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The Dain Curse [Paperback]

Dashiell Hammett
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 17 1989 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
The Continental Op is a short, squat, and utterly unsentimental tank of a private detective. Miss Gabrielle Dain Leggett is young, wealthy, and a devotee of morphine and religious cults. She has an unfortunate effect on the people around her: they have a habit of dying violently. Is Gabrielle the victim of a family curse? Or is the truth about her weirder and infinitely more dangerous? The Dain Curse is one of the Continental Op's most bizarre cases, and a tautly crafted masterpiece of suspense.

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Everything about the Leggett diamond heist indicated to the Continental Op that it was an inside job. From the stray diamond found in the yard to the eyewitness accounts of a "strange man" casing the house, everything was just too pat. Gabrielle Dain-Leggett has enough secrets to fill a closet, and when she disappears shortly after the robbery, she becomes the Op's prime suspect. But her father, Edgar Leggett, keeps some strange company himself and has a dark side the moon would envy. Before he can solve the riddle of the diamond theft, the Continental Op must first solve the mystery of this strange family.

About the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex Story From One of the Best March 8 2014
By Debra Purdy Kong TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The Continental Op’s (he’s never named) assignment is to investigate the theft of diamonds from the Leggett family home. When one of the two suspects is quickly found murdered, the Leggetts’ story about what really happened begins to unravel. As it does, the past and the present slowly reveal themselves in a quagmire of trouble.

For most novels, this would be enough material to fill one book, but for Dashiell Hammett, this is only the first of three parts that become steadily darker and seedier as the story progresses. The key figure in the book is Gabrielle Leggett, the confused, aloof daughter plagued by her own demons. Just when the Continental Op thinks he’s done with the family, he’s asked to watch over Gabrielle who’s recovering from tragedy at a Temple, which appears to be a religious cult. From there, things only get worse.

What can I say about Dashiell Hammett that hasn’t already been said? Having read his work after so many years, I understand why he’s considered one of the masters of the detective novel. It was a welcome change to read mystery that’s kicking it old style. There’s no hi-tech gimmicks in this story, just a lot of leg work and—on the downside--some sexism and racist slurs that were prevalent back then. Still, this whodunit will keep you guessing as hidden agendas and connections make a simple plot increasingly complex. Having said that, the twisted motivations and secret relationships in this book became so extensive that it stretched credibility by the end, however this won’t deter us true Hammett fans from reading more of his work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a real page turner June 13 2004
By Toby
Format:Paperback
Unlike most people, I feel that THE DAIN CURSE was one of the best novels that Hammett has written. After reading THE MALTISE FALCON, and THE THIN MAN, this novel seemed to keep my attention more than the other two. It had action at every turn, and seemed not to dwell on one point, but investigate the different aspects of the case. This was a great novel, and was worth reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but Unusually Vacuous for Hammett. April 16 2004
Format:Paperback
"The Dain Curse" originally appeared as 4 serials in "Black Mask" magazine, 1928-1929, and was reworked and published as a novel shortly thereafter. The novel impresses me more strongly as a soap opera in three acts than a detective story. Yes, there is a detective, the always nameless Continental Op. And there is certainly a mystery. There are a lot of mysteries, in fact. But "The Dain Curse" is the most far-fetched of Dashiell Hammett's works that I've read, and the least cynical of his novels. I wouldn't call this book well-written, but it's a page-turner. The plot is so convoluted that the reader is even more anxious than usual to read to the end in order to find out what our detective will make of it. And that's the heart of the novel's problems: We keep reading because we are curious to know how the Op will unravel this messy, incomprehensible case. We don't keep reading because we are interested in the characters, the story, or the language. Those elements are far less intriguing than I have come to expect from Hammett. Perhaps it's because Hammett strayed from the world of gangsters and thugs that he knew best, but "The Dain Curse"'s conglomeration of religious cults, drug addiction, melodrama, and bourgeois murder just isn't credible on any level. The central female character in the book, Gabrielle, is more of a damsel in distress than a femme fatale, and she is rather unattractive, physically and intellectually. There's nothing wrong with these things, in themselves, but they typify "The Dain Curse"'s departure from Dashiell Hammett's traditional themes and style. Unfortunately, if this novel was an experiment, it wasn't a very successful one. But I don't deny that it's entertaining on a certain level. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars "Curse" strikes intermittently March 14 2004
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Dashiell Hammett brought the noir detective into the limelight with "Maltese Falcon," but it wasn't the first or only novel he wrote about hard-edged, hard-boiled detectives. Among his early works was the Continental Op in "The Dain Curse," a scattered but interesting three-tier mystery.
Diamonds have been stolen, and the Continental Op has been called in to find out what has happened. But he finds that the whole story that is given to him has a "wrong" feeling to it -- mysterious men, a diamond he finds on the ground. When the Op digs further, he finds a web of murder, jealousy and hate that spreads back over young Gabrielle Leggett's life.
After the trauma of her father's murder, the Op takes Gabrielle to the Temple of the Holy Grail, a San Francisco cult. At first it seems like a slightly goofy but harmless little pseudo-religion -- until a hideous specter in the Op's room, and a murder that seems to have been committed by Gabrielle, shows that something sinister is lurking there. And finally, the "Dain curse" seemingly strikes again when Gabrielle's young husband is found dead...
Before anyone knew about Sam Spade, Hammett was churning out pulp fiction about the Continental Op in his trademark spare, sharp prose. "The Dain Curse" feels like three loosely connected short stories -- only Gabrielle Leggett ties them together, and the idea of the "Dain curse" (which is never fully dealt with -- though it makes an enticing title) which supposedly kills everyone around Gabrielle.
Hammett's writing is as dry and spare as always. However, the stories sometimes seem too short, especially the second one, which ends on a hurried note (we're only told of Gabrielle's marriage as a sort of postscript).
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Hammett Flops
This is a poorly constructed novel that only a masochist would bother finishing. The excessive plot twists are propped up by awkward explanation opportunities that inhibit what... Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2003 by ReviewMan
4.0 out of 5 stars In Spite of Flaws, Hammett's Second Novel Is A Winner
Today, of course, Dashiell Hammett's reputation rests largely on the legendary novel THE MALTESE FALCON, but this does not mean that his other work isn't worth a look, and THE DAIN... Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2003 by Gary F. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars More Continetal Op
The Dain Curse begins with a routine insurance investigation. Some moderately valuable diamonds were stolen and the Continental Op is put on the case to find the culprit. Read more
Published on July 19 2003 by Thomas Stamper
3.0 out of 5 stars Read Any Other Hammett Before This
All of Hammett's other novels (The Glass Key, Red Harvest, The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon) are five-star reads; his short stories (collected in The Big Knockover and The... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2003 by saara
3.0 out of 5 stars The Maltese Falcon it ain't
The Dain Curse recounts a mystery seen through the eyes of The Continental Op, a stocky, perceptive and industrious middle aged sleuth employed by an insurance firm. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2002 by Cory D. Slipman
4.0 out of 5 stars The last third makes the first two thirds worth reading
A little below standard for Dashell Hammett and for his Continental Op stories, the climactic last third represents some of the author's best writing. Read more
Published on July 22 2002 by Neal C. Reynolds
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unattractive Heroine
In the middle of THE DAIN CURSE the scene shifts to the temple of a San Francisco cult started by Joseph and Aaronia Haldorn, a couple of mediocre actors. Read more
Published on July 11 2002 by Peter Kenney
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Hammett's best, but still plenty good enough!
Of all the protagonists Dashiell Hammett created -- Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, Ned Beaumont -- the Continental Op, for my taste, is the most enduring and compelling. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2001 by Paul Dana
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Fast Enough
The most interesting aspects of this work are the method by which Hammett chooses to tell the tale and the fact that it shows the development of Hammett as a writer. Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2000 by Rosemary Brunschwyler
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