How to induce a gushing, mind-blowing noirgasm
Have your amoral, no-nonsense, no-name main character bust out with slick, cool-dripping phrases like: "I poured out a couple of hookers of gin [while] She went into the kitchen for another siphon and more ice.
Friends, if there’s a unit of measurement more loaded with juicy, quintessential noirness than “a hooker of gin,” please let me know because I spent my entire happy wad when I read that. No offense to fans of Raymond Chandler (who I think is terrific), but after The Maltese Falcon
and now this gem, Dashiell Hammett has super-glued himself atop my pyramid of classic crime noir authors.
This is noir at its grittiest and most violent with characters that are all shades of shady and more murders than Nightmare on Elm Street
and Friday the 13th
…combined. Add to that an ever constant flow of so much booze-swilling that the alcohol seems to sweat off the page and you have a dark, gritty and spectacular slice of crime literature. Seriously, the only thing getting killed faster than people is the liquor…
…and the last vestiges of my faith in decency and humanity.
Our narrator, known only as The Continental Op
is sent by his employer, the San Francisco branch of the Continental Detective Agency (CDA), to a company town called Personville (aka "Poisonville"). The CDA was hired by Donald Willsson to investigate corruption in the town, but is given a lethal hot lead injection before our man has a chance to get the details. From there, the Op begins investigating the murder and runs across a whole host of people with cemeteries full of skeleton’s in their closets including: **
The deceased’s father, who founded Poisonville and has seen his control threatened by several gangs his originally brought in to break a labor strike.**
Dinah Brand, a hard drinking and harder loving femme fatale more twisted than a corkscrew and just as sharp.**
A host of local gangsters and thugs led by Max "Whisper" Thaler. **
A fat, sweaty stereotype of the crooked chief of police that reminded me of the guy from the movie Mississippi Burning
(great flick by the way).
As the body count rises, The Continental Op manages to pit all of the bad guys against one another creating a powder keg that bill blow the lid of the town and bring all the rats scurrying out of the dark.
If you like noir crime novels, it’s hard for me to imagine you wouldn’t like this. This is noir at its most filthy and you can feel the wet, slimy villainy staining each and every page as Hammett’s sparse, clipped prose is deftly navigates the story.
My only qualm with the narrative is probably my own failing as a reader. This is the most complicated crime mystery plot I have come across and the total number of players and victims, the myriad of double, triple and quadruple crosses and the extremely convoluted central mystery was at times hard to keep straight in my itty, bitty brain. To make matters worse, Hammett provides no training wheels in the form of info-dumps or recaps to help the reader so you are pretty much stranded and on your own. Just like his narrator.
Thus, my strong 4.5 star rating for this (rather than 5 stars) is based solely on my inability to completely follow the trail of sleaze from beginning to end. I intend to re-read this at some point and if all of the pieces end up falling into place, this may well get bumped to 5 stars and receive an engraved apology for my lack of plot comprehension.
As it is, this is about as good as it gets when it comes to noir and Hammett has created another superb work that reads as well now as it did back in 1929. That says a lot for the man’s talent. Here are a couple of classic quotes that I thought were just full of awesome:"Be still while I get up or I'll make an opening in your head for brains to leak in." "If I don't get away soon I'll be going blood simple like the natives," says the Op. "I've arranged a killing or two in my time, when they were necessary. But this is the first time I've ever got the fever" "[spoiler] tried to assassinate me last night. I don’t like it. I’m just mean enough to want to ruin him for it. Now I’m going to have my fun. I’ve got ten thousand dollars of your money to play with. I’m going to use it opening Poisonville up from Adam's apple to ankles.”We bumped over dead [Spoiler] legs and headed for home. We covered one block of the distance with safety if not comfort. After that we had neither."
It’s enough to bring out the O face.
4.5 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!
P.S. I listened to the recently released audio version of this story as read by Richard Ferrone and I thought he did a very good job with it. Certainly one to check out if you like audio books.