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Glossary and Character Taxonomy  Breakdown by Country of Origin   Bibliography   Table of Contents    The Best of the Encyclopedia

Continental Op. The Continental Op was created by “Peter Collinson,” the pseudonym of Dashiell Hammett (Nick and Nora Charles, Secret Agent X-9, Sam Spade), and appeared in thirty-six short stories and seven novels and short story collections from 1923 to 1947, beginning with “Arson Plus” (Black Mask, Oct. 1, 1923).

The Continental Op, who is never otherwise named, is a heavy forty-something agent of the Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco. The Op’s cases take him to a range of locales in the western part of the United States, where he usually successfully resolves the cases through guile and violence. He works well with the police and avoids getting involved with the people on his cases. The Op has a strict code of ethics, and although he is cynical and realistic about his work he does not break the code. As a detective he relies on a knowledge of people more than deduction or the evidence available.

* I've included the Continental Op stories and novels in the Best of the Encyclopedia category because of their historical importance and the skill with which they are written. The Continental Op stories are important because they were the first major hardboiled series. Race Williams precedes the Op and outlived him, but Dashiell Hammett was a more talented writer than Carroll John Daly and the Op stories were better-written than the Race Williams stories, so what people remember are Hammett's stories and novels rather than Daly's work. The Op stories are surprisingly well-written--which shouldn't be a surprise, given that it's Dashiell Hammett who's writing them, but which nonetheless comes as a surprise every time one reads an Op story or novel. The Op stories and novels are grim (even bleak), cynical, and philosophical about honor and masculinity and people's general goodness. Later hardboiled writers took Hammett's cynicism but avoided his bleakness and philosophical aspects. Too, Hammett's stories, told in a hardbitten style that avoids simile, metaphor, and lyrical imagery, nonetheless achieve a sort of hardboiled poetry--not what one usually thinks of when one thinks of Hammett (it's Chandler who's usually praised for his style), but true nonetheless. 

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