1931, Books, Fiction

The Glass Key (1931) by Dahiel Hammett

This is my second Hammett novel but I really don’t remember the first one. (I had to re-read review of it to remind myself what I felt and, even then, I really didn’t remember it.) Hammett is known as the king of American detective fiction but he’s arguably more of an influence with the aesthetics of film noir, if not the plot.

I’m on the fence about this novel in part because of Beaumont and the “mystery.” Beaumont is refreshingly human in how he actually reacts to stuff, not always well, and how he hasn’t completely figured everything out. But this is also the furthest thing from a puzzle-box mystery so, if you’re looking for a compelling mystery, you won’t find it here. Not only are we not allowed into Beaumont’s internal life but there isn’t much of a mystery. There is one “big reveal” but it’s not that much of a reveal.

I would say that not seeing the character’s internal lives is probably a virtue and Hammett specializes in describing characters’ physical reactions to things as a way of trying to tell you what is happening in their heads. I don’t know of anyone else who writes this way.

And his sentences are quite sparse. If you like that kind of thing, you will likely find his writing compelling. I’m not quite in awe of it as most people but I find it easy to read.

The novel inhabits a weird place for me – it’s not a super compelling mystery but it also lacks most of what I want in noir. Women are weirdly attracted to Beaumont, he doesn’t appear to like them, and nobody is holding anything over on him. When he is bested it’s physically and because he’s outnumbered. So he’s not nearly imperfect enough to be a noir anti-hero but he’s no Poirot either. I don’t quite no what to do with it. (Though, apparently, this book inspired¬†Miller’s Crossing¬†so I should like it more.)


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