In Red Harvest, Hammett unleashes his nameless "Continental Op" on a corrupt town that just lost its only "honest" citizen – the crusading son of the town's brutal founder. The Continental Op is like a 1930s edition of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name: he does a Fistful of Dollars routine here as he wanders into town, sets opposing factions against one another, and lights the tinder to an already explosive situation. All in the name of cleaning the place up. Here again, Hammett's characters aren't the politically correct softies that so many modern detectives have become; he doesn't make quiche and nobody really knows what kind of music he likes. The guy just does his job. Robert B. Parker's Spenser may have borrowed the Continental Op's modus operandi (which is basically to wander around stirring the pot until something happens, whatever the "something" might be), but Spenser's got nothing on the Op's rather cavalier attitude.
In The Thin Man, Hammett created another pair of indelible characters – Nick and Nora Charles, immortalized in film by William Powell and Myrna Loy. The film series picked up on the socialite existence and the playful banter so evocative of the screwball comedies of the 1930s. However, Hammett's characters are far more complicated in print than they were on screen, and Nick does far more detective work here than Powell ever really did.
The Thin Man is a somewhat complicated murder mystery featuring a dead woman, a missing man, his estranged family, and a host of possible murderers. It also has Nick and Nora, a playful duo whose unshakeable equanimity makes them exceptionally intriguing characters.
Vintage Hammett is an interesting book. I initially assumed it to be a collection of say, Hammett's short stories, but it's not. Instead, it's a collection of excerpts from his longer works interspersed with some of Hammett's short stories. Personally, I'm not sure that I see the point to reading a portion of The Maltese Falcon when you should really be reading the whole thing, but I suppose that for those who are interested in just a taste of a master of hardboiled detective fare, Vintage Hammett is something to consider. It's also worth it for the short stories, including the Continental Op stories “The House in Turk Street,” “The Girl with the Silver Eyes," and "Flypaper.” It's worth it for the short stories; the longer works should really be enjoyed in their entirety.