RARA-AVIS: The Continental Detective Agency

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 19 Oct 2002

I realized something after reading more Op stories in this Hammett anthology and then hitting "The Assistant Murderer." It opens with a description of the PI, ugly, red-faced Alec Rush, who's sitting in his office. A client comes in. He lays out his problem and Rush takes the job. Nothing new there--for us.

Continental Op stories usually start with the Op going to see the person that hired the agency and interviewing them about the case. He doesn't sit around in an office waiting for work wondering where the money will come from. In fact he and the other operatives seem busy all the time. He never mentions details about how much the agency charges.

The Op works very closely with the police, and he's pretty much a private cop. (The Pinkertons could be a private army sometimes.) An entire half of the cliched hardboiled dick doesn't apply to him. Maybe he's just a short, fat, middle-aged middle-class guy who has a job he likes, but it's not his life.

What post-Continental Op characters worked for a large agency? I can't think of any. Spade had a partner (for a while), Marlowe worked alone. They're the two classic characters. In the '20s, was BLACK MASK running other stories about agencies? Did that background just die out, or was the Op rare even then?

I seem to remember that Jonathan Latimer's Bill Crane worked for a small agency, but three or ten people is nothing to the Continental's reach. They had branches everywhere and always extra operatives available to help.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

-- # To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to # majordomo@icomm.ca. This will not work for the digest version. # The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 19 Oct 2002 EDT