The Continental Op


Ever heard of a writer named Carroll John Daly, or a character named Terry Mack?  Most people haven’t, but Daly’s “Three Gun Terry” is generally recognized as the very first hard-boiled detective story.  Debuting in the pulp pages of Black Mask in May 1923, Terry Mack was more cartoon than believable character. Using any or all of his three pistols, Terry never hesitated to blow away anyone who crossed him.  Oddly enough, this psychotic behavior never seemed to have any legal consequences.

A few months later, in the October 1, 1923 issue, readers of Black Mask were introduced to a different kind of private detective: far from the ultramacho antics of Terry Mack, this detective was short, plump and middle aged, and was more interested in gathering clues than keeping the bullet manufacturers in business.  The story was called “Arson Plus,” and was written by a fellow calling himself Peter Collinson. In reality “Collinson” was Dashiell Hammett, former operative of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  The character was an instant hit, and soon Hammett began writing under his own name.  

The fat little detective’s true name name was never revealed; sometimes referred to as “The Continental Detective,” or “The Man from Continental,” the moniker that finally stuck was “The Continental Op” (short for operative).

The Op had no personal stake in his cases; he investigated for one reason only:  he’d been hired to, and he wanted to give the clients their money’s worth.  

Between 1923 and 1930 there were 36 Continental Op stories published, almost all in Black Mask. Four of these stories were combined and reworked to become Hammett’s first hardback novel, Red Harvest. Four others were retooled to become The Dain Curse, Hammett’s next novel.  Since these eight stories have never been reprinted in their original form, it would probably be more accurate to say that there are 28 stories and two full-length novels. (Source: The Dashiell Hammett Website)

Other essential links about the Continental Op are:

The Continental Op at The Thrilling Detective Web Site 

The Continental Op Page

In Spanish Leer sin Prisa here also provides a list of The Continental Op short stories

Any information about other websites on the subject not listed above, will be appreciated,

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