This small book contains 5 of the first stories that Hammett wrote. These all appeared in The Black Mask magazine, a true pulp fiction publication of the day. These stories appear here as they did in the magazine in 1923.
Hammett became a Pinkerton detective in 1915 but joined the army during the Great War. He picked up tuberculosis in Europe and could not go back to the Pinkertons. Instead, he used that experience to give us some of the most famous hard-boiled detectives ever.
The Continental Op was an investigator who was never named. He worked for the Continental Detective Agency. The stories are “Arson Plus,” written under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson; “Crooked Souls” (also known as “The Gatewood Caper”); “Slippery Fingers”, written under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson; “It” (also known as “The Black Hat That Wasn’t There”); and “Bodies Piled Up” (also known as “The House Dick”). In all, Hammett wrote 36 Continental Op short stories, all but 2 published in The Black Mask.
In 1930 Hammett introduced his most famous detective, Sam Spade. The Maltese Falcon was first published as a serial in The Black Mask. When it was released as a book, the publisher had to print 7 editions in the first year. Humphry Bogart brought him to the silver screen in 1941.
Hammett wrote “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached.”
I suggest this book if you want a quick and fun read. The Kindle version is currently $0.99.