamp was a female detective in San Francisco).

Think that cameo was in issue three, but I’d have to dig through the files to be sure.

Roy had just been on the walk, and apparently figured What the hell? Carmine Infantino, famous for The Flash, was the artist, working off the cover image on the second edition of the tour book.

I noticed that Roy made the news not long ago c/o his role as the original writer on the Iron Fist series, and got dragged — at least briefly — into the dustup on whether Iron Fist in the Netflix incarnation ought to have been played by an Asian actor or not, or whatever the specific controversy may have been. I glanced at a couple of articles and thought, Roy’s making the news — cool.

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Hammett: A Speedy Return to the Clew-Pile

Barely a fortnight had slipped past when Jeopardy! once again sampled from the huge variety of potential clews related to the life and work of Dashiell Hammett — I admit, I was taken by surprise.

I was thinking it would be at least a break of two or three fortnights.

On January 18 in the Jeopardy! round, the category Movie Spoilers, $400 slot:

The “bird” sought by Kaspar Gutman & others in this Bogart film turns out to be fake.

First guy buzzes in: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”


I wonder if they’ll ever have a clew about why Gutman’s name is spelled Kaspar in the movie instead of as Caspar in the novel? The kind of thing that keeps me awake nights.

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Hammett: In the Clew-Pile for 2018

Didn’t notice any Hammett clewing for the new season of Jeopardy! that kicked in toward the end of last year — though I did notice they had an entire category devoted to PKD recently. Man, Hammett and/or Hammett and the Black Mask writers deserve a whole row, too.

But at least they got him in early this year, we’ll see about how often as we roll along.

On January 2 in the first Jeopardy! round, in the category Short Stories:

Dashiell Hammett also wrote stories about this detective, including “Too Many Have Lived”

The first contestant to buzz in guessed “Who is Nick Charles?”

Nope. Wrong!

(No Nick Charles short stories, sucker.)

Another guy buzzed in.

“Who is Sam Spade?”


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Rediscovered: Charlie Siringo, Range Op

If you’re curious, you can read at least the opening of a new article posted today for Westworld out of Denver on the famous or infamous range detective Charlie Siringo — researched and written by none other than our pal Nathan Ward, who last made a big splash across this blog with his Hammett bio The Lost Detective.

Siringo got into legal dustups with the Pinkerton’s agency over writing about his exploits, and Nathan tells me, “I still think Charlie’s legal problems with publishing his Pinkerton memoirs encouraged Hammett to create a fictional agency for his own work.”

All these guys out there, thinking deep thoughts on Hammett topics. . . .

Nathan is poking around on a paperback edition of the bio, to include a few corrections. And he adds, “Good to hear from Terry that I was right about something.” That’s in reference to Terry Zobeck nitpicking a few bibliographic details in his review here, but just the other day giving Nathan the credit line for uncovering an otherwise “lost” review column from the author of The Maltese Falcon.

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Hammett: Koichi Suwabe’s Lectures on The Maltese Falcon

Here’s something for the arch-Hammett fan to track down — a close to 400 pager all about The Maltese Falcon, going at it chapter by chapter.

Published in 2012.

It’s in Japanese, but if you’re dedicated at working translation programs. . . .

You’ll get some hints about where and what to translate from the extensive section of notes, which tag the English language refs, lines from the novel, lines from the sources.

The reason I know about it is because the author, Koichi Suwabe, showed up out of the blue for the last anyone-can-show-up walk for October 29 — he brought along a copy and put his John Hancock in it for me in Burritt alley. Told me he’d used my tour book as a ref, and sure enough, I found various bits in English from the tour in the notes.

Very cool. You get the sense you’re getting someplace when you’re quoted in another language.

The book itself is really attractive, a solid little hardback in dustjacket, and my copy has an additional banner wrapper on it — with a Maltese cross and a pic of Hammett. Ribbon bookmark, of course.

A quite satisfying way to close out 40 Years on the Mean Streets.

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Rediscovered: Further FLIVVERing from Carroll John Daly

Man, I don’t even have to LOOK for evidence, it just rolls in like the sea.

You may recall that in The Great Flivver War of 2015 I found an example of Black Mask great Carroll John Daly using the term “flivver” to describe a Ford Model T.

Today I was looking over a new blog post describing an early Daly opus from People’s Magazine in 1923, which mentions the hero’s horse:

In short order Red has saved Gerta and is hired as foreman on her ranch, but it is hardly smooth sailing from there, as soon Gerta is kidnapped, and even once he rescues her Red has to face her jealousy over saloon girl Rosita.

But with the help of his horse, “El Flivver!…El Hennery Ford! The devil caballo!”, and his Colt .45 automatic, Red is a match for just about anything the Old West or Old Mexico can throw at him save perhaps Gerta.

Yep, it’s Hi-Yo El Flivver Away!

The devil horse, a.k.a. El Henry Ford. . . .

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Rediscovered: Fred Dannay and His More Literary Cousin

A couple of years back Nathan Ward popped me a link to an article — a very good, long article — about the popular Mean Streets topic Frederic Dannay, one half of the “Ellery Queen” writing team, and his continuing feud with his cousin Manfred B. Lee, the rest of the team.

Turns out old Manfred was the more literary one of the two — in short, the one who wanted to write more literary works, not just clever puzzle mysteries.

Surf over to the article for details.

(Also evoking Mean Streets landmarks, the article appeared in a mag titled The Smart Set — not THE Smart Set, where some of the earliest Hammett saw print, but a new incarnation of the Set. Or at least a revival of the name.)

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Frisco Beat: Back to the TL Museum for The Penalty

At top and bottom, a couple of shots from my July 13 appearance in the Tenderloin Museum, talking up The Thin Man and with some snippets of the 1931 Falcon — high point being when we spotted the heart of the TL in a casual pan shot from that first film version of Hammett’s most famous novel.

I don’t recall specific TL locales in the 1920 silent Lon Chaney film The Penalty, but it certainly nibbles around the edges, with the scenes of robbing the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission, mere blocks from the doors of the Museum. And with tons of other locations from yesteryear — many of which may be found today.

On Thursday January 4 at 7p.m. I’ll be back in the Museum to introduce a showing of the movie, which as everyone knows I credit as the obvious source material for Hammett’s white hot Continental Op novel The Big Knockover.

Better yet, after we watch the saga of Chaney as a legless crime lord planning to knockover the Mint, the mysterious CitySleuth will do a PowerPoint presentation of Then & Now shots — screen shot from the movie/what is there today. I am in flat-out awe about the number of locations CS has tracked down, and I think you will be, too.

You don’t get any more Frisco than this evening — and what a way to kick in the New Year.

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