Re: RARA-AVIS: "The Scorched Face" & Richard S. Prather's other PI?

Date: 30 Nov 2002


Re your comments below:

> I noticed precursors to novels in other short
> stories. Some Brigid
> O'Shaughnessy types show up, and so do women like
> the one in RED HARVEST
> (whose name I forget). There's a perfumed Joel
> Cairo sort in another
> story, and a couple have enormous Gutmanish men.

THE MALTESE FALCON is especially rich in themes, plot devices, and character types from previous Op stories.

"The House on Turk Street," for example, uquestthe quet object everyone is trying to get their hands on
(the bonds rather than the falcon); the characters all gathered in one room for a tense climax; a fat, cultured villain, who, though Chinese, has a British accent and is a direct ancestor of Gutman; and a treacherous femme fatale.

The sequel, "The Girl with the Silver Eyes" has the Op re-encountering the villainess who escaped at the end of "Turk Street," and ends with the Op explaining why feminine charms will not deter him from his duty as a detective, a dry run for the final chapter of FALCON.

"Who Killed Bob Teal?" has the Op swearing to get the murderer of a colleague, rookie Continental agent Bob Teal, who had worked alongside the Op in several prior stories. This is probably the first case of a Hammett detective deciding that "when a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it."


The Op immediately figures that Teal, though inexperienced, was too sharp a detective to let himself be caught in the deserted spot he was murdered with his weapon still holstered in unless he was lured there by someone he trusted. From this reasoning he deduces that the killer must be the Agency's client. This is the same reasoning, and essentially the same solution, "murdered by the client," Spade uses to solve Archer's murder in FALCON.


The titular villain of "The Whosis Kid" is an embryonic version of Wilbur, the kid gunman from FALCON, and, as with "Turk Street," the final scene has all the principals gathered in a single room for a tense climax.

And of course Hammett's best short story, "The Gutting of Couffignal," ends with yet another dry run for the renunciation scene from FALCON. In fact, years later, when commenting on FALCON, Hammett said that one of the impetuses for the novel was a situation from
"Couffignal&#34possibilitiesough had great possiblities, but which he felt he hadn't handled quite as satisfactorily as he'd have liked.

Hammett never exactly expanded a short story into a novel the way Chandler would in later years
("cannibilizing" the stories to use his term), but he did make use of his short fiction for his novels particularly THE MALTESE FALCON, which was first published in book form in 1930, and, consequently, just barely makes this month's theme.


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