This is on The List? Really? I mean, I understand why The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are on there, because they’re great, but as far as I’m concerned there was no reason to include this one as well.
Plainly put, it was dull and confusing. It’s more political thriller than detective novel, so if that’s your thing you might like this, but any sort of political intrigue drama generally bores me to death unless it’s actually a historical political intrigue. There were too many characters introduced too quickly, who would then disappear for large sections of the story, making it very difficult to remember who everyone was and why they didn’t like each other. The leading ladies are boring (no smartass Nora Charles or evil Brigid O’Shaunessy here; just a hysterical gang moll, a dull gangster’s daughter, and a duller politician’s daughter) and the detective’s romantic interest in one of them doesn’t make a damn lick of sense. The amateur detective in question is Ned Beaumont, and it’s clear that Hammett was going for one of his hard-boiled-yet-charming detective scoundrels, a la Sam Spade or Nick Charles, but the problem is that the charming bad boy is a very sensitive and specific formula, and something was improperly measured when Hammett made Beaumont. Rather than being hard-boiled, he’s just an asshole, and all his quips are more smug than funny. I never understood his thought process or motivation, much less why everyone kept talking about what a swell guy he was when clearly he was just a crafty douchebag.
The murder victim that the case centers around never gets to make an appearance in the story – we meet him when his body is discovered – and so the death Beaumont is investigating never really seems that important, and the twists and turns that the story took left me mostly perplexed because I never knew what was going on in the first place anyway. It got to the point where I seriously considered just abandoning the book and reading something else, which is not good – I didn’t even care who had murdered the guy, because I didn’t care about him or any of the people who might have killed him, and I certainly didn’t like Beaumont enough to want him to crack the case and get the dame and all that.
In a word: boring. Once again, The List has seriously dropped the ball.
Verdict: one out of five stars