I recently finished Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”… but really didn’t love it. When I saw this one available through the library on my Libby app, I was excited for some classic detective noir, but that wasn’t what this ended up being. It’s been a while since I’ve read Hammett, and maybe my enjoyment of his “Maltese Falcon” is clouded by my love of the movie.
It may have been just a case of high expectations, but generally think I know what I’m getting into when it comes to classic detective fiction or a typical hard boiled story.
Still, I expected more out of Nora, since I knew a little about the eventual Nick & Nora movie franchise that started from this novel. I went into it thinking she’d be more of an equal player, moving Nick along by investigating herself, but she was barely more than decoration and someone for Nick to talk at.
But I’m also disappointed with the plot; it feels overly complicated—red herrings are necessary but everyone is someone else and everyone who’s working together is really working together with someone else. After a while the tangled web became unnecessarily convoluted.
Maybe it’s a product of its time as far as writing male and female characters, and maybe it’s an attempt by Dashiell Hammett at writing something a little lighter instead of hard boiled crime fiction that didn’t translate so well for me.
All that said, while it may have been a disappointing departure from what I expected from the author and genre, I’ll still read more Hammett.Maybe I’ll like the movies better…
“In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself–,” the publisher writes, “at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire.”
The only mysterious thing about this narrative is how anyone could actually describe it in this way.
I started writing down my impressions of the book about a quarter of the way through it and by that point the most interesting part of the novel had been the brief paragraph offering a history of the lost rivers of London. This was only because it reminded me I need to get caught up on Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series.
‘Warlight’ is one of those meandering, kind of plotless, novel by anecdote—a fictional memoir that reminds me of John Banville’s “Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir”, in which there’s less linear journey of story and more loosely guided walk through the narrative grocery store; grabbing certain stories, memories, ideas, backtracking occasionally to pick up another item, another character or experience for a meal that you’re trying to prepare for without actually having the recipe to guide you.
There are so many great stories hinted at in this book, but none of them are sufficiently expanded upon. The opportunity for intriguing, absurd underworld adventures with fascinating, odd and war-damaged characters is completely wasted with only fleeting mentions of crimes and events. Everything is just out of reach, just beyond the reader’s grasp, as if you’re reading the book trapped in a fog with large portions of it obscured and hidden from you.
Maybe this was intentional, given the story I think is being told—as the reader you are the narrator, and his understanding of his post war life and the wartime actions of his mother specifically, and even her own personal history, are obscured—although for his and his sister’s protection.
But it feels more than that. It feel unfinished and poorly structured, with information inadequately doled out, the sharing of the synopsis-promised mysteries of postwar London unbalanced and lacking. It feels like such a wasted opportunity to create a unique but historically anchored world populated by odd characters existing within the dark fringes of a society that has been so broken by multiple wars it is unsure how to reintegrate it’s fractured, schizophrenic selves.
Instead I’m left needing it to just be over because I’m too far into it to walk away even though I just don’t care….
It’s reminding me so far of “Predestination”, the movie based on Robert Heinlein’s short story ‘All You Zombies’, although that was focused on time travel and the interweaving manipulations of timelines rather than exploring multiverse theory.
While I really enjoyed “Predestination” I’ve never read its source material, and after hating reading Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land” I’m a little hesitant to check it out. So I wonder if this might be a similar situation; that I might enjoy adaptations of Crouch’s work—‘Wayward Pines‘, ‘Good Behavior’ for tv and eventually “Dark Matter” itself as a film—more than I like his writing itself.
Or maybe I’ll enjoy this more as it gets going—like I said, there are probably some twists coming….