Re: RARA-AVIS: Surprise Endings (was "Unreliable narrator")

Date: 12 Nov 2005


Re your comments below:

> I can't dispute anything you say about Maltese
> Falcon, although I don't
> remember plot being as imporant as character in that
> novel.

That's my point. Hammett constructed a tight, logically worked out puzzle plot, complete with a surprise revelation at the end, yet he did not do so at the expense of character, action, or suspense.

If you read the Continental Op short stories, you may be surprised at how many hinge on precisely the kind of plot twists associated with a more traditional whodunit in the Christie/Sayers/Queen mold.

Yet, as with FALCON, the Op's compelling character; Hammett's hard, tough style; the superbly realized San Francisco setting; the hard, dark milieu; and the ever-present possibility of danger and violence are what we take away from Hammett, not amazement at the ingeniousness of the puzzles.

The point is a tightly organized puzzle plot, and a surprise ending, doesn't have to come at the expense of character, atmosphere, suspense, or good writing.

> I'm sorry to say that
> the casual racism and misogyny of that time period
> taint the work for me, so
> that I can't read it again, but that's another
> issue.

That's a shame. I don't think there's a lot of casual racism of misogyny in Hammett's work, but I infer that it's not Hammett's work, per se, but the era, and the attitudes of that era, you object to. That's too bad, because you're denying yourself a hell of a lot of good reading, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Twain to Austen. To say nothing of all the great pulp writers who flourished between the wars.

> I do think Agatha Christie is the most overrated
> author in history and her
> cheating and lack of characterization are stunning.

I wouldn't say she cheated, within the parameters of the kind of story she told, but, aside from that, I think your criticisms of Christie are on the mark. On the other hand, no one stays as popular as she has, for as long as she has (and she's still one of the most popular mystery writers in print more than two decades after her death) without having something on the ball, so if her particular charm happens to elude us, well, maybe that doesn't really matter to the people who DO like her.


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