Con artists working the angles, digging for answers, searching for a way in – and a way out. It’s a familiar world for crime fiction fans, but this protagonist is not your usual ‘investigator’, she one of the bad guys – or is she?
‘The Big Man’s Daughter’ takes much from Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’, adding changes that almost distort one’s memory of the original. More sequel than prequel it’s actually neither, more of a knowing nod of appreciation. In this book, there’s no Sam Spade, but detective Sam Hammett writes mysteries as Dashiell Hammett – confused? That’s not the half of it.
Bona fide criminal mastermind, Cletus Gaspereaux (a form of Casper Gutman) was an abusive father to Rita Gaspereaux (a fleshed-out version of Rhea Gutman). Cletus, the eponymous ‘Big Man’ (like the Fat Man) has been gunned down in an incident involving the possession of a statuette called the Black Falcon.
Rita attends his funeral only to be recognised by the undertaker who she has previously conned, pretending that her brother was missing and I.D.ing a John Doe. That ruse had scammed the undertaker out of money but this time, after he recognises her, Rita must apply another inventive scam on the married man (who gets his own back). It’s a great opening.
Rita is broke, dreaming of Hollywood, and turning to the pages of a paperback for escape. Her book, ‘Dorothy G., Kansas’ tells of another young woman, the reimagined Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Dorothy is an innocent version of Rita, a what might have been in another world, and Rita is wrapped up in the story.
She agrees to help the secretary at the Pinkerton agency, aiming to recover the Falcon from a Russian count who may be related to her. It’s not an easy story to describe. Let’s just say that the structure and plot are both inventive, the ending unexpected, and the writing holds your attention. It’s sharp, at times LOL funny, and a quick read that takes you into the familiar Californian noir world of the golden age of US crime writing.