Christmas in New York is supposed to be a relaxing holiday for ex-detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora. Murder, though, has a habit of interrupting the best-laid plans. Nick’s former client, the rail-thin inventor Clyde Miller Wynant, disappears and his secretary is found shot dead in her home. Everyone from Clyde’s ex-wife Mimi (now married to Christian Jorgensen, who may or may not be crooked) to a visibly upset armed intruder to, via his lawyer, Clyde himself expects that Nick will take on the case. His denials being of no avail, he gives in to the inevitable and begins investigating. He and Nora visit both the high and low ends of town in pursuit of the truth behind the morass of lies which everyone seems to be telling.
I don’t know what I can say about this without giving away something. It may be short, but there are plenty of twists and turns as one statement after another is shown to have been less than honest. And even if Wynant’s claims of innocence are true, there are a number of other people who might have wanted to kill Julia Wolf, frame him, or both. I couldn’t begin to guess what they were all up to, and spent several hours in a state of happy bafflement. By the end I had to admire the ingenuity not only of Nick Charles, but the villain, who had set up a most intricate scheme that might actually have worked.
I greatly enjoy Hammett’s writing style; he has an enviable ability to conjure up people and places with a handful of well-chosen words. He’s a writer I want to read a lot more of, in the hope that it will rub off a little and improve my own writing. Another thing I like is that the female characters aren’t mild-mannered decoration - they plot extortion, send frying-pans flying, and try their own hand at sleuthing. Even the dog, Asta, doesn’t always like to behave; and I’d love to know what, when her day out included being patted by three policemen, she had been getting up to.