Re your comment below:
"As far as I can tell, however, no Hammett character appears in more than one book, so while a chronological reading might shed light on Hammett's development as a writer, there wouldn't seem to be any narrative aspect lost if read out of publication order."
The Continental Op is the protagonist of 3 of Hammett's 6 novels, BLOOD MONEY, RED HARVEST, and THE DAIN CURSE, and roughly half of his short stories.
It's not absolutely crucial to read them in order, but I'd say your enjoyment will be enhanced if you do. In THE DAIN CURSE, for example, characters refer to events that occurred in RED HARVEST. Regular supporting characters in early stories are killed off in later ones. And the Op ages from 35 to 40 in the course of the series.
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