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AMERICAN STORIES - The Gatewood Caper

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Introduce to "The Gatewood Caper"

"The Gatewood Caper" (1923) (also known as "Crooked Souls") has been filmed many times over the last twenty years as an episode of TV cop shows, without credit to Hammett. You have to wonder: when producers and writers in story conference decide to remake this kidnapping story or Woolrich's "Nightmare" or Fleischer's "The Narrow Margin" one more time, do they refer to these stories by name? Or has even the origin of these works been lost to Hollywood tradition? In any case, this tale is generally considered the best of the early Continental Op tales. Hammett's early fiction has an austere quality, compared to that of his colleague and predecessor Carroll John Daly. The lurid events of the tale are narrated in a deliberately dry tone by the Continental Op, who has seen it all, and who is Not Emotionally Involved. More than just tone, however, the austerity is conveyed by the plot. The story focuses on a strong, plain symmetric plot pattern, and strips all irrelevant detail away to reveal that plot. There is something contemplative about the story: it exists mainly to unveil a certain pattern, and hold it up to the reader's and author's gaze for contemplation.

"Fly Paper" and "The Gatewood Caper" are linked. The later story seems to grow out of plot elements of the earlier. Everything, especially the personal relationships among the younger characters, has grown more complex in the later tale. Hammett's storytelling in 1929 is much more fluid. It sweeps the reader along pleasantly.

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