Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade and The Continental Op; four timeless characters created by one writer, Dashiell Hammett. His first novel, Red Harvest, tells the tale of Hammett’s unnamed private eye known as The Continental Op, a private eye in the employment of The Continental Detective Agency out of San Francisco. The Op has been summoned to Personville by the newspaper publisher, Donald Willsson, but before the Op can even meet up with Willsson, the newspaper man is murdered. The Op is quickly hired by Willsson’s father to clean up the town.
A few pages into the book, the Op begins his newest assignment.
My destination was a gray frame cottage. When I rang the bell the door was opened by a thin man with a tired face that had no color in it except a red spot the size of a half-dollar high on each cheek. This, I thought, is the lunger Dan Rolff.
“I’d like to see Miss Brand,” I told him.
“What name shall I tell her?” His voice was a sick man’s and an educated man’s.
“It wouldn’t mean anything to her. I want to see her about Willsson’s death.”
He looked at me with level tired dark eyes and said: “Yes?”
“I’m from the San Francisco office of the Continental Detective Agency. We’re interested in the murder.”
“That’s nice of you,” he said ironically. “Come in.”
Red Harvest is set in a mining town during Prohibition, In Personville, everyone is corrupt from the dead man’s father to the police chief; around every corner and in every shadow, someone is looking to score. The Op is a tough guy in a town that is equally as tough — the locals call it Poisonville. The Op is ready to break some rules and even break some heads to get his job done. Hammett’s dialog is quick and full the colors of the street.
As Time magazine said, when adding Red Harvest to its list of Top 100 English-language Novels: “With the Continental Op, a detective he had been developing for years in short stories, Hammett created the prototype for every sleuth who would ever be called ‘hard-boiled.'” Red Harvest is an important book and a great read as well.