Scraping the bottom of the Hammett barrel, editor Emery comes up with 21 stories, linking them and padding them out with a running commentary on the hardboiled king's life and work.
Emery's decision to avoid duplicating any of the tales reprinted in The Big Knockover, The Continental Op, Nightmare Town or the Library of America volume of Hammett's short stories costs him dearly. Most of the items are apprentice work–slight, derivative, often shorter than Emery's extended glosses, which recount facts of Hammett's life familiar from his biographies, placing them in a broader context and adding such insights as branding the not-exactly-distinctive phrase "all right" a "Hammettism." Fans looking past Joe Gores's admiring introduction will find only tantalizing references to Hammett's stories about the Op, Sam Spade or Robin Thin, and only a single curiosity (possibly not by Hammett), featuring Nick and Nora Charles. What the collection lacks in quality and heft, however, is made up in variety and–until now–rarity. Along with some paragraph-length parables and a brief account of history's great self-lovers, Emery reprints tales in which Hammett assumes the voice of a departing swain succumbing to his lady's charms ("Esther Entertains"), a South Seas adventurer recalling a native's amusing revenge against the white trader who stole his wife ("Ber-Bulu"), and an advertising copywriter proposing marriage (the hilarious "The Advertising Man Writes a Love Letter"). The effect is to cast apparently more typical hardboiled fare like "The Road Home," "The Green Elephant" and "Laughing Masks" into higher relief from the run of conventional magazine fiction on display here.
Most valuable for the light they shed on Hammett's incomparable novels, these stories are indispensable for hardcore fans.