One of the great pleasures of reading Dashiell Hammett is that his plots are so convoluted that I have to focus on the memorable characters (Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, the Continental Op) and the murky, smoke-filled backgrounds that become characters themselves. The novels bear almost endless rereadings as I try to unravel the intricacies of the story. The closest thing to Hammett’s fiction is Chinese reality, where two current law cases would do Dashiell proud. They have everything: lust for power, greed, bribery, corruption, magnificent names, murder – everything, oddly, but sex, which lurked ever below the surface in Hammett’s work.
The first case involves the fall from power of Bo Xilai (think French wine), amid revelations of extraordinary wealth and corruption among the ruling elites, and the imminent conviction of his wife Gu Kailai for the murder of a shady British character who made the fatal miscalculation of threatening Gu’s only child. The trial lasted a few hours. China’s conviction rate is 98 percent.
The latest case involves Sheldon Adelson, the ubiquitous billionaire who has poured over $35 million into Republican campaign coffers. He recently accompanied Mitt Romney to Israel to make sure he toed the hard line there, but it also turns out that two-thirds of Adelson’s fortune derives from his casinos in Macau, an island noted for mob activity and the only legal gambling in China. The case, which involves a socialite named Bao Bao and a frantic call to Tom Delay to bury a resolution condemning China, is but one more example of the global scale of corporate greed, political corruption and organized crime.