This classic of detective fiction, a beacon of hard-boiled, noir-esque mystery, is both entertaining and curiously dated. Set in the early ’30s, this series of murders surrounding a brilliant – yet possibly quite mad inventor – is really a comedy of manners disguised in an endless parade of drinks, speakeasies, shady characters and cops.
The hero – dry, dapper and endlessly correct Charles, hovers – cat like, mixing an endless series of drinks at all hours of the day and night – in nearly every scene; the book is almost about how much people like Charles than it is a about multiple homicide. He is paired with his just as charming wife, the two forming a perfect, completely irresistible couple. The rest of the characters form a collection of bad stereotypes, left helpless and foolish in the wake of Charles. By the end, the big reveal of the murder comes more as a relief from hall-of-mirrors effect that Hammett creates in order to create the mystery.
But it is thoroughly enjoyable none the less. Part of the appeal of Hammett is his unique writing style: a sort of debonair minimalism, ultra-dry wit attempting to appear “hard-boiled.” The result is that you spend a lot of the book trying to figure out – along with literally the rest of the characters – what Charles is thinking.
A breeze – half the fun is the long lost world were it is socially acceptable to be truely drunk literally at all times of the day and night.