Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Glass Key [1931]

Maltese Falcon remains Hammett’s most enduringly popular work while Red Harvest is considered by many his greatest; however it was his comparatively lesser known penultimate novel, The Glass Key, published in serialized form in the iconic Black Mast magazine, that was his personal favourite. A frenetic and incredibly engrossing Depression-era tale of political one-upmanship, gang violence, unbridled lust and human corruption, this would easily rank at par with the former two novels and amongst the finest examples of hardboiled school of literature. The story’s fabulously etched and thoroughly amoral protagonist is Ned Beaumont – a brilliant political fixer, a shrewd trouble-shooter, a compulsive gambler and a classic Machiavellian with motives oftentimes shrouded with ambiguity – he’s as ingenious and driven as Sam Spade and Continental Op even if he’s not a professional private eye. He’s a friend to and also works for Paul Madvig, a powerful racketeer and political boss, who intends to marry the Senator’s daughter in return for helping him re-elect in the upcoming elections. The Senator’s son is murdered in the 1st act, and though that made this, in some ways, akin to a whodunit, it also acted as the hinge for this nightmarish tale populated with power-hungry politicians, unscrupulous men, vicious mobsters, sycophantic DAs, weak journalists, deadly damsels and whatnot. Interestingly, it also managed to be a quietly evocative exploration of love and friendship. Hammett’s flair for staccato prose, tar-drenched cynicism, bleak worldview, sordid portrayal of unbridled greed, lust and violence, and ability to balance blazing storytelling with complex thematic probing and shifting relationships, made this a compelling read. The unnamed city where the action happens, with its concrete high-rises, shady joints and seedy underbelly, formed the perfect setting for the proceedings. The book’s legacy has been sealed, among others, by naming the award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year as ‘Glass Key Award’.

Author: Dashiell Hammett
Genre: Crime Thriller/Political Thriller/Roman Noir/Hardboiled
Language: English
Country: US