"You're her daughter," she cried; "and you're cursed with the same black soul and rotten blood that she and I and all the Dains have had..."
A young woman, for whom drug addiction may be the least of her problems, believes she is cursed by bad family blood. Those close to her have a way of finding themselves badly hurt - or dead - in ways for which she may or may not be responsible. And it's up to a detective whose name we never learn to find out the truth behind The Dain Curse. That's the title of Dashiell Hammett's second novel, originally published in 1929, featuring his anonymous detective, a man who worked as an investigator for the Continental Insurance Company, who is known to us simply as "The Continental Op." The Dain Curse is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Dashiell Hammett was one of the strongest influences on the hard-boiled Private Investigator mysteries which became the dominant style used by most American authors looking for ways to challenge the puzzle-oriented tradition of the Golden Age detective story. Before Nick and Nora Charles, before Sam Spade, Hammett created the Continental Op. He's not smooth, not suave, not sophisticated; he's short and fat and kind of dumpy. But though he doesn't seek out violence, he'll respond to it if he has to - and, in The Dain Curse, that happens with some frequency.
In the first section, of the book, the Op is assigned by his insurance company to investigate the theft of some valuable jewelry from a scientist named Edgar Leggett. Leggett’s wife, Alice, and the mother of his daughter Gabrielle, named Lily, were both members of the Dain family – and they, and those around them, seem plagued by often-fatal bad luck. Gabrielle believes that she is cursed by the family’s bad blood. Soon enough, there will be murder, and signs that Gabrielle may have been directly – or indirectly – responsible, which she attributes to the Dain curse.
In the second part of the book, the Op finds himself hunting down Gabrielle at the headquarters of a very weird religious cult – and, once again, in true hardboiled style, there is murder and, again, possible evidence that some family curse is involved.
In the final section, we have really two more stories, again with the Op and Gabrielle at the center – and some really interesting twists that may surprise readers.
I’m deliberately being vague because the stories are so full of action, so full of character, and, very often, so surprising that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of it for you. Hammett’s plots here are vintage hardboiled private-eye stuff, and they move along at a breakneck pace. Regular visitors to this site know that I'm not much of a fan of so-called "noir" mysteries or of hard-boiled private eyes - but Dashiell Hammett's writing is breathtakingly good, and I can recommend The Dain Curse without any hesitation.