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"The Gatewood Caper"

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Introduction

"The Gatewood Caper" Matthew Watson "The Gatewood Caper" is an exciting detective story by American author Dashiell Hammett. It was written and is set during the 1920's in California, on the west coast of the U.S.A. It centres around a rich entrepreneur whose daughter is kidnapped and a 50,000 dollar ransom is placed on her by her captors. The main character, an anonymous detective cleverly solves the mystery by revealing that in fact Gatewood's daughter has arranged her own kidnapping to free herself from her father's oppression. The plot of this piece is just as relevant now as it would have been in the 1920s: there is still a very real threat for many wealthy families of the kidnapping of their offspring nowadays. Much is made in the national press about the cost of personal security to protect the families of the rich and famous. Hammett enthralls the reader by maintaining curiosity, a lively pace and suspense levels throughout "The Gatewood Caper" by moving through the plot quickly with snippets of information, by his use of desperation in the dialogue between the main characters, by referring to the potential dangers of this type of situation and by changing the scene often. Intrigue is inbuilt to the plot. ...read more.

Middle

the short time between her disappearance and the issue of the demands, the ransom note was in keeping with a female style of writing and the daughter and father were often 'at daggers drawn'. In Gatewood, Hammett successfully paints a picture of a demanding character who appears to be the stereotypical 'gangster type' business man, ie. physically imposing, domineering and larger than life, "a czar from the top of his bullet head to the toes of his shoes.....". From the behaviour of his staff, ie. "...the obsequious clerk who had bowed me in bowed himself out" we know that he demands respect and compliance. Gatewood likes to be in control and his word is law. He is used to giving orders and having them obeyed and 'railroads' his way through business dealings, "He had made several millions by sandbagging everyone that stood in his way." He is abrupt in his conversations with others, "...began to bark at me...". Hammett's descriptive skills are most evident in his portrayal of the enraged Gatewood i.e. "his wicked jaw was sticking out like a knob of granite" and "his eyes had an insane glare in them". Hammett has written this short story in the first person narrative. This makes the piece seem more believable to the reader but it also means that there is no descriptive phrases of the detective. ...read more.

Conclusion

The detective also remains fairly constant in his types of behaviour and attitudes because he is smart enough at the beginning to gather and act on limited information from a difficult source and also smart enough at the end to piece together all the clues and unravel the mystery. However, the father does display some uncharacteristic doubts about withholding the ransom after he receives a phone call from his kidnapped daughter, "But he said it mechanically, without his usual conviction - the talk with his daughter had shaken him out of some of his stubbornness. He was thinking of her safety now instead of only his own fighting spirit." His determination to have things his own way has slipped and he eventually pays the ransom. This perhaps shows that he has come to realise that he cares: that perhaps family is more important than money. I suspect Audrey did not think that her kidnapping would affect her father mentally as it did. She just hoped that the father she despised so much would pay up. Because of Dashiell Hammett's literary skill, The Gatewood Caper is more than just an example of the detective story genre. The characters are believable but not too predictable. He creates an atmospheric story in which the reader is thrown off course despite the obvious clues which are central to solving the mystery. The plot and action hold the reader's interest until the final conclusion where the twist is revealed. ...read more.

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