Hard-boiled debut from Hammett. Set in the lawless town of 'Poisonville' our visiting out of town 'Op' discovers his client is dead before he ever meets him. Since the ex-client was the son of the town's fading business grandee, the Op takes on a dual mission both to catch the killer and to clean up the town; 'to open up Personville from its adams apple to its ankles'.
To complete his mission we have action, surliness, colossal alcohol consumption, corruption and tons of violence. The Op actually lists the 16 people killed so far and we're still only half way through the book. Even the love interest is a lush who gobs on the floor and has a permanent ladder in her stocking.
I had a real problem with the slang to the point that some footnotes would not have gone amiss. There is also a bewildering flurry of a cast who are little more than names rather than characters. Hammett's prose and dialogue is not as slick as his later masterpiece.
A remarkable contrast to the Golden Age crime writing being produced contemporaneously in the UK. Red raw, both politically and stylistically.