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A change of pace for Hammett
on July 23, 2002
This time around, the main character is not a detective, but a gambler with political friends & enemies, one friend in particular. While there is a dead body early in the story, this protagonist doesn't seem all that interested in who the murderer is until the pivotal scene when he gets severely beaten for not turning on his former friend who he's temporarily on the outs with.
I've noticed this plot gimmick more than once in Hammett. The rascally characters bring the protagonist's wrath upon them by needlessly attacking him. That happened in one of the shorter Continental Op stories and then again in Red Harvest and now in this one. One could put The Maltese Falcon in that class also.
Personally, I had trouble liking the characters until that pivotal scene, and then only did I get involved with them. So I do feel that this had the weakest opening of Hammett's major works. However, once one gets through the first part, it becomes as riveting as any of Hammett's.
So I do very much recommend this one along with Hammett's other books.