The Dain Curse

Posted by Jason Venter (October 15, 2016)

"The Dain Curse" is, from what I can tell, the second novel written by Dashiell Hammett, who I believe also wrote only two books about his fictional Continental detective agency. This one is the pseudo-sequel to his first novel, "Red Harvest," which felt enough different that I wasn't sure it even featured the same protagonist until very nearly the end.

The novel opens as the hero is investigating the apparent theft of several diamonds that were provided to a scientist. Things don't quite add up, and the detective is charged with the job of figuring out what is happening behind the scenes. In the process, he meets the scientist's daughter, the not-quite-lovely Gabrielle Leggett. She seems to have a drug problem, and she has a small forehead and suspicious looking eyes and even pointed ears. It's almost possible to believe that she suffers from an old family curse.

As the investigation proceeds, she begins to figure more prominently into certain events. She comes to believe that she suffers from the "Dain curse," since her ancestors were Dains and the people around her have an unfortunate tendency of dying.

While "Red Harvest" featured one continuous narrative that flowed smoothly from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, "The Dain Curse" feels more like a collection of stories that may or may not even be related. The main thing they have in common is that the hero is in charge of investigating various murders and shadowy dealings, and Gabrielle appears to be either at the center of things or at least prominent along the periphery.

Since "The Dain Curse" was written, various stories of this sort have followed, but it's plot twists and themes weren't all that common at the time. I found once again that Hammett had a talent for creating tension, and his descriptions were beautiful and easy to follow. Even though I didn't quite like the novel as much as his previous tale, I enjoyed seeing where things would go next.

If you're interested in seeing the hard-boiled detective genre in its early form, "The Dain Curse" is a must-read, I would say. As I go through Dashiell Hammett's work, I find myself experiencing a deepening sense of sadness because I know that he didn't actually write all that many novels before his life was tugged apart by politics and stupidity. Readers still remember his name, though, because what little creative work he did manage to produce during his writing career was so ridiculously important. Read this story and, like me, you'll have the pleasure of learning why.

Rating: 8/10

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. Follow him on Twitter if you dare, at @jasonventer.

Additional posts by Jason Venter...

[Chatter] Freelance Games Blogger Needs Regular Work

Here is a list of the skills you can pay me to put to work for your outlet!

[Reviews] The Thin Man

A breezy sort of detective story that makes me wish Hammett explored these characters in additional novels.

[Reviews] The Glass Key

Takes Hammett's usual focus on murder and mixes it with a dash of political corruption, with mixed results.


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