RARA-AVIS: Fingerprints?

Joe Kraus (j-kraus@nwu.edu)
Wed, 21 Jan 1998 22:34:22 -0600 Thank you all for the information on "Johnson-brothers" in Hammett. I
don't think I'd ever have gotten it from the context.

I have another question, and then I'd appreciate picking any brains that
are willing.

The question: does anyone know how I might get a hold of an article by
Hammett called "Finger Prints"? It ran in Black Mask June, 1925.

My reason: I've been trying to argue in something I'm writing that people
writing about gangsters in the '20s and '30s get increasingly anxious that
the good guys can't even figure out who the bad guys are. Your typical
Saturday Evening Post gangster story from the early '20s has a central
casting bad guy as the "head center" of crime, and then the crusading
lawmen get him. By the late '20s to mid '30s, though, it's often tougher
to figure out who the bad guy is.

One thing I love about "Red Harvest" is the way a new bad guy turns up
almost every time you turn around. Corruption is in the air rather than in
a particular person.

Anyway, it seems to me that the call for universal fingerprint registration
(which was the vogue in the late '20s) is a response to that anxiety. "If
we get their prints on file, we know who they are."

I'm interested in what Hammett has to say on the subject, but also curious
to know whether any of you have seen something similar. Do you see Hammett
exploiting the fear that crime is everywhere rather than in any single,
locateable place? Do you see other writers doing anything similar? Am I
just missing the point and missing the fun?

Thanks in advance for your counsel,

Joe Kraus
Northwestern University
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