This particular Hughes book is well out of my usual mystery fare. Very firmly from the hard-boiled and noir schools of detective fiction. It follows SThis particular Hughes book is well out of my usual mystery fare. Very firmly from the hard-boiled and noir schools of detective fiction. It follows Sailor, ex-secretary (and sometimes-muscle man) for Senator Willis Douglass, on a journey to New Mexico to make his former boss pay up for services rendered. He plans on cashing in and then heading for the easy life over the border in Mexico. Also in town is McIntyre, Chicago detective who wants to know who really killed the Senator's wife and is determined to find out. There is very much the sense of the watchers and the hunters being watched and hunted themselves.
Not really a whodunnit--there's no question very early on about what happened to the Senator's wife and who was really responsible for her death. The story is very much about Sailor and the choices he has made...and the choices he still has before him. There are several points in the story where Sailor could choose to change and follow the right path for a change. But are there certain choices that set us irrevocably on a course from which there is no return? McIntyre seems to think that there's still hope for Sailor, but will the Senator's gunman change his ways?
There were sections of the book that I really liked--the conversations between Sailor and McIntyre were very good as the copper tries to influence the crook. It also contains terrific descriptions of the Santa Fe area in the midst of Fiesta--representing the local people and their own struggles--Indians versus Spanish descendents versus white Americans. It is a good snapshot of Southwest American in the 40s.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, MicI've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, Michael Shayne, Sam Spade and their fellows just don't really do it for me. At least not in print. The Maltese Falcon film with Humphrey Bogart? Love it. In fact, if I'm gonna do hard-boiled, private eye then I generally prefer them on screen....and in black and white, please.
But I gotta give Dashiell Hammett credit. That man could write. And I now know why (beyond Bogey) I loved the movie....because so much of the dialog was lifted right off the page. And Hammett's dialog is absolutely right for this story. There are other reviewers that said that one annoyance with having seen the movie before reading the book is that you have Bogart's and Lorre's and Greenstreet's (etc) voice in your head when you read the dialog. I would say that one of the great things about having seen the movie before reading the book is that I have Bogart's voice in my head. He was absolutely perfect as Spade and I think it really helped me get over any lurking qualms I had about hard-boiled noir to have had the visual experience first. One of the rare instances when the movie got things right.
So...for those of you who have never seen the movie or read the book...here it is in nutshell. Sam Spade is a well-worn, world-weary private eye in San Francisco. He's approached by a woman who says she wants a man named Thursby tailed because he's run off with her younger sister. Spade's partner, Archer, agrees to do the job and gets himself killed for his good deed. Thursby winds up dead as well and Spade finds himself knee-deep in plot and counter-plot as the woman changes her name three times, various shady characters show up--all thinking he's got the goods on a mysterious black statue of a bird, and the police seem to think Spade's more deeply involved in the killings than is healthy for him. Spade has to fast-talk his way around suspicious cops, wily criminals, and gorgeous dames in order get out of this one with his skin whole. He also has to figure out who's side he's on...and who, if anybody, is on his. And just what is the limit of things people will do to get their hands on this fabled falcon?
Fast-talking, high-drama, action-packed mystery. A strong, flawed detective. A mysterious woman with more curves than mountain road (and that's just in the stories she's feeds to our hero). A terrific read...and that comes from someone who doesn't enjoy the genre. If you've seen the movie, but haven't read the book--you should. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie--you should. Great stuff in both formats. Four stars.