The Glass Key
by Dashiell Hammett
Of Hammett's hardboiled detective novels, The Maltese Falcon
made the most memorable movie, and The Thin Man
inspired the most popular broadcast series. And then there are any number of novels and short stories starring the nameless Continental Op. Seemingly lost in the shadow of these giants is this book, yet I think it is the best thing Dashiell Hammett ever wrote. I would even call it the most perfect hardboiled novel I have ever read. One of the few perfect novels, period.
The hero, like Hammett himself, is an alcoholic slowly dying of tuberculosis. His name is Ned Beaumont, and he is not a Private Eye. Actually he is just a gambler, by profession, and the brains behind local political-machine boss Paul Madvig, by avocation. Now Madvig wants to move up in the world, and one of the steps is to marry a wealthy senator's daughter. But before he can make this step, he finds himself the chief suspect in a murder. And the one person shrewd enough, relentless enough, and (maybe) loyal enough to find out who really did the crime is his friend Ned.
In a twisty, turny mystery full of action, suspense, red herrings, and devastating irony, Ned pursues the trail of the killer-- and eludes becoming the next victim. He gets knocked around a lot by bad guys. He gets tangled in a love triangle. With his increasingly frail health and growing cynicism about human nature, he comes to question the political system, the nature of right and wrong, and even whether his friend Madvig could actually be guilty.
The result is a book so clear, clean, and tightly woven that, if you bend it, it snaps back, and a hero so cool that you can see his breath when he talks. Without the slightest hint of sentimentality, it builds to an emotionally crushing ending. I love this book. Are you ready for it?
Parental advisory: this book depicts heavy alcohol use.
Recommended Age: 16+
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