Bullets Across the Bay


“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse....”

—Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder,” The Atlantic, December 1944

“Modern crime fiction was born in a small apartment at 891 Post St. in San Francisco.”

—Eddie Muller, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2008

By 1930, Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) had established himself as a professional writer. Capitalizing on his personal experiences as a private investigator—he worked as an operative of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency off and on from 1915 to 1922—Hammett’s hard-boiled short stories appeared regularly in pulp magazines, notably Black Mask, beginning in 1922. Between 1926 and 1929, while living in a tiny fourth-floor apartment, at 891 Post St., in a building on the corner of Post and Hyde Streets in San Francisco, he wrote his first three novels. Red Harvest and The Dain Curse were published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1929. Both of these novels featured the nameless “Continental Op,” who had made frequent appearances in Hammett’s magazine fiction and were, essentially, long-form pulp stories. For his third novel, however, Hammett set out to redefine the detective story, hoping to move it away from the pulps and into the realm of “literature.”

The Maltese Falcon, first serialized in Black Mask from September 1929 to January 1930 and then published in hardcover in February 1930, chronicles private detective Sam Spade’s quest for a legendary, jewel-encrusted statuette through the fog-shrouded streets of San Francisco, from the posh hotels of California and Geary Streets to a vacant lot in Burlingame and back to his apartment at Post and Hyde. He also investigates the murder of his partner, Miles Archer (who was done in on Burritt Street above the Stockton tunnel), runs afoul of the police, and tangles with a desperate gang of some of the most memorable villains in fiction, including the fat man Casper Gutman, the dapper Joel Cairo, the gunsel Wilmer Cook, and the ultimate femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

The Maltese Falcon was an immediate, and enduring, critical and popular success, with three film adaptations and countless reprints and foreign editions. In 1998, the editorial board of The Modern Library named it one of the 100 best novels in English of the twentieth century, thus confirming Hammett’s goal of propelling mystery genre fiction into mainstream literature. The novel is also widely regarded as the standard by which other detective stories are measured. It has influenced several generations of writers and will undoubtedly continue to do so. As a collector’s object, the first edition—especially in the original dust jacket—has become nearly as desirable as the titular rara avis, commanding prices in today’s market that rival Gutman’s appraisal of the black bird’s worth: “a hell of a lot of dough.”

“I've been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of.”

—Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930.
Main PS3515.A4347.M3 1930 | Bancroft PS3515.A4347.M3 1930

The first edition of the iconic novel. Private investigator Sam Spade goes down the mean, fog-shrouded streets of San Francisco on a quest to uncover the killer of his partner, Miles Archer, and unravel the secrets of the mysterious black bird. The novel has been continuously in print since its publication in February 1930.

Facsimile dust jacket for the first edition of The Maltese Falcon.
Private collection

The Maltese Falcon facsimile dust jacket

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Red Harvest
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930.
Main PS3515.A4347.R4 1929 | Graduate Services XMAC.H224.R4

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Dain Curse
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929.
Main PS3515.A4347.D3 1929 | Graduate Services XMAC.H224.D3

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Glass Key
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.
Main PS3515.A4347.G56 1931 | Graduate Services XMAC.H224.G54

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Thin Man
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934.
Main PS3515.A4347.T49 1946 | Bancroft PS3515.A4347.T5 1934 | Graduate Services XMAC.H224.T49

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Dashiell Hammett Story Omnibus
London: Cassell, 1966.
Main PS3515.Ha65.A15 1966 | Bancroft PS3515.A4347.A6 1966

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Lost Stories
San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions, 2005.
Private collection

A collection of twenty-one long-unavailable Hammett short stories, restored to their original versions and presented with explanations of how the author’s life shaped the stories.

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Return of the Continental Op
New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1947.
Bancroft PS3515.A4347.R45 1947

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Nightmare Town
New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1950.
Bancroft PS3515.A4347.N5 1950 | Graduate Services XMAC.H224.N5

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
The Creeping Siamese
New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1951.
Bancroft PS3515.A4347.C7 1951

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Dead Yellow Women
New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1949.
Bancroft PS3515.A4347.D4 1949

The Smart Set
Vol. 49, no. 2, October 1922.
Main AP2.S5 | Bancroft AP2.S5

The Strand Magazine
Issue 33, February-May 2011.
Private collection

Dashiell Hammett’s first appearance in print was a vignette called “The Parthian Shot” in The Smart Set, a literary magazine edited by George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken. His most recent appearance was the publication of an untitled, never-before-published short story, discovered among his papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Strand Magazine published it in February 2011 under the title “So I Shot Him.” Hammett’s archive at the Ransom Center includes several more unpublished works, drafts, and unfinished works, so perhaps there will be additional new material forthcoming.

San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
February 6, 2005.
Private collection

Special issue of the Chronicle Magazine honoring the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon.

Owen Smith
Private collection

In 2008, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street 2008 Program commissioned a series of posters by Bay Area artist Owen Smith to pay tribute to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The posters were installed on the pedestrian side of kiosks on Market Street between Van Ness and the Embarcadero.

Don Herron
The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook
San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions, 2009.
Bancroft PS3515.A4347.Z692 2009

Richard Layman (1947- )
The Maltese Falcon
Detroit: Gale Group, 2000 (Literary Masterpieces Vol. 3).
Main PS3515.A4347.M334 2000

Richard Layman, one of the foremost contemporary Hammett scholars, provides in-depth analysis of The Maltese Falcon’s creator, inspiration, setting, and characters.

Jo Hammett
Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers
New York: Carroll & Graf, 2001.
Main PS3515.A4347.Z684 2001

Richard Layman (1947- ), ed.
Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade
San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions, 2005.
Private collection

LeRoy Panek
Reading Early Hammett: A Critical Study of the Fiction Prior to The Maltese Falcon
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2004.
Main PS3515.A4347.Z84 2004


Befitting his status as an icon of crime fiction, Dashiell Hammett has appeared as a fictional character himself. As a writer, Hammett drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton operative to create his stories and characters, so it is only natural that other writers would find inspiration in imagining Hammett’s real-life adventures for their own literary purposes. So too, Hammett’s most famous creation, Sam Spade, appears to be too richly developed a character to be confined to the single novel and handful of stories that Hammett penned about him.

The larger-than-life Mark Twain and Jack London have also inspired fictional literary sleuths. When Jack London’s daughter Joan wrote a mystery novel, though, it did not feature her father as a fictional character.

Joe Gores (1931-2011)
New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975.
Main PS3557.Go75.H3 | Bancroft PS3557.O75.H3 1975

It’s 1928 and Dashiell Hammett is living in a small apartment at 891 Post Street, drinking too much, and is supposed to be revising The Dain Curse for his publisher. Instead, an old colleague from the Pinks (Pinkerton Detective Agency) shows up and asks Dash to join him in the PI game again. At first, Hammett refuses, but when his colleague turns up murdered, Hammett feels obligated to find the killer. Hammett was the basis for the 1982 film of the same name (the first American movie by Wim Wenders) starring Frederic Forrest in the title role.

Laurie R. King
Locked Rooms
New York: Bantam Books, 2005.
Main PS3561.I4813.L63 2005b | Bancroft PS3561.I4813.L63 2005b

The eighth entry in Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, finds the pair in San Francisco in 1924 so that Russell can sell the Pacific Heights house that she inherited ten years earlier. Shortly after their arrival, Mary is shot at by an unknown assailant, leading her and Holmes to begin investigating what secrets there could be about the long-shuttered house. Holmes hires a young, ex-Pinkerton agent/struggling writer named Dashiell Hammett to assist him in local inquiries.

Ace Atkins
Devil’s Garden
New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.
Private collection

In 1921, Dashiell Hammett is an operative in the San Francisco office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency when he is assigned to work on the crime of the century—the manslaughter case against silent-screen comedy star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. That episode forms the basis of the novel Devil’s Garden, in which Hammett, himself, narrates the action as he investigates what really happened at Arbuckle’s San Francisco party.

Laurence Yep (1948- )
The Mark Twain Murders
New York: Four Winds Press, 1982.
Mark Twain Papers PS3575.E6.M3 1982 | Bancroft PS3575.E6.M3 1982

In the summer of 1864, a teen-age boy meets reporter Mark Twain in San Francisco after a murder, and agrees to help him get the story.

Peter King
The Golden Gate Murders: A Jack London Mystery
New York: New American Library, 2002.
Private collection

In the “Jack London Mystery” series, set in 1890s San Francisco, struggling writer Jack London supplements his meager income with detective work. In this third installment, while investigating the murder of a Barbary Coast saloon owner, Jack runs into Wyatt Earp, who is also interested in the case.

B.J. Maylon (joint pseudonym of Barney Mayes, 1905?-1978?, and Joan London, 1901-1971)
The Corpse With Knee Action
New York: Phoenix Press, 1940.
Bancroft PS3525.A968.C6 1940

This mystery is the only novel written by “B.J. Maylon,” a joint pseudonym of Barney Mayes and his wife Joan London, older daughter of Jack London. Time magazine summed it up succinctly when it appeared in 1940: “Rough, tough ructions in San Francisco, featuring reporter Bill King, porcelain-collecting Ching, [and] the lovely Stella Holmes.”

Joe Gores (1931-2011)
Spade & Archer
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Morrison PS3557.O75.S63 2009 | Bancroft PS3557.O75.S63 2009

In this “prequel” to The Maltese Falcon—written with the blessing of Hammett’s estate and in Hammett’s style—author Joe Gores presents a narrative that spans the years 1921 to 1928 and tells three separate, but interconnected, episodes in Sam Spade’s career, beginning with the private investigator wrapping up the Flitcraft case in the Pacific Northwest and ending with a beautiful girl named Wonderly being shooed in to Spade’s San Francisco office.

James L. Swanson
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
[United States]: 1stBooks Library, 2001.
Bancroft PS3619.W367.S78 2001

A time travel fantasy in which a young married couple steps back in time to 1928 San Francisco, where they bump into Sam Spade and become involved with bootleggers, gangsters, cops, and assorted unsavory characters.

Alexander Edwards
The Black Bird
New York: Warner Books, 1975.
Private collection

A novelization of the film written and directed by David Giler, intended as a sequel to/spoof of the classic 1941 Humphrey Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon. In 1975, following the death of his father, private detective Sam Spade, Jr. is drawn into a new web of intrigue entangling the iconic black bird.


The themes, situations, and characterizations of Dashiell Hammett have inspired scores of writers who have followed in his considerable footsteps. Although he only wrote five novels, the influence of those books can be seen in countless crime and mystery tales by a broad spectrum of writers, from those who directly succeeded him to a new generation of scribes working today.

Mark Coggins (1957- )
Madison, Wis.: Bleak House Books, 2007.
Private collection

San Francisco writer Mark Coggins has drawn comparisons to Hammett for his novels featuring hard-boiled, wise-cracking P.I. August Riordan. Although Riordan himself is something of a throwback, he tackles decidedly 21st-century problems, including corporate espionage in the gaming software industry, internet pornography, and touch-screen voting fraud. In an earlier book, Vulture Capital (2002), Coggins experimented with using the uncommon objective third-person narrative style in a conscious effort to evoke Hammett’s The Glass Key (1931).

David Dodge (1910-1974)
Death and Taxes
Eugene, Or.: Bruin Books, 2010.
(orig. pub.: New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941)
Bancroft PS3507.O248.D4 2010 | Main 961.D6452.dea | Bancroft PS3507.O248.D4 1941

“Macmillan will bring out (in July) a moiduh mystery with a Thin Mannish S.F. background; it’s called ‘Death and Taxes,’ and was written by David Dodge, a local accountant, f’goshsakes ...” —Herb Caen

Dodge’s first series of four novels about a San Francisco tax-accountant-turned-reluctant-sleuth garnered frequent comparisons to Hammett’s The Thin Man (1934) for his tight plotting, expert witty dialogue, and frequently gin-soaked characters.

Stephen Greenleaf (1942- )
Toll Call
New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
(orig. pub.: New York: Villard Books, 1987)
Law PS3557.R3957.T65 1987 | Main PS3557.R3957.T651 1987

Over the course of fourteen novels, starting with Grave Error in 1979 and ending with Ellipsis in 2000, San Francisco private detective John Marshall “Marsh” Tanner proves himself to be a direct literary descendent of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. Greenleaf, who earned a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967, was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel for Strawberry Sunday (1999).


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