by Dashiell Hammett
The Continental Op is the narrator of most of Hammett's "pulp fiction" short stories, and a couple of novels too. A mysterious character, he gives several false names but never his real one. An operative from the San Francisco office of the Continental Detective Agency (apparently a fictionalized version of Pinkerton), the Op is a big, barrel-shaped, hard-drinking, straight-shooting customer with guts of steel and a mind like a diamond-tipped drill. And as this story depicts so well, he is also ruthless when crossed.
It's a pretty disturbing story, actually. Sent to solve a case in the fictional city of Personville (often pronounced "Poisonville"), he instead finds himself caught in the middle of a political machine meltdown. Crooked politicians, crooked cops, and just plain crooks-- who usually get along so well-- are suddenly at each other's throats. And when a particular dame bites the dust, and even the Op doesn't know for sure whether he did her in, he decides it's payback time. Only instead of killing all the bad guys, he works out how to get them to kill each other.
As I said, disturbing. I think the movie Last Man Standing might give you an idea. But in its terse, tense, gripping way, this is also a masterpiece of hardboiled fiction. The dialogue snaps. The plot writhes with irony, double-cross, red herrings, and surprises. There is action, suspense, and perhaps what would once have been considered a subversive political message. And though the mystery will keep you guessing, the most fascinating mystery of all lies in the heart of the Continental Op himself.
Parental advisory: this book depicts violence and heavy alcohol use.
Recommended Age: 16+
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