by Dashiell Hammett
Farfetched but commensurately high-octane crime caper frantically putting the pedal to the metal of the idea of 150 crooks gathering from across the country to pull off an audacious double bank robbery in broad daylight in Prohibition-era San Francisco before succumbing to the inevitable double-cross as the body count mounts. I liked it. From a writing standpoint, I enjoyed the tough guy humor & verve of both the pulp similes--"the room was black as an honest politician's prospects" (372)--and of the borderline parodic high testosterone moments like this one: "She was neither tall nor short, thin nor plump... She was probably twenty. Her eyes were blue, her mouth red, her teeth white, the hair-ends showing under her black-green-and-silver turban were brown, and she had a nose. Without getting steamed up over the details, she was nice. I said so" (365, ellipses added). From a sociological standpoint, I was even more tickled to see that what the narrator cheekily refers to as a Who's Who in Crookdom (374) matter-of-factly includes blacks, whites, mulattos and various shades in between as apparent gangland equals--crime as the great American melting pot? Whatever, not a bad way to while away the time and an entertainment whose thrill ride features are complicated by a morally ambiguous narrator and enlivened by some newly minted slang imported from the jazzbo and gangster worlds. Hep.
"The Big Knock-Over" bloodily graces pages 364-393 of the new Hammett anthology The Big Book of the Continental Op (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2017) edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.