Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Glass Key by Dashiel Hammett

My latest read in the pursuit of tales told using 3rd person objective POV (AKA behaviourist/behaviorist POV) was Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key. I read somewhere on the internet that this was said to have been Hammett's own favourite of his novels (a quick internet search kind of supports this: Wikipedia - be wary of spoilers), and I think I see why. The Maltese Falcon is also written in this cinematic POV, and in my opinion is a pretty straightforward caper. The Glass Key is a more complex work, and yet many of the answers to the mystery are incredibly simple - in a good, non-convoluted, way. A neat trick to pull off. I guess that's why Hammett is cited as a master time and again.

The protagonist in The Glass Key seems to be pretty heavily based on Hammett himself (physical appearance, contrariness, shared health ailments) which may explain why Ned Beaumont struck a chord with many, more so than big Sam Spade, the blond devil. Personally, I enjoyed the deficit between Beaumont's hunger for action and the lack of physical ability to get himself out of harm's way. He's as bull-headed as Spade, but more likely to come off worse in an altercation.

Also, Beaumont describes himself as an amateur detective, a gambler and a political hanger-on at different points in the novel. His self-awareness carries a charm at odds with some of the shitty things he says.

With regards to the POV, in The Maltese Falcon it basically conceals the intentions of the characters, especially those of Sam Spade. The Glass Key seems to be less concerned with intention or motive, and instead what is held back is personal knowledge and emotional attachment. It's more concerned with longstanding relationships and how they might be affected by betrayal, self-preservation, suspicion of murder... all that good stuff.

I liked this one a lot, and I think it could well be my favourite Hammett book. I haven't read them all yet, but I will, so I'm interested to see how the rest hold their own as I get to them.

That's all folks. I should be writing.


Dana King said...

I read THE GLASS KEY for the first time a few weeks ago, and second everything you say here. I may still like THE MALTESE FALCON better, but that could well be due to my greater familiarity with it. That's fine, as THE GLASS KEY is well worth a re-read.

Gerard Brennan said...

Good to know, Dana. It's been a while since I read THE MALTESE FALCON, but I think I'll probably reread both it and THE GLASS KEY (back to back) in the near future. For my thesis.

Christ, I'm a lucky bastard.

But, yeah, it'll be interesting to see which one comes out as my favourite after that.