Monday, March 21, 2016

"As Close Together As the Tapping of Three Keys Under the Fingers of an Expert Typist, but a Thousand Times More Vicious, Came Three Pistol Shots"

"The Gatewood Caper."
(a.k.a. "Crooked Souls").
By Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961).
First appearance: The Black Mask, October 15, 1923.
First collected in The Big Knockover (1924).
Reprinted in EQMM, May 1953.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"[One of] the best specimens of that purely American type of detective story which, to quote Raymond Chandler, have their bases in fact, 'take murder out of the Venetian vase and drop it into the alley,' are not afraid of the seamy side of things, deal with violence and melodrama and brutality and gangsters and rackets — and feature that untarnished and honorable common man, the detective-hero of the rough-tough, guts-gore-and-gals, blood-bludgeon-and-bust school . . ." — From Fred Dannay's EQMM introduction
What would seem to be a simple kidnapping turns into a prime specimen of Murphy's Law—for the kidnappers.
This was the second (or was it the third?) story that Hammett published in The Black Mask featuring the Continental Op (the first was "Arson Plus"), but this time he used his own name and not the "Peter Collinson" byline. Eventually Hammett would produce thirty-seven Continental Op adventures.
Comments: If you've watched many movies or TV shows with the same plot, you'll probably figure it out fairly early; remember, though, that Hammett was there first. (Hint: As a for-instance, one movie that "borrowed" the same idea is described HERE, with SPOILERS.)

Principal characters:
~ The Op (nameless): Senior operative for the Continental Detective Agency.
~ O'Gar, Lusk, and Thode: Detectives with Continental.
~ Harvey Gatewood: A captain of industry with a volatile temperament ("a czar from the top of his bullet head to the toes of his shoes").
~ Audrey Gatewood: Harvey Gatewood's daughter ("a wild, spoiled youngster who hadn't shown any great care in selecting her friends — just the sort of girl who could easily fall into the hands of a mob of highbinders").
~ The building superintendent.
~ "Penny" Quayle: Goes by the name of Theodore Offord ("a con man who had been active in the East four or five years before").

- Both The Thrilling Detective (HERE) and Wikipedia (HERE) have background articles about the Continental Op; see FictionMags HERE for a complete story list.
- The Big Knockover merited a Mystery*File article HERE; you can buy it HERE.
- ONTOS has had previous encounters with Hammett HERE and HERE.

The bottom line: "I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father."

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