5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Terse, taut and brutal: welcome to Hammett's world,
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This review is from: The Continental Op (Picador Books) (Paperback)
Hammett's writing is one of the things in life I'm not sure I could do without. It's a lesson in a hard school - with the advantage that you don't have to learn it personally - he did. We all get to enjoy the results without the slightly grimy feeling of having actually lived among the kind of people he wrote about.
Am I sounding a bit fastidious? - well I'm glad it wasn't me down there in the pit of urban 1920s America with the yeggs, the grifters, the pushers, the small time crooks and big time gangsters, the compromised rich and their blackmailing staff, the dangerous beauties and the thick-necked boobies who fall for them, the handsome killers and, last but not least, the Op himself, up to his elbows in it.
Was there ever a more brutal portrait than this? The Op (an operative for a detective agency modelled on the Pinkertons) tells the story, and you rarely get the luxury of a look at him. He's short, stocky, not handsome. He plays by a code, but not by any rules anyone can find. He will gleefully watch while the bad people tear each other apart, and he will pluck the missing booty, or the missing girl, or the missing proof, from a dying man's bloody hands. He's a lonely man, but he's no knight errant like Chandler's wonderful Philip Marlowe. He is as spare with words as with his fists: his style is reminiscent of "The Way of the Samurai". Hammett absolutely refuses to let you get sentimental over his sneering Op: the minute there's a danger of it, he reminds you that this is a story, with a set purpose, dangit, and he sends his Op off in another, pitiless direction. You walk behind him, sometimes amused, sometimes sad, sometimes a tiny bit horrified.
If this doesn't give you even the slightest desire to read Hammett, so be it - your loss!