Crooks’ names from Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett tells tight, twisty detective tales with colourful casts and propulsive plots, but half the fun of reading him comes from the language itself: the wisecracks, the tough talk, the economical detail.

Dashiell Hammett - The Big Knockover and Other Stories - book coverThe title story in his collection The Big Knockover has a huge cast of criminals, crooks, and assorted no-goodniks, many with stereotypical nicknames. Here’s 30 or so, some with additional description from Hammett:

Red O’Leary

The Shivering Kid

Itchy Maker

Darby M’Laughlin

Happy Jim Hacker, round and rosy Detroit gunman twice sentenced to death and twice pardoned

Alphabet Shorty McCoy

Donkey Marr, the last of the bow-legged Marrs

Rumdum Smith

Lefty Read

Toots Salda, the strongest man in crookdom

Sylvia Yount

The Dis-and-Dat Kid

Bernie Bernheimer, alias the Motsa Kid

Sheeny Holmes

Snohomish Shitey

Bluepoint Vance

L. A. Slim, from Denver, sockless and underwearless as usual

Spider Girrucci

Old Pete Best, once a congressman

Fat Boy Clarke

Red Cudahy

Pogy Reeve

Tom Brooks, who invented the Richmond razzle-dazzle and bought three hotels with the profits

Big Flora Brace

Nancy Regan

Denny Burke, Baltimore’s King of Frog Island

Bull McGonickle, still pale from fifteen years in Joliet

Johnny the Plumber

Paddy the Mex, an amiable conman who looked like the King of Spain

Paperbox-John Cardigan

Angel Grace Cardigan

Toby the Lugs, who used to brag about picking President Wilson’s pocket in a Washington vaudeville theatre


Alphabet Shorty McCoy offers two nicknames for the price of one. I don’t know if he got both at the same time or was just Shorty McCoy for a while first.

Hammett himself went to jail for a while. His long-time partner Lillian Hellman tells the story in the book’s fine introduction.

7 Responses to Crooks’ names from Dashiell Hammett

  1. wellturned says:

    Love this list. Such evocative names and descriptions. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nancy Regan? Who knew. One letter more and she’d be an actor-turned-politician’s wife. Great list. Great post. Thank you.

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    Liked the refresher course. I wonder what Lillian thought? H’m.


  4. Stan says:

    wellturned: They are fun, aren’t they. Thanks for stopping by.

    Elizabeth: Nancy Regan (along with Tom Brooks) is probably the most normal name in the set, and taken as a whole they feel quite authentic.

    WWW: In her introduction she says of the stories:

    There was a day when I thought all of them very good. But all of them are not good, though most of them, I think, are very good.

    While he was alive, Hammett turned down offers to republish the stories; Hellman never knew why, but sometimes thought “he was just too ill to care, too worn out to listen to plans or read contracts”. I have her book Pentimento on the shelf, and will report back when I get around to it.

  5. Nurn says:

    Quite a sprinkling of Irish names there. I guess we have a gangster streak in us…! Who knew?

  6. […] of Couffignal’, a great story that opens The Big Knockover and Other Stories (whose colourful crooks’ names I listed recently). Skip the first paragraph if you want to avoid […]

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