A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:

DASHIELL HAMMETT – The Dain Curse. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1928. Originally published as the following stories from Black Mask magazine: “Black Lives” (November 1928), “The Hollow Temple” (December 1928), “Black Honeymoon” (January 1929), “Black Riddle” (February 1929).   Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and paperback, including Permabook M-4198, 1961 (shown). TV movie [4-episode mini-series]: 1978; with James Coburn as “Hamilton Nash”.


   The Dain Curse is one of two novel-length works featuring the Continental Op. It was originally written for Black Mask as four separate novelettes; taken together, the four interconnected “cases” comprise a kind of criminous family saga in which Hammett all but decimates the “Black Dains” of San Francisco.

   The novel begins with the Op, who has been hired by an insurance company to look into a diamond robbery at the home of Edgar Leggett (real name Dain), finding one of the missing stones:

    “It was a diamond all right, shining in the grass half a dozen feet from the blue brick wall.”

   Just a few of the more than thirty characters he subsequently encounters: Leggett/Dain, a scientist working at home on a process for coloring diamonds; his daughter, Gabrielle, who feels she has bad blood and is cursed and whose drug addiction is a focal point of the story line; the family’s mulatto maid, Minnie Hershey; Gabrielle’s doctor, Riese; her fiance, Eric Collinson (a puckish Hammett tribute to the pseudonym under which his first Black Mask stories were published); Joseph Haldorn and his wife, Aaronia, who run a religious cult called the Temple of the Holy Grail; writer Owen Fitzstephan; and a couple of other private detectives investigating Leggett/Dain’s shady past.

HAMMETT The Dain Curse

   The plot has numerous twists and turns, multiple climaxes, and plenty of atmospheric elements (the scenes enacted at the Temple of the Holy Grail, for instance).

   On the whole, however, it is overlong and decidedly melodramatic. As critic John Bartlow Martin wrote in Harper’s Magazine:

    “In this single Hammett novel the detective shot and stabbed one man to death, helped shoot another dead, was himself attacked with dagger, gun, chloroform and bomb, fought off a ghostly manifestation barehanded, wrestled with five women, cured a girl of narcotic addiction — and … was obliged to deal with one seduction, eight murders, a jewel burglary, and a family curse.”

   The Dain Curse is more cleanly plotted and credible than the first Op novel, Red Harvest (1927), in which more than thirty people die, including no fewer than a dozen of the main characters. But its flaws prove that it is the novelette, not the novel, to which the Continental Op was best suited and in which his finest cases are chronicled.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.