Who wrote this book and when?
Dashiell Hammett published this in 1929.
Has there been a film version?
Only one film has been made and called itself a direct interpretation – “Roadhouse Nights” in 1930. The plot is significantly different, however, and most people do not consider it a faithful adaptation. Ironically, the most similar film to this story is considered to be the Japanese classic “Yojimbo.”
Who are the important characters?
The Continental Op – the narrator, who is nameless, a private detective sent to investigate a murder
Max “Whisper” Thaler – one of the top four bosses in Personville, he cannot speak above a whisper
Dinah Brand – the love interest/mistress of the murder victim and several other men
Elihu Willson – the father of the murder victim, former big fist in Personville who hired the four mobsters and then let them run out of control
Noonan – the dirty chief of police
Reno Starkey – another of the four big fists in Personville
Dan Rolff – Dinah Brand’s companion
Lew Yard – the third Personville mobster
Pete the Finn – the fourth bigwig in Personville
MacSwain – an informer
What’s it about?
The Continental Op is called in from San Francisco to investigate the murder of Donald Willson – the son of the most prominent man in Personville, or “Poisonville” as the locals call it. He arrives to find a town completely run by mobsters and dirty cops and is disgusted enough to blackmail his client into giving him $10,000 to clean up the town completely. From then on, anything goes as the Op begins to play all of the dirty businessmen, police, politicians, and even townsfolk against each other.
Why is this book a bestseller/classic?
It’s one of the best stories by the quintessential noir authors in the business.
Do I recommend you read this book?
Very much so. If you enjoyed either “The Maltese Falcon” or “The Thin Man” films, you will enjoy this book – it’s by the same author.
How did this book make my list?
Hammett is about the only mystery writer I enjoy reading.
Has it won any awards?
I don’t think so.
“She looked as if she were telling the truth, though with women, especially blue-eyed women, that doesn’t always mean anything.” – p 76
This story is based on Hammett’s actual experiences while working for Pinkerton’s Detective agency.
This has been my favorite Hammett novel so far. While Sam Spade’s character put me off in “Maltese Falcon,” and the Thin Man was hard to rate better than the movie, this novel just shone. Every person was perfectly realized, none of them were the same person when all four of the mob bosses or the three Ops could have turned out cookie cutter characters. The plot was thick enough to pour over hotcakes, but kept moving along at a smart pace and you never knew who was going to turn out dirty and who was going to be clean, and who was in the middle. This doesn’t count the Op himself as an exception. There were car chases, gunfights, murders, set ups, stool pigeons, explosions, abandoned warehouses, prohibited alcoholic beverages, and grumpy old men. I’d probably classify this as the perfect noir novel.