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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 345

British mystery writer Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key is a story about murder, money, friendship, and deceit. Particularly, the novel demonstrates how money—perhaps above all else—can compromise both one's reputation and one's friendships.

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Ned Beaumont's discovery of Taylor Henry's body goes unreported until he clears it with his friend Paul Madvig, a mob boss. In the novel's opening scene, Madvig gives Beaumont, the protagonist (who admits to having had a bad streak of gambling), a sizable sum of money, thus revealing Madvig's practical influence on Beaumont—as well as on, it is understood, many other racketeering types in New York City. Because Madvig is the purveyor of money to those who need it, he is able to wield such influence that his friend (Beaumont) is reluctant to call the police upon finding a dead body without consulting Madvig first.

Another illustration of the power of money in the novel is when Ned Beaumont comes into several thousand dollars by betting successfully on a horse race. Beaumont probably wouldn't care so much about Taylor Henry's murder were it not for the simple fact that Bernie Despain, the man in charge of paying Beaumont his winnings from the horse race, seems to be unable to pay him as a result of having been owed money by Taylor Henry (as there were several I.O.U. notes form Henry that Despain left before allegedly leaving town). Beaumont is even willing to implicate Despain in the murder by means of procuring one of Henry's hats from the deceased's lover, Opal, and planting it in Despain's room. In this way, Beaumont extorts the money from Despain after all.

Finally, the novel's ending reveals that the senator himself accidentally killed his son, Taylor Henry, beating him out of rage at his son's having started a fight with Madvig, who supported the senator's election. The senator so valued his office that Madvig's patronage ultimately cost him his son's life. Though Paul Madvig's confession is thrown out as a result of the senator's confession, his friendship with Beaumont is severely compromised.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702


City. Unlike Hammett’s story The Maltese Falcon (1930), which carefully delineates the streets and buildings of San Francisco, The Glass Key’s primary locale is an unspecified eastern city of apparently modest size. The generic city locale allows Hammett to generalize about American society and the effect of political corruption and crime on the social structure of U.S. urban environments. Hammett was critical of the form of capitalism that he saw operating in the United States and used his criticism in his fiction to fashion a world of injustice and exploitation. The use of a mythical, unnamed city also provided him with a location lacking in familiar touchstones which might prove distracting to his readers and deflected the social and ethical impact of the narrative.

Log Cabin Club

Log Cabin Club. Gambling club on China Street that is the scene for several key episodes. The image of gambling is important in the novel’s narrative and reinforces Hammett’s generally existential view of a world ruled by chance and of the loss of a uniform set of values.

*New York City

*New York City. An interlude set in New York City provides a concrete locale that neatly replicates the nasty world left unspecified by the anonymous one. The presence of New York suggests that in both the fictional world of the novel and the real world corruption and violence are in control.

Beaumont apartment

Beaumont apartment. Residence of the amateur detective Ned Beaumont in the unnamed city. Hammett does not give this place an address or offer much in the way of description. The apartment functions as a place to which Ned retreats, in which he...

(The entire section contains 1300 words.)

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