Monday, 24 July 2000

Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse (1929)

Edition: Avenel Books, 1980
Review number: 545

With the same first person narrator and style as The Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett's second novel starts out with a feeling of familiarity. Many aspects are similar (the level of violence, for example), but The Dain Curse is a far more complex piece of writing. Three linked sets of murders take place and arae investigated through the book, with Gabrielle Leggett at their centre. She believes herself cursed, bound to do evil, by the taint of the Dain family blood inherited from her mother.

The second set of murders take place at the headquarters of a San Francisco cult, and the combination of this with the idea of the curse produces quite an eerie atmosphere, despite the best efforts of the hard-headed narrator. Hammett expertly juggles all the plot elements to continually produce plausible explanations for what is happening - or at least ones which seem plausible for a few pages - until the truth is revealed in the very last chapter. An excellent mystery and an excellent thriller.

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