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Top mysteries review: Red Harvest

Year of publication: 1929
Series and no.: The Continental Op, first novel, preceeded by and based on short stories
Genre: Noir thriller
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Personville, a fictional town in the western USA, probably California or Nevada.

The nameless narrator, know to the reader only as the Continental Op, arrives in the small city of Personville where the crime situation has become so bad that people have started calling it Poisonville. His client is murdered before he can meet him, but the dead man’s father retains his services to find the killer. The Op starts investigating and uncovers all sorts of nastiness, and events finally lead to him becoming so annoyed with the place and it’s criminal elements that he decides to clean up the town.

Review and rating:
Like the previous two Hammett novels I have reviewed, this one is written in a spare and quick style and the narrative moves fast. The story is nasty and brutal and slightly tempered with the narrator’s sarcastic humour. Few if any of the characters are truly likeable, except perhaps for the femme fatale, whom one can not help liking on a certain level, even though she is scheming and greedy.

The narrative is in the first person, told by the Continental Op, Hammett’s nameless first hard-boiled detective about whom he wrote two novels and a series of short stories, some of which he elaborated on and connected together to make this novel. The Op is a true hard-boiled detective, a prototype for those who would follow: Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer and more of their ilk. He is cold, tough, calculating, hard-dinking, clever and manipulative and possessed of a great deal of shadenfreude. In fact I would describe him as a sociopathic bastard of the first order, capable of anything, including murder. He is rather too inhuman for my liking, but then I happen to dislike violence for the sake of the same and with this dislike comes a dislike of violent people, and since this novel is a collection of both, I didn’t like it much. 2+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 91.

Place on the list(s): CWA: #94; MWA: #39.


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