Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Tie That Binds

"A Man Called Spade."
By Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961).
First appearance: The American Magazine, July 1932.
Collected in The Adventures of Sam Spade (1944; for sale HERE) and A Man Called Spade (1945).
Anthologized in, e.g., The Super Sleuths Revisited (HERE and HERE; for sale HERE).
Short story (12 pages).
Online (with images) at Comic Book Plus starting HERE (set page selector to 30 and then to 76); also online (without images) HERE.
Detective Sam Spade gets a phone call from a man saying his life is in danger, but he arrives too late to prevent a murder. Before Spade can isolate the killer, however, he and the police squad will encounter and have to sort through the significance of, among other things, a rebellious young heiress; a crazy Russian; newlyweds, one of them an ex-con; a religious fanatic; a shabby judge; an occultic symbol on the dead man's chest; a necktie that doesn't fit and blood on the tie-pin; and an almost perfect alibi—almost.

~ "There ought to be a law making criminals give themselves up."
~ "There's something funny about that woman."
~ "I hurt a knuckle stopping him and the job only lasted an afternoon."
~ "There's a lot of deviltry going on in this world."
On the Black Gate website Sherlockian Bob Byrne compares this story with Hammett's other efforts:
"A Man Called Spade" is far and away the longest of the three short stories [Hammett wrote about the detective]. Spade arrives at a prospective client’s apartment to find Falcon stalwarts Tom Polhous and Lieutenant Dundy there and the no-longer-prospective client murdered, a five-pointed star with a 'T' in the middle outlined in black ink above his heart.
Dundy’s antagonism towards Spade in The Maltese Falcon is noticeably absent in this story. The two men work together, with Spade having carte blanche in questioning people.
Except for the opening and closing scenes, which take place between Spade and his secretary, Effie Perrine, the entire story takes place in Max Bliss’s apartment and feels like it is more of a play than a story. It is, quite simply, dull and pales in comparison to The Maltese Falcon.
Dundy is completely adrift in this case and while the police help with the hard evidence, Spade’s mind alone identifies the murderer. A red herring in the case is lifted directly from a Continental Op story from a few years before. Of the three stories, this one most feels like it was hurriedly written to generate some cash.  . . .
Mike Grost agrees:
"A Man Called Spade" is the first, longest, and weakest of the three works. As Richard Layman has pointed out, Hammett reused the initial situation of his early Op tale "The Tenth Clew" (1924) in this story. "A Man Called Spade" has all new characters, and all new writing - it does not reuse any of the text of the earlier story. Even odder, it has a brand new puzzle plot, different from the one in the original tale. Both stories' puzzle plots, while completely different from each other, show the influence of Freeman Wills Crofts.
Spade also works closely with the police. The single cop Sergeant O'Gar of the earlier Op series, is expanded into a pair in the Spade tales, Lieutenant Dundy and Sgt. Tom Polhaus. There are other named policemen too. They played a prominent role in The Maltese Falcon, and show up again as continuing characters in a subsequent Spade story, "They Can Only Hang You Once." The basic setup of the two short tales is pretty much the same as S. S. Van Dine's Philo Vance books, with the detective acting as friend and consultant to a well characterized squad of police. It is quite different from the earlier Op work. In the Spade tales, the equal relationship between the private eye and the police has disappeared. Instead the police are shown as being basically in a support-ing role to Sam Spade, who functions as a genius detective in the Philo Vance tradition. The police here are honest, and do routine investigative tasks, with Spade coming up with the ultimate answers as to whodunit. Unlike the Op, the solitary Spade has no agency to call on, and does little private detective work. Instead he mainly helps the police question suspects, and then solves the case. — "The Sam Spade Short Stories," A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
You can read The Adventures of Sam Spade online HERE:
  (1) "Too Many Have Lived" (1932)
  (2) "They Can Only Hang You Once" (1932)
  (3) "A Man Called Spade" (1932)
  (4) "The Assistant Murderer" (1926)
  (5) "Night Shade" (1933)
  (6) "The Judge Laughed Last" (1924)
  (7) "His Brother's Keeper" (1934).

- Wikipedia's article about Hammett is HERE; there's a long Hammett bibliography at FictionMags HERE; and he even has an entry on the ISFDb HERE.
- Sam Spade has his very own Wikipedia article HERE and a much shorter FictionMags listing HERE, while not surprisingly The Thrilling Detective features a very thorough article about "the blond satan" HERE.
- The Argonaut: Journal of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society (Winter 2011) has a comprehensive, well-researched, and nicely-illustrated article entitled "Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco in the 1920s," by Monika Trobits HERE (PDF, 29 pages), that practically gives us a guided tour of Sam Spade's Baghdad by the Bay.

The bottom line: "Of course, to be serious for a moment, there's no such thing as a nice murder or a perfect murder. It is always a sordid, despicable business, especially if you don't have a good lawyer."
Alfred Hitchcock

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