Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett - Alfred A. Knopf, Inc

I like the Continental Op. But he is a failure in The Dain Curse. It's not his fault. He is in there punching, kicking and stirring things up, taking names and making notes as usual but the story is a mess. And the Op can not save us from Hammett's mess.

He tries though. “...You don't catch murders by amusing yourself with interesting thoughts. You've got to sit down to all the facts you can get and turn them over and over till they click.”

There are the stolen diamonds and the two murders that introduce Gabriell Leggett to us. She is a Dain family descendant and the recipient of the family curse. Following these murders she tries to hide from the curse in the midst of a religious cult only to be followed by the curse and the Op. There are two more murders and several murder attempts before the Op gets her to safety.

Safety is a relative thing when Gabriell is around. She marries her fiancé and they try hiding in a small town below San Francisco. The newlywed husband is the first of three more deaths, Gabriell gets kidnapped and a hand grenade almost gets the Op. Oh, and then the Op helps Gabriell kick her morphine habit cold turkey. And at that point we are still looking for the person or persons behind all the killing. Eventually the Op ties it all together for us.

The Dain Curse reads like three good Op short stories wired together to make a novel. The best thing I can say about it is Hammett follows it up with The Maltese Falcon.

George W. Parker

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck - Viking

Ethan Hawley is a store clerk in the store he used to own. He is a business failure in the small New England town his whaling ancestors use to dominate. Thanks to those ancestors he is still considered relevant, but that respect will not be passed on to his children unless he changes his life significantly. So he decides to rob the bank next door to finance his business comeback.

Taking a long, hard look at the world around him, at the growing commercialism, government cronyism, under the table deals Ethan puts aside his personal beliefs for a short time so that he can become a mover and shaker in the local business world. He weaves a plot to personal, financial security by manipulating people and events with a sure hand, a deft mind and a great sense of humor and self honesty.

For me the heart of the book is Ethan's justification for shelving his morals: “... But my objective was limited and, once achieved, I could take back my habit of conduct. I knew I could. War did not make a killer of me, although for a time I killed men. ...”

Do the ends justify the means? Do the means change the man? In Ethan Hawley's case the means does exact its toll.

Unlike most of Steinbeck's work The Winter of Our Discontent is accessible, entertaining and well worth your time. He is dead on in his examination of American capitalism, politics, and integrity. I believe the story more relevant now than when it was first published.

George W. Parker