By November 30, 2009 0 Comments Read More →


Way back on December 22, 2008, I posted a column on The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett.  Hammett is one of the newer additions to The Big Read but the title selected for that enterprise is The Maltese Falcon

My local mystery fiction book discussion group had me do my PowerPoint on the history of crime fiction a few days back.  Needing a benchmark book to define what the difference would be between a mystery novel and a work of crime fiction, I selected The Glass Key.

After the discussion at the group, and after reading Ted Balcom’s post on November 21st called People We Don’t Like, I was reminded that one of the non-appeals for some people is an unlikeable character.  I guess I can understand that as I often argue that the No. 1 appeal factor in mystery fiction is the character.

Yet, would we want to give up Tom Ripley, the creation of Patricia Highsmith?  If we once found E. W. Hornung’s gentleman rogue Raffles amusing, is that why we are drawn to Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter?

Do we lose the appeal factor for some readings when the characters turn as dark as Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me or Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho?

If the book is well written, I have no problem with any warped wacko the author wishes to create. 

This, however, was not true of the mystery fiction group.  They had a hard time understanding Ned Beaumont.  They struggled with a man who would say “I can stand anything I’ve got to stand” and then took beating after beating out of some false loyalty to the people who are not loyal to him. 

But you know what–they talked about this guy for a long time.  And that is the real key, not a glass one, to a good book discussion.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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