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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

The Glass Key is a crime novel by Dashiell Hammett, published by Knopf in 1931 (immediately following the publication of the successful The Maltese Falcon). The novel's central crime is the murder of one Taylor Henry, who is found dead in China Street nearby the Log Cabin Club—a gambling establishment where a group of gamblers and mob boss Paul Madvig do business. Taylor Henry is the son of a senator to whom the powerful Madvig gives his support in the interest of marrying his daughter, Janet.

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Madvig is friends with the primary protagonist, Ned Beaumont, a gambler and small-time criminal. It is Beaumont who finds Taylor Henry's body in the street. After he finds the body, he approaches Madvig before going to the police. Madvig gives him permission to do so. The discovery of the murder coincides with Ned having won a lot of money on a horse race; however, when he goes to collect the money, the bookie, Bernie Despain, is missing. Keen on getting his money, Beaumont follows Despain and plants Taylor's hat, threatening to incriminate him and thus extorting his money.

It is suggested that Madvig and Beaumont are unsavory characters for the way they treat a stammering fellow gambler, Walter Ivans, to whom Madvig owes money. This Walter Ivans later goes to a rival mob boss, Shad O'Rory, who kills a witness to Ivans's brother's crime, thus setting in motion a heightened antagonism between O'Rory and Madvig. O'Rory tortures Beaumont, leading the latter to a hospital. In the hospital, his discussions with Madvig's daughter, Opal (who herself had been romantically, but secretly, involved with the senator's murdered son), as well as with Madvig's love interest, Janet, lead him to believe that Madvig is innocent, despite Opal's insistence that he is guilty.

Madvig confesses that he had a fight with Taylor Henry on the evening of the murder, and that he killed Taylor with the latter's own cane. Beaumont's further investigations lead him to discover that the senator himself intervened to finish his son off, angered by his own son's audacity to fight with Madvig, who backed the senator for re-election. Beaumont calls the police, and Madvig is exonerated, but the two are no longer friends.

Janet (the senator's daughter and Madvig's former love interest) plans to begin living with Beaumont in New York. The title is taken from a dream that Janet had in which she and Beaumont enter a house using a glass key.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 920

Ned Beaumont reports to his friend, Paul Madvig, the political boss of a town in the New York City area, that he has found the dead body of Taylor Henry, the son of Senator Henry, Madvig’s candidate for reelection. When Madvig fails to show much interest, Ned tells his story to the police. The next day, he goes to Bernie Despain to collect $3,250 that he had won betting on a horse race. He finds that Bernie has vanished, leaving behind IOUs made out by Taylor Henry to the worth of $1,200. Ned asks to be appointed special investigator in the district attorney’s office so that he can work on the Taylor Henry case. What he really wants to do is to find Bernie and get his money.

His first step is to get the help of Madvig’s daughter, Opal, who had been meeting Taylor secretly. Ned did not find a hat on Taylor the night of the murder. Opal gave him one from the room she and Taylor had rented. Then Ned goes to a speakeasy in New York that Bernie frequented. Bernie comes in accompanied by a burly bodyguard who, when Ned demands his money, strikes Ned a terrific blow. With the help of Jack Rumsen, a private detective, Ned trails Bernie from the hotel where he is staying to a brownstone house on Forty-ninth Street. There he tells Bernie that he planted Taylor’s hat behind a sofa...

(The entire section contains 1329 words.)

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