"The Continental Op" contains seven short stories featuring Dashiell Hammett's terse, sharp-witted, and always unnamed operative from The Continental Detective Agency. "Black Mask" magazine published 36 Continental Op stories by Dashiell Hammett between 1923 and 1930 (eight which were later transformed into novels), so this is just a smattering. These stories are not as thematically complex as many of Hammett's novels, but the Op's first person narration renders the characters especially vividly. And his sardonic internal monologues sting like a branding iron, and leave about as strong an impression. Though Hammett's scathing cynicism is better articulated in his novels, "The Continental Op" is an excellent showcase of the elements which have made Hammett's work so popular for over eighty years: blunt talk, economic and very readable prose, femmes fatales, contemptible but colorful criminals, violence, mystery, and a decidedly unglamorous "everyman" protagonist who lives by his own strict code of conduct.
Unlike Hammett's novels, this collection of short stories includes an introduction by the book's editor, Steven Marcus. It won't be news to readers who are familiar with Dashiell Hammett's life and works, but readers who are new to Hammett may find the progression of Hammett's career, personal life and politics, discussed in Marcus' essay, interesting and helpful in placing his work in context. "The Continental Op" is an excellent introduction to the writing of Dashiell Hammett, similar to the manner in which the American public discovered his works in "Black Mask" during the 1920s. And if you're already a Hammett fan, these wonderfully entertaining stories are not to be missed.
Note: An entirely different anthology of Dashiell Hammett short stories, edited by Ellery Queen, was published under the same name, "The Continental Op", in 1945. It contained 4 stories, 3 of which are not in the current Vintage Books edition. I mention it so there will be no confusion. This Vintage Books edition, edited by Steven Marcus, was originally published in 1979 and contains these 7 stories: "The Tenth Clew", "The Golden Horseshoe", "The House in Turk Street", "The Girl with the Silver Eyes", "The Whosis Kid", "The Main Death", and "The Farewell Murder".