Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett: All About the Continental Op
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929) marked Hammett’s transition from short stories to novels. His portrayal of the Continental Op as a “hard-boiled” detective eventually became a prototype for many detective stories to come. A former detective, Hammett knew his stuff.
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Podcast Transcript: All About the Continental Op in Red Harvest
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:57
Welcome back, friends and bookworms.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00
This is our second episode on this really crazy and amazing book, Red Harvest.
Sarah Harrison 1:05
Really crazy. If you haven’t read the book, I wonder if our talking even makes any sense? There are names all over the place and all of these killings.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16
I wonder if they have read the book if our talking makes any sense.
Sarah Harrison 1:21
There’s no telling. You let us know at teatonicandtoxin.com. Before we jump into more of the wacky Red Harvest and its protagonist, the Continental Op, we want to give a shout out to our sponsor, Linden Botanicals. Colorado-based Linden Botanicals sells the world’s healthiest herbal teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science-based support for stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, immune health, inflammation and digestion. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more and get 15% off your first order. Visit lindenbotanicals.com.
Carolyn Daughters 2:09
Sarah Harrison 2:10
Do it. Do it. Great company
Carolyn Daughters 2:12
They sell a small curated list of healthy herbal teas and extracts.
Sarah Harrison 2:17
If you like tea or if you like health …
Carolyn Daughters 2:19
Or if you like tea and health, you should visit the Linden Botanicals website, www.lindenbotanicals.com.
Sarah Harrison 2:26
Carolyn Daughters 2:28
We also have a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 2:30
Sweet! Who is our listener?
Carolyn Daughters 2:31
Our listener this month is Heather Beach from Evansville, Indiana.
Sarah Harrison 2:36
Awesome. Thank you, Heather Beach.
Carolyn Daughters 2:38
Heather has been active on social media, and we really appreciate that. Thank you for being a member of the Tea Tonic & Toxin book club. We really appreciate you. When we are not on the air, Sarah and I get giddy every time we find out we have listeners, people who want to know what we have to say, who’ve commented on social media, people who are following us.
Sarah Harrison 3:07
Carolyn Daughters 3:08
It really is exciting for us. It’s not an exaggeration to say you make our day.
Sarah Harrison 3:14
Yes. Thank you.
Carolyn Daughters 3:16
We are going to send Heather at Tea Tonic & Toxin sticker.
Sarah Harrison 3:22
Yay. I hope you stick it somewhere.
Carolyn Daughters 3:31
Somewhere fun. Not on cabinets. Not on your floor.
Sarah Harrison 3:39
Don’t give it to your children to stick anywhere. They make poor decisions.
Carolyn Daughters 3:43
You can get your own sticker and an on-air shout out — and we’ll even discuss ideas you might have if you share them with us. We cannot know what your ideas are until you tell us.
Sarah Harrison 3:54
Yes. Tell us your ideas.
Carolyn Daughters 3:57
All you have to do is comment on our website. Super easy. Almost all the pages have a comment form. You can comment on Instagram @teatonicandtoxin or Facebook @teatonicandtoxin, and you can post your rating or review
Sarah Harrison 4:12
Your sticker photo on social media.
Carolyn Daughters 4:21
What I was saying is you can review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, wherever you can find a podcast, thanks to Sarah who figured out how to do that. Wherever you’re listening currently after the episode, or just take a quick break right now, rate us. Five stars preferably.
Sarah Harrison 4:44
Don’t rate us if you’re gonna give us a bad rating. Why would you do that? Just turn us off and don’t listen. Give us give us five stars!
Carolyn Daughters 4:44
And the chances are really good we’ll send you a sticker because we want like-minded people to find us. And it makes our day.
Sarah Harrison 5:04
It definitely does.
Carolyn Daughters 5:09
We’re going to talk about Red Harvest, our second episode. We have a lot to cover. We want to start with a summary of the book so we’re all on the same page.
Sarah Harrison 5:21
If you’re new to this podcast, it does contain spoilers, which is a big deal in a mystery novel. So, if you think you’re gonna read it, go read it, because we’re gonna spoil it all in a minute.
Carolyn Daughters 5:32
Right. So you can press pause here, just go rate us on Apple Podcasts or what have you, read the book, and then come back.
Sarah Harrison 5:39
Red Harvest is a 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. The unnamed narrator is simply known as the Continental Op. A prominent businessman named Donald Willsson summons the Continental Op to the mining town of Personville, known by many as Poisonville. Willsson wants the Continental Op to clean up the city’s crime-infested streets and put an end to the rabid corruption. However, Willsson is murdered soon after the Op arrives in town. The Continental to find the murderer and even go so far as to clean up Poisonville He quickly finds that bootleggers, gamblers, thieves, loan sharks, and a crooked chief of police are all vying for control of the town. In response, he uses lies, cunning, violence, and manipulation to pit the criminal organizations against each other. In a bloody quest for justice, he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Ultimately, he succeeds in dismantling the criminal empire, but at a great personal cost, highlighting the dark and morally ambiguous nature of the world he inhabits. Time Magazine included Red Harvest in its 100 best English language novels from 1923 to 2005, noting that “Dashiell Hammett created the prototype for every sleuth who would ever be called hardboiled.” Today, we’re excited to talk about Dashiell Hammett Red Harvest. It’s our seventh book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Red Harvest and all of our 2023 book selections on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com.
Carolyn Daughters 7:30
Sarah Harrison 7:30
Carolyn Daughters 7:32
So during the podcast, we juggle a few different things to keep the podcast flowing. And one of my tasks is to make sure we don’t talk for four hours straight.
Sarah Harrison 7:48
It’s an important task because we could do it.
Carolyn Daughters 7:50
And then we would have zero listeners and angry emails. So I try to keep us on track. To do that I have purchased the least technologically advanced timer in the world, which I can’t figure out how to use because it went off while Sarah was reading. So, trust that between now and our next episode, I will learn how to use this battery-operated three button, very simple device.
Sarah Harrison 8:24
Stay tuned, listeners, stayed tuned. Will we figure out the mystery of the alarm? To be continued …
Carolyn Daughters 8:34
I’m going to make this my job in between the episodes to figure it out. So let’s talk less about alarms and more about Red Harvest.
Sarah Harrison 8:48
Booze and blood. Those are some common themes.
Carolyn Daughters 8:54
The book is set during Prohibition. I don’t think the word “Prohibition” is used in the book.
Sarah Harrison 9:00
No, I don’t think it is. I think that’s what we call it these days. For them, they didn’t know it was the time of Prohibition because they just had a new law. It could have been indefinite, right?
Carolyn Daughters 9:11
So this was just life in general, I guess. But it was a period of prohibition against the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol.
Sarah Harrison 9:24
You wouldn’t know it though, necessarily.
Carolyn Daughters 9:27
It’s interesting because in one of the very first scenes, the Continental Op has arrived in town, and there’s this guy who definitely has a name.
Sarah Harrison 9:38
That was Bill Quint
Carolyn Daughters 9:40
Bill Quint, the International Workers of the World, the Wobblies organizer. They meet up in a bar. Now to get to this bar, they walk into some establishment, up some stairs, go into a room, and are able to sit at a table and order alcohol.
Sarah Harrison 9:59
Yeah, it’s remarkable what I don’t pick up on sometimes when I read a book. Like, they go into the restaurant, and he’s like, Oh. And I remember this because I was actually trying to look for the Continental Op’s name, and couldn’t find it. They go to this restaurant, and Bill’s asks, Do you drink, and the Continental Op says something silly, like, “only when I have it.” So then they go up some stairs. And it didn’t occur to me that they were going into a back room where the people who knew where it was, had it hidden.
Carolyn Daughters 10:33
Right. The book is published in 1929. And Prohibition went 1919 to 1933, which is an incredible number of years. Fourteen years. You can be tapped into that when you’re reading, or you can not recognize it at all because on almost every page, it seems someone’s drinking something.
Sarah Harrison 10:58
I think only about the time when they start talking about the labels on the alcohol, and they set a whole place on fire filled with boxes of alcohol. And then I was like, Oh, right.
Carolyn Daughters 11:16
There’s I can’t remember the name of the Canadian Club or something like that. I don’t know my alcohol brands very well, apparently.
Sarah Harrison 11:34
I don’t remember. I remember they were drinking a lot of gin in the book. It seemed like every minute Dinah was bringing out a tray of gin and ice.
Carolyn Daughters 11:43
And anytime there was whiskey or something sitting around, the Continental Op would grab it and stick it in his pocket.
Sarah Harrison 11:50
He was always grabbing whiskey and always carrying whiskey. I don’t know how he wasn’t constantly dehydrated because we never see him drink a glass of water.
Carolyn Daughters 12:01
There was one point in the book where he had been drinking, drinking, drinking and hadn’t slept in so long, I thought, How is this guy functioning at all?
Sarah Harrison 12:10
Yes. I don’t know.
Carolyn Daughters 12:15
Not long after that occurred to me, I wrote some notes in the margin, wondering how is he awake? How is he processing? Then he slept for something like 12 hours. And I thought okay, that was needed. Yeah, crazy. So everyone’s drinking nonstop. You wouldn’t know it’s Prohibition. As long as you know where to get it, I guess.
Sarah Harrison 12:42
Well, it’s a criminal town. So I guess you can get it everywhere.
Carolyn Daughters 12:46
And then at one point, the Continental Op is also drinking laudanum.
Sarah Harrison 12:51
Right at the end there. His last conversation with Dinah.
Carolyn Daughters 12:56
Yes. And we’re going to talk about Dinah in this episode. It’s his last night with Dinah, and she makes him a laudanum drink. It’s an opium tincture.
Sarah Harrison 13:14
Well, yeah. She added the laudanum to his regular course of gin. He was like, your gin’s weak, and she’s like, Okay, well, let me give you something.
Carolyn Daughters 13:23
Yeah, it doesn’t have enough alcohol in it with just the gin. I’m gonna throw this tincture in there.
Sarah Harrison 13:27
Well he was freaked out. That’s the moment when he was saying Poisonville had poisoned him. And I couldn’t decide, I wasn’t quite clear, did Dinah give him the gin and laudanum to help him calm down? Or did she give him the laudanum because she was nervous about what he was going to do. Because he was so on edge. The Continental Op refers to her voice, he says he almost didn’t notice how crooning it was. She had modified or softened her voice in some way, just before giving him the laudanum. Because he was freaking her out. So I wasn’t sure if she was trying to protect herself or trying to help him out or maybe both. Calm him down.
Carolyn Daughters 14:13
There seem to be very few boundaries where alcohol is concerned. You can have a first, second, third, fifth, I don’t know how many, and it’s a legit question, “Hey, you want another?” There never seems to be a standard cutoff. You just keep filling losses. And the Continental Op says, “Sure, why not?” The thing that’s crazy about this is that everybody in town is trying to kill the Op right now, and half those people want to kill Dinah. And the Op is just hanging out. He’s like, let’s go to dinner. Why don’t we go get a bite?
Sarah Harrison 14:55
The Continental Op came over, and she was showing off her new dress, and then she got spooked. She thought Whisper was going to kill her. And so she wasn’t, I guess, drunk enough to feel like going out. There were a couple times she didn’t want to go out.
Carolyn Daughters 15:11
She didn’t want to go out because she said Whisper is gonna kill me or someone’s gonna kill us. She seemed to have a pretty rational awareness of the situation. The Continental Op seemed to me delusional. He’s like, I’m hungry.
Sarah Harrison 15:27
I don’t know. I didn’t feel like he was riling up really enough ire as he deserved. It’s never like the criminals got together and said, Hey, this guy is turning us against each other. They just turned against each other. It He never seemed to have any issue walking into a criminal organization. He walked in and was like, “Where’s Reno? Hey, Reno, I need an alibi.” Reno says, “Okay. Let me write your name in the alibi memo book. Which was wild. But to me they didn’t seem quite as mad at the Op as they should be. The only one we really know, according to the Op, who tried to kill him was Noonan, the chief of police.
Carolyn Daughters 16:10
When the Continental Op is with Dinah, she says we can’t go out, we’re gonna get killed. And he says to her, “Don’t make so much fuss over it. I’ve framed my millions, and nothing’s happened. Go get your hat and coat, and we’ll feed. You’ll feel better then.” She says, “You’re crazy if you think I’m going out. Not with that.” He says, “Stop it, sister.” He just keeps chastising her, making it seem as if she’s the crazy one. He’s the crazy one. To walk out that door is murder. They’re gonna get killed.
Sarah Harrison 16:47
It’s interesting, though, if it’s to be believed, he’s framed his millions, and nothing’s happened to him. “Framed” is a dirty word. You frame someone, and that’s innately unjust.
Carolyn Daughters 17:02
But then she ends the conversation by saying to him, “You’re rotten. You don’t give a damn what happens to me. You’re using me as you use the others, that dynamite you wanted. I trusted you. “And I believed her. He didn’t give a damn.
Sarah Harrison 17:20
I believe that he didn’t care about her. But it certainly seems that she’s not the innocent daisy in terms of using people.
Carolyn Daughters 17:29
Sarah Harrison 17:30
She says she trusted him. Did she? I think she wanted money.
Carolyn Daughters 17:35
I do think that she’s right that he doesn’t care what happens to her. “Let’s go out. We’re fine.” He’s putting her life on the line. And I think on some level she had believed till then that he wasn’t trying to get her killed. He didn’t want her to die.
Sarah Harrison 17:55
I don’t think he did want her to die. But I don’t think he necessarily cared if she did. But I’m not sure if he cared deeply if he died either. I’m not sure he deeply cared about people dying, himself included.
Carolyn Daughters 18:11
I thought that was strange.
Sarah Harrison 18:13
I don’t know how else you get that kind of confidence. There’s his experience, which he alludes to. But you also have to have a cavalier feeling about life and death.
Carolyn Daughters 18:25
I felt he was reckless. I didn’t understand it. The other two operatives also come out alive. And I thought, what is it about these three guys that they’re all alive and kicking and seemingly everybody else they come across can be pitted against someone else? And one by one they’re all killed. How did these three guys live?
Sarah Harrison 18:53
Well, two of them didn’t know anything or do anything.
Carolyn Daughters 18:56
They trailed the criminals.
Sarah Harrison 18:58
They put tails on him. And presumably, they’re good at that. That was the Op’s whole game. When he had the “peace conference,” it was nothing of the sort. It was him pretending to have a peace conference while he just lobbed bombs out there that he knew they were gonna kill each other over. They pretended to not know. So he has, I think, a believable mask going.
Carolyn Daughters 19:30
Now, Dinah? Dinah is such an interesting character.
Sarah Harrison 19:36
She is. She’s fascinating.
Carolyn Daughters 19:39
We have all these criminals in town. We have Pete the Finn, the bootlegger. Lew Yard, the loan shark. Max Thaler, whose nickname is Whisper. He runs the gambling house. Chief Noonan turns a blind eye to all the corruption. And then we have Dinah.
Sarah Harrison 19:59
He does more than turn a blind eye, really. He pitches in with this and that and the other to make things go how he thinks it ought to.
Carolyn Daughters 20:10
Dinah fits in here in an interesting way. For me, she’s emblematic of what we see throughout this book, which is everybody’s self-interest. looms so large that Personville has to lose the “Person” in the name of the town and has to become Poisonville. You stop being a person when all you care about is me, myself, and I. When you don’t care about anybody else. I don’t think it’s an accident that it was called in the book Personville to start. The town. Dinah is a femme fatale.
Sarah Harrison 20:54
You gave a definition of that. Tell me more.
Carolyn Daughters 21:00
A femme fatale is a deadly woman. She’s attractive, aggressive, sexually provocative. In Dinah’s case, she uses her charms to serve her own interests. But she’s more than that. She’s completely atypical in many surprising ways. First and foremost, from my mind, she doesn’t look like a femme fatale.
Sarah Harrison 21:29
She’s kind of rough around the edges. She’s big, bigger than the Continental Op. “Her coarse hair, brown, needed trimming and was parted crookedly. One side of her upper lip had been rouged higher than the other. Her dress was of a particularly unbecoming wine color, and it gaped here and there on one side, where she had neglected to snap the fasteners or they had popped open. There was a run on the front of her left stocking.” She always had a run going on in her stockings throughout the book.
Carolyn Daughters 22:08
Every pair of stockings, no matter what she paid for them, no matter how new they were, all had a run.
Sarah Harrison 22:14
Well, she lives a rough life. She’s getting yanked out into the woods and stuff in stockings.
Carolyn Daughters 22:22
So how is she making her money?
Sarah Harrison 22:26
A variety of ways. There’s the old-fashioned way. But there’s also the information she likes to sell, I would say.
Carolyn Daughters 22:37
And then gambling. She makes bets.
Sarah Harrison 22:40
She puts money on the fights and stuff like that.
Carolyn Daughters 22:43
She’s got her hand in a lot of different things. But she’s considered attractive by almost all the men who we hear from, Whisper, Chief Noonan, …
Sarah Harrison 22:58
Albury puts it a weird way. He’s like, “I’m telling you, when you look at her, you won’t think she’s attractive. But you’re gonna find yourself spilling your whole life story to her. And then you’re done.” And that was it. That was really interesting to me. Because our operative doesn’t do it until the moment before she gets killed. Then he starts actually spilling his feelings and what he’s thinking about, and I was like, oh, it has finally happened. It’s clicked over. He’s telling Dinah everything about what’s in his brain right now. And then she’s dead.
Carolyn Daughters 23:38
Everybody seems into Dinah. Reno — until he kills her.
Sarah Harrison 23:45
Everybody knows she’s not traditionally beautiful, but they all want her for this almost indescribable quality.
Carolyn Daughters 23:51
Yes. I love how unconventional she is. Because the easiest thing would would be to make her like Miss Wonderly in The Maltese Falcon, just this very beautiful, very put together, “never have a run in your stocking” kind of lady, hair always done perfectly. Dinah’s this other thing altogether. I think she’s so interesting.
Sarah Harrison 24:21
She can put herself together. There’s one instance where she goes out, she gets a new dress, she does her hair. She wants to go to Reno’s party. And she looks great, and the Continental Op tells her she always looks great. But in this case, I think he actually means it. He notices her flaws throughout the book, what’s a miss or what’s rough or what’s out of place. But she can clean up nice.
Carolyn Daughters 24:45
She can put herself together.
Sarah Harrison 24:49
She likes it, but it’s not an ongoing priority. She almost lacks a certain self-awareness and has a ruggedness that I did like.
Carolyn Daughters 24:59
I like that, too. So do you think everybody is turning to her as if she’s a mother figure, a therapist, their bartender, their hairdresser, the person you confide in, big sister, little sister. She’s not very old. There seems to be so little sexual tension on the page that I had trouble picturing all of these guys as her “boyfriends.” And there seems to be zero actual sexual tension between Dinah and the Continental Op.
Sarah Harrison 25:37
I never got the picture that they slept together at all. I didn’t think so whatsoever, and he seemed pretty uninterested. She was mostly trying to sell him information.
Carolyn Daughters 25:47
In this same year, 1929, Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon.
Sarah Harrison 25:52
Oh, he was busy. “I guess I’m gonna write a bunch of books now.”
Carolyn Daughters 25:57
It’s ridiculous. Showoff. But in The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade does sleep with Miss Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy.
Sarah Harrison 26:10
This is such a different book from any of the books we’ve been reading.
Carolyn Daughters 26:14
I don’t think Dashiell Hammett would have steered away from it. But I had trouble picturing Dinah with any of these men or seeing the men except for Albury, who expresses this passion that drives him to commit a murderous act. This is why I don’t send angry emails right after something happens. I try to wait 24 hours, especially if I’m heated or passionate about something, Albury takes it to an extreme. He kills a guy.
Sarah Harrison 27:00
So that’s interesting, right? So Albury clearly did buy sex from Dinah. He says that he purchased his information about her. And he was in love with her and he wanted more and he couldn’t get more. And he’s assuming that’s what all the other men are going for. He shoots Donald Willsson. Donald Willsson was buying information. That’s it. It was a check for information. And she seems to want to sell a lot of information. But it’s interesting that Albury is assuming that what’s she’s selling is sex. I guess maybe because that’s what he bought, and he didn’t have any information or need any.
Carolyn Daughters 27:35
He’s also sort of green and can’t envision anything else happening. This is who she is. And this is what she’s doing. And I don’t want this guy to be with her.
Sarah Harrison 27:45
I guess he doesn’t know all the stuff she has going on. After Albury, the only person she seems with is Whisper. Until they break up.
Carolyn Daughters 27:54
Because several people refer to her as Whisper’s girl.
Sarah Harrison 27:57
And I think it’s pretty clear that she is. Even after they break up. there’s that whole idea — Whisper’s not gonna let his guys beat her up or anything. She has the status of a lady with Whisper.
Carolyn Daughters 28:10
She does. She’s obsessed with money. Why do you think she’s so obsessed with money?
Sarah Harrison 28:25
Well, I guess she’s poor. She grew up poor, and she lives a very uncertain life. I don’t know, she likes nice things. She wants a certain amount of security. And it seems to go beyond that to just obsession.
Carolyn Daughters 28:45
The other day, I read an article talking about how, whatever financial status you had as a child, you carry into adulthood. And it’s hard to distance yourself from it. And it got me thinking in a way I hadn’t before. But about how my family when I was growing up didn’t have a lot of money. And to this day if there are ten kernels of corn leftover from dinner, I put them in a container and they go in the fridge.
Sarah Harrison 29:26
Absolutely. There’s no call for wastefulness.
Carolyn Daughters 29:29
Whereas a lot of people don’t behave that way.
Sarah Harrison 29:34
No, they don’t even take their leftovers home from a restaurant. Sorry, all of you listeners, but it blows my mind.
Carolyn Daughters 29:41
My favorite thing in the world is to open the refrigerator and find leftovers from a meal I enjoyed out.
Sarah Harrison 29:46
Now I realize I’m a little intense about this. People have told me it’s like you’re from the depression, only you are not.
Carolyn Daughters 29:53
Sarah Harrison 29:57
You hear those stories about people that did go through the Depression. And the way they live their lives afterwards, like hoarding money in mattresses and saving every penny.
Carolyn Daughters 30:06
Dinah reminds me of that in this book. You get the sense that she’s got some money. I don’t know that she is a millionaire or anything like that. But she’s doing okay. I mean, her bets, whatever she’s earning day to day, selling information. She’s pulling in some cash. But a lot of the way she lives is like she doesn’t have any money and that she might not have money tomorrow, and she’s got to get as much money as possible. And that cycle doesn’t ever seem to stop for her.
Sarah Harrison 30:41
Well, and I think if you look at the quality of what she sells, that’s where it gets weird. Even Dan Rolff is like, don’t sell out Whisper. You can’t sell out your friends. Clearly, there’s a moral code here. And she’s not going to have it. And then she sells out Dan. So the only other person, it seems, that tried to directly kill the Continental Op is Whisper. And Dan puts a gun on him and a gun on the Op. And Dinah comes over and she’s gonna manhandle Dan again. But before she does that, she had haggles. And she gets up to 200. And then 200 and a dime, he said is all it’s worth for him not to shoot them.
Carolyn Daughters 31:32
I think the name of that chapter is “$200.10.”
Sarah Harrison 31:37
And so for $200 and a dime, she pins Rolff’s down so the Continental Op can take dominance there. But you just sold your too biggest advocates, your ex-boyfriend and the guy who at the end of the book who’s gonna die to avenge you. It’s pretty rough. And he doesn’t pay out very much. It’s pretty small change that he gives. It’s weird. And that’s why I say like, hers is the one that doesn’t even seem like a moral code. It just almost feels like …
Carolyn Daughters 32:15
fighting to stay alive
Sarah Harrison 32:16
Like lack of impulse control. Why are you risking your life for Reno and selling out the most loyal people to you.
Carolyn Daughters 32:26
I feel like that scene is a bit of a disconnect. I wonder if Dashiell Hammett could go back and revise that particular scene if he would. Because that almost felt out of character to me.
Sarah Harrison 32:37
I don’t know. She’s just randomly on your side and then not at all.
Carolyn Daughters 32:46
When Dan Rolff is telling her “it’s going to be utterly filthy if you sell these guys out,” she pushes back. She says, “I’m going to do it. That makes me utterly filthy does it? Her face red hard, cruel, her voice soft, cooing. It’s just too bad that a gentleman of your purity, even if he is a bit consumptive, has to associate with a filthy filthy bum like me.”
Sarah Harrison 33:15
Yeah, that really set her off. That Rolff would in any way look down on her.
Carolyn Daughters 33:21
Basically, she’s implying she and he are the same. So for him to say she is utterly filthy as if he’s better than that. She’s basically saying you are not.
Sarah Harrison 33:35
If anything, I think she doesn’t think they’re the same. She thinks he’s a charity case. And that’s how Asbury feels, too. She lets Rolff live there. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, because she clearly uses him for protection and feeling safe and to do things and get things for her. But she acts like he’s subservient to her because she lets them live there rent free.
Carolyn Daughters 34:02
When she needs errands run, when they’re at the race and she wants to bet on the race, she sends him. He’s the gopher, go get this done, go do this, go do that. A third of the way through this book, the Continental Op solves the crime that he was choosing to solve.
Sarah Harrison 34:29
It’s not even the crime he was called there to solve clearly. He solves it. he solves the initial murder.
Carolyn Daughters 34:34
Donald Willsson was killed by Albury, the bank teller.
Sarah Harrison 34:40
Which was so funny, because it wasn’t associated with any of these crime kingpins. We meet all the crime kingpins, and then it’s the lovesick bank teller. And he wasn’t even doing anything. It was such a mistake.
Carolyn Daughters 34:54
It made perfect sense once the Continental Op lays it out, but I didn’t have a clue. I’m not going to pretend that I saw that coming. I did not. And then two-thirds of the book is left. And if you’re like Sarah and me, you’re wondering what is happening? And so the Op decides he’s going to clean house, essentially clean Poisonville and the term “red harvest,” which is that he’s going to harvest the town. The book’s title is Red Harvest. Many times in the book, he questions, “Was I poisoned by this town?” Did Poisonville poison the Op? Was he rendered incapable of doing anything but what he does, which is leaving a trail of death and destruction?
Sarah Harrison 35:48
I don’t think so.
Carolyn Daughters 35:50
Tell me, tell me.
Sarah Harrison 35:51
He knew exactly what he was walking into. Now, he makes the case, and I think he says, “I’ve arranged a killing or two in my time when they were necessary. But this is the first time I’ve ever got the fever.” So maybe he’s making the case here, and I think he does, that he’s actually enjoying it. And he talks about the moment when he knew that Noonan was going to get killed as soon as he walked out of the peace meeting and how he enjoyed that.
Carolyn Daughters 36:26
He calls it “going native.”
Sarah Harrison 36:30
I mean, he certainly does seem indistinguishable from the thugs. Except that the thugs have this weird loyalty to their boss. If he says, “everybody get out of the car and start shooting down these other guys,” man, they get out of the car, and they start shooting down those guys. They’re gonna shoot until they get shot and killed. And it’s real interesting loyalty to their gang bosses. Not him. He said, okay, sure thing, whoop! He ducks down an alley and goes back to his hotel and takes a nap. Or he gets a different hotel under a different name.
Carolyn Daughters 37:09
Something that is interesting to me is this idea that a town could poison a person. So he says, “Poisonville is right. It’s poisoned me.” So this town has poisoned him. And there’s another sentence in this book that I thought was so interesting. At one point, the Continental Op says, “Across the street, a dozen guns emptied themselves.” It’s as if people weren’t holding the guns. It’s the guns that are shooting, the town is poisoning him. It really seems to absolve even himself of accountability for what he’s doing. To me, it feels that way.
Sarah Harrison 37:55
Well, I think he doesn’t say much about what’s going on in his head for most of the book, but here he is talking about this mood shift. And I think he’s trying to account for what’s shifted in his mood. And you mentioned he alluded to maybe it’s Dinah and the way all her boyfriends get murderous.
Carolyn Daughters 38:16
I would love for you read that.
Sarah Harrison 38:19
But then he alludes to the town. “You seem to have a gift for stirring up murderous notions in your boyfriends. There’s Albury waiting trial for killing Willsson. There’s Whisper who’s got you shivering in corners. Even I haven’t escaped your influence. Look at the way I’ve turned. Okay, but there’s some problems in what he’s saying there and what he’s what he’s thinking.
Carolyn Daughters 38:44
So there is a person involved. Maybe it’s Dinah. It’s Dinah’s fault!
Sarah Harrison 38:47
Albury, yeah, okay. Whisper? Whisper wasn’t going to kill Dinah. I think she’s projecting her own tendency for betrayal onto Whisper. And she’s the only one he’s not gonna get back at. He doesn’t. You know, the Continental Op, he’s not really your boyfriend. There’s no point anywhere in the book — the book is utterly devoid of any sexual tension between the two.
Carolyn Daughters 39:18
I felt none.
Sarah Harrison 39:19
I don’t think there was any. I don’t think there was meant to be any. So he’s saying stuff, but in my mind, it feels like he’s drunk and he’s playing with theories to explain what he believes was a change in his personality that’s occurred through all this.
Carolyn Daughters 39:36
I guess it resonates with me because I think it’s very common for people to point fingers at someone else or a situation or a place or time. This person or this thing or this place caused a particular situation. And I feel like gets away people brush off their own accountability at times.
Sarah Harrison 40:05
Totally. I love that you brought that up, I don’t feel like I’ve talked about my favorite psychological fallacy in a while, which is called the fundamental attribution error. And once you know about it, see it all the time. You see it all the time. And that’s when you’re looking at other people. When you’re out there seeing folks, and they are doing things poorly, let’s say, we have a tendency to attribute that to their character. They’re selfish, they’re lazy, there’s something in their character. When we ourselves recognize we’re doing things poorly, we attribute that to our situation. I’m in these circumstances, there’s nothing I could do. And the opposite is true when things go well. When things go well for someone else, they got lucky, they didn’t deserve that, they inherited that, it’s their environment. When things go well for us, we have a good character. We worked hard. We earned it. We deserved it. And I think that’s totally legitimate that he’s looking for something outside himself to blame. It was pretty clear he didn’t have a strong moral code to begin with in the whole way that he took this job,
Carolyn Daughters 41:27
Do you think the Continental Op would have said he had a strong moral code?
Sarah Harrison 41:31
I don’t think he would have thought about it. It didn’t seem like it really played into anything he did.
Carolyn Daughters 41:42
I think that fundamental attribution error is really interesting, because the Continental Op does seem to look externally. Did this town poison me? Is it Dinah’s fault. He might just be joking with her in a very unfunny way. It’s a pretty cold statement.
Sarah Harrison 42:03
In an “I’ve had too many gins” sort of way.
Carolyn Daughters 42:06
Alcohol fueled, I’m just going to say some really harsh stuff.
Sarah Harrison 42:10
Well, this is the moment, we’re getting to the moment where he finally starts pouring out his thoughts to Dinah. He has not done that up until now. And Albury said, that’s what’s that happens with her.
Carolyn Daughters 42:24
The Continental Op continues on his reckless path and decides multiple gins just aren’t enough. He needs to have some laudanum. You want some laudanum? Oh, sure. Why not? Why not, indeed. Everybody’s getting killed every five seconds, but how about I don’t stay alert and how about I take some laudanum. And then he passes out and blurry dream-like things happen. He wakes up and the scene is written so, so strange. “I opened my eyes and the dull light of morning sun filtered through drawn blinds. I was lying facedown on the dining room floor, my head resting on my left forearm. My right arm was stretched straight out. My right hand held the round blue and white handle of Dinah Brands icepick. The picks six-inch needle-sharp blade was buried in Dinah Brand’s left breast. It’s like you’re waking up in the Op’s body. You’re seeing everything in the progression that he sees it. I was not expecting Dinah Brand to be stabbed to death.
Sarah Harrison 43:44
I wasn’t expecting her to live. But I wasn’t expecting her to die quite like that.
Carolyn Daughters 43:53
And immediately, it takes him about a nanosecond, he’s like, how do I extricate myself from this situation? How do I get rid of my fingerprints? How do I sneak out the door? You’ve mentioned this a couple times. I think it’s important. We’re not in his head.
Sarah Harrison 44:09
Not at all. Unless he says it out loud like he was saying to Dinah. Clearly, he didn’t want to get pinned with a murder. He had some thoughts. He’s like, I don’t think I did this. There are some logical reasons why I didn’t do it, so I don’t want to look like I did it. And I’m gonna go figure this out. We don’t get any sort of emotional reaction from him on this.
Carolyn Daughters 44:38
Just whatever sense of mourning or disturbance or “Wow, she’s dead.” And then the next layer that could floor anybody, “Did I kill her when I was drugged up and wasn’t really aware of what I was doing and why? Is it possible that I stabbed her? These are all things that we learned through his words later he’s thinking about, but where’s the emotion in addition to the thought? What is he feeling?
Sarah Harrison 45:17
We have no idea? I’m not. If I had to guess, I don’t think he cared about her that much to begin with. I’m not sure. It doesn’t feel unrequited. It doesn’t feel like she cared so much about him either. You see in the story, she’d sell out those closest to her if it ever benefited her $200. You know, not a lot, even for that time. Is she somebody that Asbury clearly had a lot of loyalty, Dan Rolff had a lot of loyalty.
Carolyn Daughters 45:58
Is the Continental Op arguably a perfect fit for this town because he doesn’t really care about anybody?
Sarah Harrison 46:06
I don’t think he cares. He didn’t hesitate the first time he shot that cop. A cop was shooting in his direction, and he took it as a direct murder attempt. It didn’t shake him at all. He just shot the cop, went inside the gangster’s hideout, and went on. I was surprised.
Carolyn Daughters 46:27
I also get this sense that outside of Poisonville the Op doesn’t really have human connection either.
Sarah Harrison 46:38
Carolyn Daughters 46:39
At the end of the book, he hides out in some town [Ogden, Utah]. I can’t remember where he hid out.He hides out in a mountain town and writes up the whole report for the Old Man. And you get the sense that he could stay in this town forever or move to another town. Does he have anyone in his life? Does he have anything happening?
Sarah Harrison 47:07
Doesn’t appear to?
Carolyn Daughters 47:08
I think he’s almost a perfect fit for Poisonville.
Sarah Harrison 47:12
Well, he’s a perfect fit for the job. I don’t know if it’s true, but you see these secret agent-type TV shows. And who do they recruit as their new agents? People with no family. Maybe they’re orphaned. They have no friends. They’re just cut off from humanity. It certainly seems like him.
Carolyn Daughters 47:35
It really does. I don’t know if we’ve discussed this, but Dashiell Hammett had been a Pinkerton operative.
Sarah Harrison 47:44
That’s super interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 47:46
He drew from his own background here. There’s a realism to the way the story is told. Now, it’s an extreme story.
Sarah Harrison 47:56
I mean, I hope he’s like maybe you knew a guy like this guy, not that you were that guy.
Carolyn Daughters 48:01
But there’s a realism to how it’s told and the observations and insights into these criminal organizations that Dashiell Hammett knew firsthand. And I get that sense where the Continental Op is just dropped into this role and doesn’t have family and friends. And he probably doesn’t have a house and a lawn he mows and things like that. He just wants to know where he needs to be sent next. And then what was the point of all the killing at the end? The Continental Op says to Elihu, “You can have your city back all nice and clean and ready to go to the dogs again.” How did you feel or respond when you read that at the end?
Sarah Harrison 49:03
I don’t know. It is kind of deflating it. I think we’re seeing in the last episode, Elihu was the seed of all this. It’s Elihu’s methods that invited all of this in. If he had had other methods, if he had, say, paid his workers more or managed the strike differently, or had his own moral compass, the town wouldn’t have degenerated. No, in his mind it has gone too far. His level of criminality was appropriate and necessary, but this level of criminality threatens him. So giving it back to Elihu. I mean, at least he’s an old seed. He’ll probably die in the near future. Maybe before. All of this crime blossoms up again, but it just leaves a vacuum. His son dead, so there’s nobody anymore honest. It’s going to no one. It’s very deflating.
Carolyn Daughters 50:09
There has been so much death and destruction. What was the point of all of this?
Sarah Harrison 51:14
He at no point solved the problem he was hired for. He could have left immediately. But he decided to use Donald Willsson’s fee to solve Donald Willsson’s murder. And then he calls himself “mean.” He says, “I’m mean enough to take the job.” It just seems like he likes doing it.
Carolyn Daughters 51:36
I think he likes it.
Sarah Harrison 51:38
I don’t see any kind of justice as a motivating factor here. Other than perhaps personal retribution.
Carolyn Daughters 51:49
That personal retribution also comes up in The Maltese Falcon with Sam Spade,
Sarah Harrison 51:58
There are personalities out there who have almost a criminal personality. But if they’re on the right side of the law, so to speak, they don’t go to jail for it. He’s a confusing character at heart.
Carolyn Daughters 52:18
This is a hard one, because even he admits there are other ways he could have gone about this. Setting these thugs against each other and having them kill each other one after the other, that was just the easiest and best way.
Sarah Harrison 52:37
That reminds me. This is probably maybe a loose connection. But did you ever watch that show Dexter?
Carolyn Daughters 52:43
I know what it is, but I haven’t watched it.
Sarah Harrison 52:46
Basically he had this internal urge of a serial killer, so he just used it on killing other killers. So nobody was super concerned about the criminals who died. I think it feels a little bit like that with some of his methods.
Carolyn Daughters 53:06
I didn’t think about that. But, yeah, if you want to play fast and loose. So that one cop earlier in the book, we learn, was the straight shooter, a really good guy. And he turns bad once he becomes a cop.
Sarah Harrison 53:27
Well, that was Dinah’s story. I really liked McSwain story about himself, which was quite a bit different. It kind of leads into all the female characters in this book, but McSwain represented himself like the only thing that he went too much for was giving his wife what she wanted. And what she wanted was a divorce because she wanted Tim Noonan. Okay. So he was giving her a divorce. He was letting her divorce him for Tim Noonan so she could be happy. And then he found out Tim wasn’t gonna marry her. So then he went to confront him. And then accidentally, through a struggle killed him. So it wasn’t even like murder, it was like manslaughter. After that, of course, he went downhill, but Dinah acted like as soon as he got on the force, he went downhill. And then his wife left him. He’s not telling it that way. And Dinah sold us some faulty the information in the past. Throughout the book, she’s selling information, but she’s not validating information. That’s not part of what she does. So it’s an interesting, McSwain. And I liked about the story, getting people’s different versions of things. There’s Dinah’s version, what she’s selling to David Willson, what she’s trying to sell to the Continental Op
Carolyn Daughters 54:58
What we’re missing is the Continental Op’s inner thoughts where he’s able to assess and compare and give weight to one story versus the other. So without that access at times I’m wondering if the Op’s hearing what I’m hearing. You know what I’m saying? Is he realizing people have different stories and different sides to the story?
Sarah Harrison 55:20
I think he is realizing it. I don’t think he’s taking Dinah’s story at face value. He’s like, Okay, that’s a good story. But then he’s the one that realized it was wrong. That Tim said McSwain, not Max. And that blew Dinah’s mind.
Carolyn Daughters 55:39
Well, Sarah, you know I’m a master of this clock alarm. And we have to wrap up this episode. Next month, we’re going to read …
Sarah Harrison 55:58
More Dashiell Hammett.
Carolyn Daughters 56:00
Sarah Harrison 56:01
I’m really excited. I have actually seen The Maltese Falcon movie, but it has been long enough that I don’t quite remember it. Published in 1930, The Maltese Falcon is gritty, gripping noir at its best. As far as detective stories go, this one’s a game changer. Detective Sam Spade’s cool, cynical nature turned him into one of the most memorable characters in literature and film, most notably the 1941 release starring Humphrey Bogart. Learn more about The Maltese Falcon on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com, and share your thoughts on our website or on our Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin or Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. Also, be sure to subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode.
Carolyn Daughters 56:48
And we have a guest next month.
Sarah Harrison 56:50
We do. We have a super exciting guest.
Carolyn Daughters 56:53
Our guest next month to talk about The Maltese Falcon is Mike Nugent. He is a friend of mine and he has worked as a lawyer, lobbyist, litigator, and business executive in the technology, intellectual property, and financial services field. He’s also a writer, and that’s how I know him. He has written three political mystery novels. He has a fourth about to be submitted. He has written a children’s book, short stories, and a screenplay. His work is in a number of publications. You can find his book on Amazon at amazon.com/author/pmnugent. Do check him out. His books are fabulous. He lives near the Jersey Shore. And these books really capture the area.
Sarah Harrison 57:53
Cool. I’m super excited about meeting Mike next month. And if you liked this month’s episode, consider giving us a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. I believe we’re on every possible platform.
Including Apple podcasts and Spotify, really wherever you listen to Tea, Tonic & Toxin. That review means the world to us, and it also helps increase our exposure so people like you who love the greatest mysteries ever written can find us and listen to us.
You can learn more about Red Harvest on our website teatonicandtoxin.com. You can share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. And subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. Until then, listeners, stay mysterious.
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →