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.
The 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:
The Shivering Kid
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
Toots Salda, the strongest man in crookdom
The Dis-and-Dat Kid
Bernie Bernheimer, alias the Motsa Kid
L. A. Slim, from Denver, sockless and underwearless as usual
Old Pete Best, once a congressman
Fat Boy Clarke
Tom Brooks, who invented the Richmond razzle-dazzle and bought three hotels with the profits
Big Flora Brace
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
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.