|One of two movie versions of The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett, this one starring Veronica Lake|
The Glass Key (1931)
by Dashiell Hammett
Dashiell Hammett is one of those authors, like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, who have been so wholly absorbed into popular culture that they cease to exist as independent works of literature. Dashiell Hammett did not invent crime fiction, indeed, crime fiction went back to 18th century penny dreadfuls and crime played a prominent part in early 18th century novels like Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. But Hammett essentially elevated the genre of "Hard boiled crime fiction" from something thought as genre fiction to serious art. Of course, the effect of his work WITHIN the genre was significant as well, patterning multiple generation of books, films and television series.
Unlike Red Harvest (1929) and The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key lacks a specific geographic location to serve as a focal point for the action. Instea, The Glass Key takes place in a nameless American city. This gives The Glass Key an abstract quality that is lacking in the more concrete Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. At times, the dissociative quality of a nameless location and machiavellian manipulations in the course of the plot give The Glass Key an experimental quality, or perhaps a Platonic quality- the perfection of the form without the distraction of San Francisco.
Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key all share a fascination with corruption, power and wealth. Dashiell Hammett is very much an example of an artist who was both popular and critically acclaimed, and he has endured as a result of this combination, staying in print, and inspiring classic work in other artforms, particularly film.