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One day when visiting Thomson and Thompson at their office, Tintin takes note of a scrap of paper ripped from a can of crab meat among the belongings of a recently drowned sailor. Upon examining the scrap of paper, he sees the name "Karaboudjan" written on it and is then informed that this is the name of the ship where the sailor was employed.
After an unknown Japanese man is kidnapped on his doorstep, Tintin decides to investigate the Karaboudjan, but is immediately captured. While being held captive, Tintin discovers that the ship's cargo of canned crab meat is actually a cargo of opium. Tintin confronts the ship's captain, named Haddock, but discovers that he doesn't know about the smuggling operation, and is being deceived (and supplied with a lot of whiskey) by his first mate Allan. Along with Haddock, Tintin escapes and ends up in Morocco, where they continue their investigation of the smuggling operation.
The Crab with the Golden Claws is the debut of Breakout Character Captain Haddock, who was originally intended as a one-shot character, but ended up appearing as Tintin's ally in every single story after this one, eventually eclipsing Tintin himself in popularity, even in the eyes of Hergé himself.
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Most of what Haddock does.
- Big Bad: Omar Ben Salaad.
- Character Development: When we first meet Haddock, he is a drunk and miserable wreck without a friend in the world and when he joins Tintin, his alcoholism means he causes more trouble for Tintin than he solves. At the end of the story, he is reformed and becomes the President of the Society of Sober Sailors! In later albums, he retains a fondness for the bottle, but is never as weak or unstable as he is here.
- Chekhov's Gun: The Can Snowy Gets His Nose stuck in turns out to be very important later on.
- Counterfeit Cash: Thomson and Thompson are investigating counterfeit coins that they found on the drowned sailor at the beginning of the book, but this doesn't really amount to anything.
- The Dragon: Allan to Omar ben Salaad.
- False Friend: Allan to Haddock. Rather depressingly, Haddock calls him the only true friend he has when we first meet him.
- Framed for Heroism: At one point, a raging Haddock charges ahead against a group of armed Bedouin raiders, who promptly run away. It turns out they were actually running away from the reinforcements arriving behind him.
- The Heavy: Allan.
- Heroic BSOD: Haddock enters one when he realizes he and Tintin are stranded in the middle of Sahara and will probably die of thirst.
- Hero of Another Story: The Japanese police agent who is kidnapped.
- Hollywood Mirage
- Madness Mantra: When he enters his Heroic BSOD, Haddock can only repeat the words "land of thirst" over and over.
- Meat-O-Vision: After wandering around in the desert with Tintin for a while, Haddock envisions Tintin as a huge bottle of champagne and nearly strangles him to death trying to uncork him.
- The Millstone: Haddock.
- Red Herring: The Counterfeit Cash subplot at the beginning of the story basically amounts to this.
- Shoot the Messenger: Non-lethal punching variation with Allan.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Omar Ben Salaad.
- Unstoppable Rage: Haddock gets truly pissed off when a band of Bedouin raiders firing at him shatter his bottle of whisky.