meilufay’s #CBR4 review #70 The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
It’s interesting to me that in terms of influence, Raymond Chandler seems to be cited more by novelists (Paul Auster, China Miéville) and Dashiell Hammett, by filmmakers (the Coen Brothers, Rian Johnson). Both the Coen Brother’s Miller’s Crossing and Rian Johnson’s Brick were influenced by Hammett’s writing and all three filmmakers specifically cite The Glass Key. As part of my crime fiction spree, I had been planning to read the Maltese Falcon or the Thin Man (because I’ve seen both movies), but my library didn’t have either available. A quick internet search revealed the interesting factoid that both the Coen Brothers and Rian Johnson named this book as a particular influence and so of course I had to read it. I’d never heard of The Glass Key before (though of course I’d heard of Dashiell Hammett) so I had no idea of what I was getting into.
The Glass Key gives almost no exposition. It describes what is happening but gives almost no narrative background. The reader is left to infer who everyone is based on their actions and dialogue. Whereas Raymond Chandler’s hero Philip Marlowe is wittily succinct, Dashiell Hammett’s Ned Beaumont is the strong silent type, saying almost nothing. Like Marlowe, Beaumont clearly feels deeply while saying as little as possible. The literal beatings that Beaumont is willing to endure in order to protect the reputation of his boss and friend, Paul Madvig, and solve the mystery, is a testimony to Beaumont’s loyalty and strength of character. Despite the fact that he lives in a morally corrupt world, and at least passively participates in a morally corrupt system, Beaumont comes across as a character of integrity. His rules may not be the same as society’s but unlike society’s rules they are inviolate.
By the end of the first chapter, I was completely hooked by this book. The lack of exposition makes the action very immediate and gripping. I literally could not put it down. I can not wait to read more Dashiell Hammett books.