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Sunday, April 03, 2005 


A couple months ago I ended up in a second hand bookstore on Bathurst Street. It was late and a Friday night and I was a little drunk. How I got there isn't important. What I found is.

I bought two books that night. One was Valediction, an old Spenser book by Robert B. Parker. The other was The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon, which I had just read and liked.

The Continental Op has sat on my shelf since then. Now, with midnight creeping up and an article I don't want to write (the one I referred to in my last post) still needing to be written, I've picked it up.

The book is a collection of stories about a tough detective with no name. He's referred to as "the Op." His life is his work and it hardens him.

Steven Marcus' introduction to the collection is a literary essay analyzing Hammett's life and fiction. In it I found a passage that describes something that I've feared for a while.

The Op's toughness is not merely a carapace within which feelings of tenderness and humanity can be nourished and preserved. The toughness is toughness through and through, and as the Op continues his career, and continues to live by the means he does, he tends to become more callous and less and less able to feel. At the very end, awaiting him, he knows, is the prospect of becoming like his boss, the head of the Agency, the Old Man, "with his gentle eyes behind gold spectacles and his mild smile, hiding the fact that fifty years of sleuthing had left him without any feelings at all on any subject."

This is why I will not be a hard news reporter for more than a handful of years. While my toughness is still a carapace, I've seen signs of its thickening. First last year with the struggles at the paper. And more this year after living in the city and covering crime in Rexdale.

That scares me.