The Dain Curse is my second excursion with the Continental Op. I read Red Harvest about a year ago and really enjoyed it. In Red Harvest, the Op is battling gangsters in a mess of a town. Part of me expected the same sort of thing from the Dain Curse. While there were similar gangster-like elements, the overall plot structure was fairly different.
The Dain Curse plot is, at its heart, what you might expect from a robbery/murder mystery story. It involves a lot of intrigue, misdirection, suspense, etc. At the same time, it's not your standard mystery novel a la Sherlock Holmes. It's definitely gritty and "hardboiled" in the same style as the earlier Hammett I'd read.
One thing I noticed quickly was just how twisty the path was along the story arc. Things start out simple enough with our Op investigating a small scale jewel robbery as a representative for the insurance company who will have to pay the claim on the missing diamonds. The Op's detective nature shines as he questions the surface value of the facts and doesn't accept the "easy answer" that the suspects and the insurance company would like him to take. Instead, he keeps digging and before long, the jewel theft gets forgotten as murder becomes the primary crime…and then another murder…and another.
The language, imagery and pacing of Hammett's novel was fabulous. It was very easy to get caught up in the action and the adventure of the story. The depth and intrigue of the mystery was very impressive. In the end, I could follow the unraveling of the mystery but there were constant wild cards thrown from seemingly out of nowhere that threw into a spin any theories I had already come up with.
The biggest downside of the book were the times when everything was spelled out. While it was very interesting reading the entire plot unraveled so the whole mystery was exposed, the segment where this happened was a somewhat drudgerous read. Still, I was compelled to read it to make sure I didn't miss anything. The main drudgery of the explanation was due to its length and intricacy. The final mystery had layer upon layer of detail and a whole stage of characters. As a result, the wrap up took a long time to get out and part of me wanted to skip past it, while the other part wanted to make sure I understood everything.
While not as action packed as the gangster hunting events of Red Harvest, the mystery and intrigue level of The Dain Curse were taken up a notch. Once again, I found myself really enjoying the minimal, course, gritty, blunt style of Hammett and I look forward to reading more.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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