Dashiell Hammett, . . Library of America, $35 (934pp) ISBN 978-1-931082-00-6

The first great author in the hard-boiled detective genre, Hammett remains one of the most entertaining, as demonstrated by this largest single gathering ever of his short fiction. This collection's main distinction is that editor Steven Marcus uses the original story texts from their appearance in Black Mask magazine, recovering occasional pieces of lost wording, chapter breaks and other niceties. However, because Hammett is such a standard figure, most of these stories will be familiar to mystery fans from readily available collections. Marcus repeats everything except "Tulip" and "Corkscrew" from The Big Knockover (1966), edited by Lillian Hellman, and every story from The Continental Op (1974), which he edited. The recent Nightmare Town (1999) scooped the original Nick and Nora-less Thin Man fragment out from under him, plus "Zigzags of Treachery," "Two Sharp Knives" and others that would have made this book a highly desirable purchase. Only "Arson Plus," "Slippery Fingers" and "Creeping Siamese" are unique to this selection. Unless you make a line-by-line comparison, you won't notice great differences between these texts and those in the other books (still, the Black Mask wording is the most satisfying). One senses a missed opportunity for the major collection Hammett fandom has longed for: the complete Continental Op short stories, in order, original texts, under one set of covers—that would be irresistible. Nonetheless, for the non-specialist, this volume stands as the best compendium yet of this classic crime author's shorter fiction. (Sept.)