The Dain Curse (Dashiell Hammett)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

First serialized in the pulp magazine Black Mask (November 1928–February 1929), linked short stories connected with the enigmatic Gabrielle Leggett, who believes herself cursed; everyone around her seems to die.

The Dain Curse is infinitely superior in every way to the abysmal Red Harvest. I could give another star, but I wrote this review between two Hammetts, both of which I hated.

For a start, it’s a fair play detective story. The murderer is an effective surprise (although see reservations below), and there are clues.

Tough-guy Hammett is less violent; only half the characters are murdered, and there are a mere seven or eight murderers (including a hypnotised “mulatto” maid and a little girl). The plot is frenetically elaborate, but it feels more coherent than bang-bang-shoot-’em-dead. Hammett writes in longer sentences; people talk to each other, rather than snarling and wisecracking; some of them even seem to like each other. ‘Seem’ is probably the word. ROT13: Avpr Zef. Yrttrgg gheaf bhg gb or n zbafgre, n cngubybtvpnyyl wrnybhf fvfgre jub znxrf ure vasnag avrpr fubbg ure zbgure – Ruth Rendell included the scene in her anthology of the murderous mind – while ROT13: gur anzryrff qrgrpgvir’f abiryvfg sevraq vf na vafnar zheqrere. (Va Unzzrgg’f nagv-vagryyrpghny jbeyq, crbcyr jub ernq naq jevgr obbxf, naq jub znxr oba zbgf nobhg Wnzrf Oenapu Pnoryy, ner qrtrarengrf.)


A destructive fate pursues Gabrielle Leggett wherever she goes: it annihilates her home, penetrates into the new thought temple where she takes refuge, brings her wedding-trip to a tragic end and drives her to the verge of insanity. Following the girl’s amazing career by devious and unprecedented ways of his own, Mr. Hammett’s unequalled detective succeeds in vanquishing the curse that hangs over Gabrielle’s head and corners what is perhaps one of the most remarkable criminals in fiction.

Contemporary reviews

New York Herald Tribune: More than competently narrated by a cop with a picturesque lingo. Recommended for its weird characters and really astonishing speed.

Walter Brooks, in The Outlook: We want to say right here that Mr. Hammett is our favourite detective story writer. … His knowledge of the ways of criminals and detectives, which has quite obviously not ben gained by reading the detective stories of other writers… We can think of only one story of the kind better than this second book of Mr Hammett’s and that is his first.

Sunday Express: An extremely good detective story of the sensational type.

Irish Statesman: The ingredients of this mystery tale are varied and rich. There is dope in it. There are half-a-dozen murders. There is a bomb explosion. There is the middle-aged detective who tells the story; he is a mine of common sense and his speech is a mine for the student of slang. There is a new religion with faked spirits. There is money, of course. The ingredients are stirred energetically and cause a kind of dizzy excitement in the person who partakes of them… The mixture is the literary equivalent of a soul-slaying cocktail.

2 thoughts on “The Dain Curse (Dashiell Hammett)

  1. Again, it was the plot here that delighted me — and I read this one fairly recently and so know that my positive impression is relatively reliable. Hammett managed a sort of portmanteau structure that should be beyond the simple rock-em-sock-em typecasting one would anticipate this style of book falling into, and I found that unexpected development quite marvellous.


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