But I thought everybody was supposed to be considered innocent until they were proved guilty and if there was any reasonable doubt–
That’s for juries, not detectives. You find the guy you think did the murder and you slam him in the can and let everybody know you think he’s guilty and put his picture all over newspapers, and the District Attorney builds up the best theory he can on what information you’ve got […] come in and tell you things about him and presently you’ve got him sitting on the electric chair (195)
In speakeasies and small social gatherings centered around alcohol, conversation is placed on hold by the blur of drinks, playful banter and hints of sexual innuendo. Nick and Nora Charles, our investigative couple are “too cool” for the shenanigans they encounter. Their back-and-forth is cute, urbane and reasonably detached from the acquaintances that bring drama to their doorstep.
When Nick (former detective) and Nora (his wife) get mixed up with the disappearance of a man named Wynant and the murder of his assistant, Nick wants nothing to do with it. This attitude permeates the pages. It’s almost overpowering. Nick doesn’t appear to give a damn–so why should the reader?
The characters and their interactions–that’s why!
The other characters (almost all are suspects) are solid. Common sense gained from other forms of crime fiction, more likely than not derived from Hammett’s prose, tells the reader the estranged, bitter and broke ex-wife would be the obvious perpetrator. But it’s too obvious. It’s not her. Mimi is so snide and phony it’s entertaining. Her coquettish, aggressive, borderline violent interactions with Nick are worth the read.
The same applies to Gilbert, Mimi’s son–what a weirdo! His obsessions are peculiar but believable. Nick indulges his forensic fascinations and they establish a bond. Gilbert is written so the reader believes he’s up to no good, and he’ll either be a detective or an infamous wrongdoer one day.
“When the murders are committed by mathematicians,” I said, “you can solve them by mathematics. Most of them aren’t and this one wasn’t.” (195)
But going back to the plot, it’s nothing special. More thought is put into portraying intricacies of detective instinct than solving the murder case. However, it’s clear Hammett’s work is an original.