If you are like me, you met The Thin Man first in the movie series. Those movies have Nick Charles straddling the gap between the "haves" and the tough guy world with insouciance as he waltzes with the wealthy socialites and unravels fatal plots. The book itself is much darker, directly suggesting alcoholism, incest, adultery, and all the minor crimes . . . and deadly sins. The view is that humans are thoroughly flawed, but some can rise above that to serve others anyway. That is the nobility of the Nick Charles character . . . as he staggers out of bed in the afternoon with yet another hangover. Helping out old clients is his source of redemption against the temptations he cannot resist.
The world view is probably somewhat autobiographical as Hammett spent more of his time in Hollywood late in his career, rather than working as a fiction writer. The echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald are very strong, especially to Tender Is The Night.
For those who love the classic "tough guy" stories by Hammett, this one can never have the same appeal. Nick is still tough, but he mostly shows it by taking abuse with style. That's a feminine kind of toughness that comes from maturity. He passes off the chances to trade punches when they arise.
The characterizations of Nick and Nora Charles are the strength of the novel. But the book transcends that by also creating a picture of a flawed marriage between two people with hearts of gold who love each other, but are also killing each other. The development of the relationship is brilliant.
The mystery itself isn't very mysterious. It just has lots of red herrings. If you judge mysteries by the quality of the plot unfolding of that mystery, you will probably rate this book at 3 or 4 stars.
I suggest that you think about what temptations are difficult for you to resist. How will those temptations undermine your life and your relationships? How can you occupy yourself in ways so that there will either be less temptation or you will be more able to resist it?
To your good health and that of all your relationships!
on 10 September 2003
Today, of course, Dashiell Hammett's reputation rests largely on the legendary novel THE MALTESE FALCON, but this does not mean that his other work isn't worth a look, and THE DAIN CURSE is a case in point: tightly written in a merciless tone, Hammett's second novel clearly sets the stage for much that was to follow.
Hammett first made his reputation as a pulp magazine author, churning out a series of short stories in a lean, mean prose that drew numerous fans and built critical attention. One of the most popular characters of his short story work was known as "the Continental Op"--an insurance detective ("Op" being short for "operative") whose various adventures would ultimately form the basis for this, Hammett's second novel-length effort.
Although some will disagree, I personally consider THE DAIN CURSE an noticeable improvement over Hammett's first novel, RED HARVEST. Like most of Hammett's work, both works are noteable for their hard-hitting prose, both offer convoluted plots, and both provide us with archetypical characterizations--but where I find RED HARVEST a strangely flat and slightly up-hill read, THE DAIN CURSE hooks you with the first few pages and holds your attention with ease throughout the entire course of the novel.
The story is, as previously stated, convoluted. The Op is called in to investigate stolen diamonds--but strangely enough, these diamonds are not really precious: they are imperfect stones loaned by a jeweler to scientist/artist Leggett, who experiments with them in an effort to improve their quality. Leggett seems as surprised as everyone that any one would actually go to the trouble of stealing them--but suddenly the tone of the characters shift, and those who first welcomed the investigation seem to resist it while those who originally opposed it seem to encourage it. Clearly, there is something more going on than a simple burglary, and it short order it becomes clear that the "something" is murder.
While THE DAIN CURSE is an entertaining read, it does have its flaws--and they are flaws that Hammett would take some pains to correct in his future work. Given that the novel is largely based on various short stories Hammett had previously written, it is hardly surprising that the movement of the plot has an episodic feel; there are actually points in the book where you feel the story has ended long before you've run out of pages, only to have Hammett spin off the plot into an unexpected direction with a somewhat awkward joining of the elements involved. The characters also tend to be inconsistent, and while this actually forms part of the plotline, Hammett does not entirely succeed in carrying off the effect.
Perhaps the single most oft-leveled accusation against the novel is that its heroine proves a largely unsympathetic character who lacks either the power of THE MALTESE FALCON'S perfidious Bridgett or the snap and spark of THE THIN MAN'S Nora. For myself, I did not find this the major flaw that so many others do; what is an issue, however, is the very limited attention Hammett offers the character in the first third of the novel, where she reads as a minor supporting character--and rather than build the role in a way that places her front and center, Hammett simply shifts gears and suddenly puts her at the forefront. The result is an extremely awkward transition that undercuts one's suspension of disbelief.
But whatever its flaws, THE DAIN CURSE is a truly entertaining read, written in the developing Hammett style that would peak with THE MALTESE FALCON. It may in some respects be a "developmental" work, but it is no less the worse for that, easily outclassing the vast majority of Hammett imitators that sprang up as the author rose to fame. Recommended to fans of the classic hard-boiled fiction school.
--GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)--
on 10 February 2014
I used to really love the films with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles and their dog Asta, only fairly recently found out that Dashiel Hammett wrote the stories, again another link via Rory Gallagher who was a great fan of his works, Just read a book from the library which turned up in Hammetts papers and was published in 2012, Its kind of quirky and full of punchy dialogue, very very 1930's which I love, Nick was mostly a bit squiffy all the time, solved crimes and no bad language which is really refreshing, going to enjoy reading it as I have enjoyed the library book.
I also didn't realise Dashiel Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon which is another favourite film of mine, so I bought the book to read
on 21 March 1998
When you've finished reading this novel (and if you care anything about the American detective story, you will read this novel), think back. Can you recall even the slightest hint of emotion, or the smallest display of caring by one individual for another? I don't think so, and this is the essence of hard-boiled detective stories. Don't get me wrong. You know Ned Beaumont cares about those he is trying to help, and gets beat up for. He's much too tough to show it, though, and that's the key. That's why they call it tough-guy fiction. This story is straight-on, airtight, wonderfully written. In one eighteen-month period Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key. Amazing. We shall never see his like again. Highly recommended.
on 26 April 1997
Dashiell Hammetts creative light burned bright but for a brief 5-10 year period. In "The Glass Key," his penultimate novel, Hammett melded the world of the "hard-boiled detective"--shady underground figures, powerful men and, of course, a beautiful woman--with a theme that recurs throughout his ouvre--of basic trust between kindred souls.
Often over-shadowed in the eyes of readers by the novels that preceeded and followed, "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Thin Man," "The Glass Key" is Hammett at the very top of his form. Writing as no one had before, or has since.
This is not hard-boiled apart from one memorable scene in a New York speakeasy. There is vitually no witty repartee after a bright sparky first 40 pages. The book kicks off with a sassy, tongue-in cheek racy start featuring Nick 'the Greek' Charles and Nora his wife, 'a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw'. After that it goes into a long lingering death where all the characters virtually talk themselves to a standstill.
Nobody does in any detecting because they are all sozzled. Any attempt at a student drinking-game would result in an A & E stomach-pumping every 20 pages. Drinks occur at any and every moment of the day with the main excuse often being, 'to cut the phlegm'. Charming.
The book felt like a short story that had been grossly inflated. If this book had not had Mr Hammett's name on the cover I would have thrown it in the bin. The first 40 pages and Mr Hammett's track record force me to give it two stars, but this is a lazy work padded with tedious dialogue that faills to progress the story.
Mr Hammett's last novel. Maybe he knew that the star had burned brightly.
Dashiell Hammett's creative period was very short, effectively terminated in the 1940s by chronic ill health (TB), alcoholism, and political persecution because of his extreme outspoken left-wing views. But prior to this he produced some memorable work, and was a master of the `hard-boiled' detective story. He is best known for `The Maltese Falcon', following the successful film staring Humphrey Bogart, but `The Glass Key' is generally regarded as his finest work. The `hero', if he can be called that, is the cool Ned Beaumont, a hard-drinking fixer for a gangster, Paul Madvig, who controls a city via his political and police stooges. But Ned has a moral code of sorts, and when Paul looks like being betrayed at election time, and may even be indicted for a murder, he steps up, and at considerable personal danger (he is severely beaten several times) eventually forces the real killer to confess. To cap it all he even `wins' the daughter of a Senator, who Paul vainly hoped to marry. The story is more complex than these few sentences convey. There are many twists and turns and it has a real surprise ending. The writing is in a terse, laconic style that has often been imitated but never excelled. An excellent read.
on 27 August 2012
If you've never seen 'Miller's Crossing', I urge you to - without the slightest hesitation - do so now! The Coen brothers' gangster film is not quite up there with 'The Godfather' or 'Goodfellas', but is a work of genius nevertheless. It's a highly stylised tale of a town ruled by the mob and the relationship of the two men at the centre of it. Both Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney are superb (indeed, there are no slouches in the entire cast), and the film is packed with fantastic moments which will remain forever in your memory. (The soundtrack is brilliant too). The Coens are variable film makers, but this is one of their Grade A efforts. So if you've never seen it, I order you to please stop reading this now and go out and get yourself a copy. You will thank me later.
For whatever reason - even though I clearly love the film - I'd never actually read the Dashiell Hammett novel which inspired it. Perhaps it was because I didn't know what `inspired by' actually meant. The film isn't a straight adaptation of the book, so is that inspiration obscure and oblique, or is it blatant and obvious? The answer is very much the latter. They share a similar setting, the relationship between the two central characters, the spark of a mob war, some great dialogue and even all that stuff about the hats. (You'll understand when you see the film.) Even if I didn't know that this was the inspiration, I'd have spotted it almost immediately anyway.
I always dislike reading a book after I've seen the film, as I normally end up just comparing one to the other, but in this case it was unavoidable. However trying to judge it on its own merits, I will say that this is a thrilling read which kept this reader permanently on edge. Much like Hammett's `Red Harvest', it's frequently difficult to work out which side the lead character is actually on - and that of course means anything can happen. The ending perhaps isn't as clever or as affecting as it should be, but this is a classy gangster tale with suspense, great scenes and fantastic dialogue - and you can't really ask for more than that, can you?
on 13 May 2012
A REVIEW OF `THE THIN MAN' by DASHIELL HAMMETT
`The Thin Man' (first published in 1932) is a tightly-plotted, teasing who-dunnit from `The Golden Age of Crime Fiction'. Set in New York during the Christmas week of 1932 it deals with ex-private detective (or `gum shoe'), Nick Charles's attempts to find the killer of a woman of dubious reputation (Julia Wolf) who was caught up in the personal and professional business of screwy inventor/genius/shop-keeper, Clyde Wynant. As he attempts to untangle the mass of clues, red-herrings, aliases and false alibis, Charles needs to rely upon all of his old powers of deduction to solve a case that is simultaneously complex and simple.
Although pacey and engaging, there are obvious limitations to `The Thin Man' that make its inclusion in the ranks of `classic' crime capers questionable. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the fact that virtually every character is devoid of any truly likeable qualities. Our sleuth Charles himself is a cynical (virtual) alcoholic, living brazenly off his rather smug wife, Nora's, wealth. Compare this character profile to Agatha Christie's ludicrously pompous (but hugely endearing and enduring) Hercule Poirot. Likewise, the suspects are all horribly flawed characters, especially Wynant's ex-wife and children. Thus, when the finger of guilt points at various suspects during the story's unfolding, it is difficult for the reader to truly care whether or not justice is done.
What has saved `The Thin Man' from obscurity is its ingenious twist-in-the-tale. Like the best Poirot novels of the era, the solution to the crime appears to be screamingly obvious once one fundamental fact is established, leaving the reader to ponder, "How did I miss that?!" In addition, the setting of Prohibition-era America adds a pleasing backdrop to the gritty case, albeit by exposing the absurd failure of the well-intentioned alcohol ban.
Therefore, `The Thin Man' survives as a diverting but not wholly-satisfying entry in the canon of crime fiction. Today it is perhaps best remembered as the book that inspired the series of MGM film from the 1930s. These movies, starring William Powell as Nick Charles, adopted a lighter touch and gave audiences a far more appealing leading man. Might this explain why the film spawned a series of sequels, whilst the novel remained a one-off? Over to you, Hercule...
Barty's Score: 7/10
Dashiell Hammett was Christopher Marlowe to Raymond Chandler's Shakespeare, Hamnett in many ways invented the medium that the slightly later writer perfected.
This is not to say Hammett's work has no intrinsic merit of its own, of course, far from it. However, this almost humorous detective tale is not his best. Nick and Nora Charles seem a rather heartless couple, and their investigation inevitably lacks the intensity present in "The Dain Curse" or "Red Harvest". Their hotel-room-bound life (comparisons to Alan Partridge living in a Norwich Travel Tavern would be a bit unfair..)presumably meant to seem glittering and bright, featuring telephone conversations with the State Governor, chicken livers for breakfast and endless alcohol quickly palls.
As a classic detective yarn, the book is hard to fault, with a well constucted plot and enough clues and red herrings scattered about to maintain the reader's interest throughout. It is unlikely, however, that it could be re-read with as much pleasure as Chandler's "The Big Sleep" or even some of Hammett's own, earlier, more substantial, works.