Tag Archives: Dashiell Hammett

Laughing masks when luck’s running good

The final story in the final Ellery Queen digest-sized collection of Dashiell Hammett shorts—Mercury Mystery #233 (1962)—is “When Luck’s Running Good.” The opening paragraph follows:

“A shriek, unmistakenly feminine, and throbbing with terror, pierced the fog. Phil Truax, hurrying up Washington Street, halted in the middle of a stride and became as motionless as the stone apartment buildings that flanked the street.”

Originally titled “Laughing Masks,” the story first appeared in Action Stories in November 1923 under Hammett’s Peter Collinson pseudonym.

(Image from Galactic Central.)

The dimple in the morgue

Originally titled “The Dimple” when it appeared in Saucy Stories, October 15, 1923, this short, short tale by Dashiell Hammett was retitled “In the Morgue” for Mercury Mystery #233, February 20, 1962. Here’s the opening from the latter:

“Walter Dowe took the last sheet of the manuscript from his typewriter with a satisfied sigh and leaned back in his chair, turning his face to the ceiling to ease the stiffened muscles of his neck. Then he looked at the clock: 3:15 A.M. He yawned, got to his feet, switched off the lights, and went down the hall to his bedroom.”

To introduce the story Ellery Queen informs readers, “A generation or so ago, when this story was first published, an author was not permitted to refer in print to a woman’s legs—they had to be called “limbs”. . .” Even in a magazine called Saucy Stories?!?!?

(Image from Mike Hubert’s Dashiell Hammett website.)

Top flight fiction

Black Mask, November 15, 1923

“The Second-Story Angel” by Dashiell Hammett first saw print in Black Mask, November 15, 1923. It was reprinted in Ellery Queen’s final digest-sized Hammett collection, Mercury Mystery #233, February 20, 1962. Here’s the opening line:

“Carter Brigham—Carter Webright Brigham in the tables of contents of various popular magazines—woke with a start, passing from unconsciousness into full awareness too suddenly to doubt that his sleep had been disturbed by something external.”

Image from Sean Levin and Win Scott Eckert’s Crossover Universe.

Dashiell Hammett’s Itchy

“Itchy” first appeared in Brief Stories January 1924. It was retitled “Itchy the Debonair” for the anthology “A Man Named Thin,” Mercury Mystery #233, edited by Ellery Queen, and published by Joseph W. Ferman. The story opens with the news report ripped from the front page of the evening edition:


“Shortly after the Bay City State Bank of Oakland opened its doors for business this morning, an unmasked bandit, locking officials and employees in the vault, fled with the contents of the money drawer.”

The Barber and His Wife

One of Dashiell Hammett’s earliest stories, “The Barber and His Wife,” written as Peter Collinson, first appeared in Brief Stories, December 1922. It was reprinted in Ellery Queen’s anthology, Mercury Mystery #233 in 1962.

Queen’s introduction to the story states, “An early and ‘unknown’ Hammett yarn in which the characters are once again a foreshadowing of the great ones to come . . .”

Here’s the opening paragraph: “Each morning at seven thirty the alarm clock on the table beside their bed awakened the Stemlers to perform their daily comedy—a comedy that varied from week to week in degree only.”

Gatewood’s crooked souls

Black Mask October 15, 1923

The opening paragraph of “The Gatewood Caper” by Dashiell Hammett, Mercury Mystery #233 1962:

“Harvey Gatewood had issued orders that I was to be admitted as soon as I arrived, so it took me only a little less than fifteen minutes to thread my way past the doorkeepers, office boys, and secretaries who filled up most of the space between the Gatewood Lumber Corporation’s front door and the president’s private office. His office was large, all mahogany and bronze and green plush, with a mahogany desk as big as a bed in the center of the floor.”

This Continental Op story was originally titled “Crooked Souls” when it first appeared in the October 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. That issue actually had two stories by Hammett, the other being “Slippery Fingers” which was credited to Peter Collinson.

Image from Terry Zobeck’s article on Don Herron’s Up and Down these Mean Streets

Tom Doody’s Sardonic Star

As Ellery Queen, Frederick Dannay, wrote in his 1962 introduction to “Wages of Crime” by Dashiell Hammett, in Mercury Mystery #233, “These early short stories were often ironic or sardonic studies of the people who make up the undercrust of American society—the little people who are not the kind and gentle folk of our more sentimental popular songs; the little people who, given wider scope and opportunity and a bit more luck if not brains, could easily emerge as the ‘brutal, grasping heels’ that came to life so vividly in Hammett’s larger canvases.”

Here’s the opening paragraph of the story: “‘Come along without any fuss and there won’t be trouble,’ said the tall man with the protruding lip.”

The story was originally titled “The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody” when it first ran in Brief Stories Feb. 1923 under the pseudonym Peter Collinson. (No image today, apparently it’s one that has eluded even Galactic Central.)

A Man Named Thin

Mercury Mystery #233

Published a year after Dashiell Hammett’s death, the final digest magazine collection of his short stories, Mercury Mystery #233, appeared on newsstands in Feb. 1962. The lead story, “A Man Named Thin,” was also the title of the collection. It’s protagonist is Robin Thin, not Nick Charles, and predates all of Hammett’s more famous characters. Ellery Queen (Frederick Dannay) explains in his introduction:

“We do not know when Dashiell Hammett wrote the story we have titled “A Man Named Thin” (the author’s original title was a curious one, “The Figure of Incongruity”). From internal evidence it seems probable that Hammett wrote the story in the mid-1920s—in the formative years before The Maltese Falcon; and if this is true, the story foreshadows much of Hammett’s mature talent, especially his originality of characterization and plot.”

The magazine that originally bought the story went out of business before it saw print. It languished among the assets subsequently purchased by a romance magazine until Dannay caught wind of it in 1945. He bought it in 1946, yet “for reasons too complicated to explain” in his introduction, the story didn’t see print until the March 1951 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Papa was, though I may be deemed an undutiful son for saying it, in an abominable mood. His chin protruded across his desk at me in a fashion that almost justified the epithet of brutal which had once been applied to it by an unfriendly journalist; and his mustache seemed to bristle with choler of its own, though this was merely the impression I received. It would be preposterous to assume actual change in the mustache which, whatever Papa’s humor, was always somewhat irregularly salient.”

Muravian Knight

Mystery Stories January 1928

The final entry in the anthology of Dashiell Hammett shorts, Jonathan Press Mystery J48, “The Creeping Siamese,” is “This King Business.” Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The train from Belgrade set me down in Stefania, capital of Muravia, in early afternoon—a rotten afternoon. Cold wind blew cold rain in my face and down my neck as I left the square granite barn of a railroad station to climb into a taxicab.”

Terry Zobeck tracked down a copy of Mystery Stories, January 1928 where the story originally appeared and documented Frederic Dannay’s edits for Don Herron’s Up and Down these Mean Streets. (Image from Galactic Central.)

Tom, Dick, Harry, Mike, Alec or Rufus?

Black Mask January 1925

At the moment, copies of “The Creeping Siamese,” a collection of stories by Dashiell Hammett, part of the Jonathan Press Mystery series, J48, are offered for sale on AbeBooks.com from  $25 to $75 in Very Good condition. The second to last story inside is “Tom, Dick or Harry,” which also happens to be the last Continental Op story in the volume. Here are the opening lines:

“I don’t know whether Frank Toplin was tall or short. All of him I ever got a look at was his round head—naked scalp and wrinkled face, both of them the color and texture of Manila paper—propped up on white pillows in a big four-poster bed. The rest of him was buried under a thick pile of bedding.”

The story originally appeared under the title “Mike, Alec or Rufus?” in Black Mask January 1925.

Image from Galactic Central.