Dashiell Hammett’s nameless detective - an operative for San Francisco’s Continental Detective Agency - starred in 36 short works and two novels beginning in 1923. One of his most iconic stories was “The Big Knockover,” a novella which originally appeared in the February 1927 issue of “Black Mask.” The tale continues in a second novella called “$106,000 Blood Money” from May 1927’s “Black Mask.” Over the years, publishers have packaged the two novellas together as one short novel titled “Blood Money.”
As the paperback opens, the Continental Op finds himself in a bar filled with con-artists and stick-up men blowing off steam with booze and live music. Leaving the tavern, the Op gets a tip from a newsie snitch that there are plans afoot to rob Seaman’s National Bank, a standing client of the Continental Detective Agency. Could the tip have anything to do with the giant crook convention at the bar?
You know it does and I know it does. What the informant fails to tell the Op was that the plan entails robbing not one, but two, large San Francisco banks at the same time with a standing army of crooks working together to make the jobs a bonanza of theft with millions in bank losses. During the robbery itself, the police were taken off guard, and the job went off without a hitch leaving behind a bloodbath or carnage and bank shareholders demanding private justice from the Continental investigators.
The Continental Op dives headfirst into the underworld to find out who the top man was planning this audacious crime. It’s a violent and exciting ride in a high body-count story that has aged extremely well over the past 93 years. It’s edgy, violent and gritty stuff but never cartoonish like much of the era’s pulp hero fiction. Hammett was clearly writing works that set the stage for Mickey Spillane in the 1950 and many other purveyors of violent action fiction beyond that.
Many compilations have reprinted “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money” back-to-back, but collectors may want to seek out a vintage paperback of “Blood Money.” Either way, you’re in for a real treat as this is top-notch hardboiled violence underscoring why Hammett was the grandfather of the genre.
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