A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett's iconic, influential, and beloved The Maltese Falcon.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 27, 1894
Date of Death:January 10, 1961
Place of Birth:St. Mary, Maryland
Place of Death:New York
Education:Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Read an Excerpt
Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-- from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
He said to Effie Perine: 'Yes, sweetheart?"
She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face. She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said: "There's a girl wants to see you. Her name's Wonderly."
"I guess so. You'll want to see her anyway: she's a knockout."
"Shoo her in, darling," said Spade. "Shoo her in."
Effie Perine opened the door again, following it back into the outer office, standing with a hand on the knob while saying: "Will you come in, Miss Wonderly?"
A voice said, "Thank you," so softly that only the purest articulation made the words intelligible, and a young woman came through the doorway. She advanced slowly, with tentative steps, looking at Spade with cobalt-blue eyes that were both shy and probing.
She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow. She wore two shades of blue that had been selected because of her eyes. The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made
Spade rose bowing and indicating with a thick-fingered hand the oaken armchair beside his desk. He was quite six feet tall. The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made his body seem almost conical--no broader than it was thick--and kept his freshly pressed grey coat from fitting very well.
Miss Wonderly murmured, "Thank you," softly as before and sat down on the edge of the chair's wooden seat.
Spade sank into his swivel-chair, made a quarter-turn to face her, smiled politely. He smiled without separating his lips. All the v's in his face grew longer.
The tappity-tap-tap and the thin bell and muffled whir of Effie Perine's typewriting came through the closed door. Somewhere in a neighboring office a power-driven machine vibrated dully. On Spade's desk a limp cigarette smoldered in a brass tray filled with the re-mains of limp cigarettes. Ragged grey flakes of cigarette-ash dotted the yellow top of the desk and the green blotter and the papers that were there. A buff-curtained window, eight or ten inches open, let in from the court a current of air faintly scented with ammonia. The ashes on the desk twitched and crawled in the current.
Miss Wonderly watched the grey flakes twitch and crawl. Her eyes were uneasy. She sat on the very edge of the chair. Her feet were flat on the floor, as if she were about to rise. Her hands in dark gloves clasped a flat dark handbag in her lap.
Spade rocked back in his chair and asked: "Now what can I do for you, Miss Wonderly?"
She caught her breath and looked at him. She swallowed and said hurriedly: "Could you--? I thought--I--that is--" Then she tortured her lower lip with glistening teeth and said nothing. Only her dark eyes spoke now, pleading.
Spade smiled and nodded as if he understood her, but pleas-antly, as if nothing serious were involved. He said: "Suppose you tell me about it, from the beginning, and then we'll know what needs doing. Better begin as far back as you can.
"That was in New York."
"I don't know where she met him. I mean I don't know where in New York. She's five years younger than I--only seventeen--and we didn't have the same friends. I don't suppose we've ever been as close as sisters should be. Mama and Papa are in Europe. It would kill them. I've got to get her back before they come home."
"Yes," he said.
"They're coming home the first of the month."
Spade's eyes brightened. "Then we've two weeks," he said.
"I didn't know what she had done until her letter came. I was frantic." Her lips trembled. Her hands mashed the dark handbag in her lap. "I was too afraid she had done something like this to go to the police, and the fear that something had happened to her kept urging me to go. There wasn't anyone I could go to for advice. I didn't know what to do. What could I do?"
"Nothing, of course," Spade said, "but then her letter came?"
"Yes, and I sent her a telegram asking her to come home. I sent it to General Delivery here. That was the only address she gave me. I waited a whole week, but no answer came, not another word from her. And Mama and Papa's return was drawing nearer and nearer. So I came to San Francisco to get her. I wrote her I was coming. I shouldn't have done that, should I?"
"Maybe not. It's not always easy to know what to do. You haven't found her?"
"No, I haven't. I wrote her that I would go to the St. Mark, and I begged her to come and let me talk to her even if she didn't intend to go home with me. But she didn't come. I waited three days, and she didn't come, didn't even send me a message of any sort."
Spade nodded his blond satan's head, frowned sympathetically, and tightened his lips together.
"It was horrible," Miss Wonderly said, trying to smile. "I couldn't sit there like that--waiting--not knowing what had happened to her, what might be happening to her." She stopped trying to smile. She shuddered. "The only address I had was General Delivery. I wrote her another letter, and yesterday afternoon I went to the Post Office. I stayed there until after dark, but I didn't see her. I went there again this morning, and still didn't see Corinne, but I saw Floyd Thursby."
Spade nodded again. His frown went away. In its place came a look of sharp attentiveness.
"He wouldn't tell me where Corinne was," she went on, hope-lessly. "He wouldn't tell me anything, except that she was well and happy. But how can I believe that? That is what he would tell me anyhow, isn't it?"
"Sure," Spade agreed. "But it might be true."
"I hope it is. I do hope it is," she exclaimed. "But I can't go back home like this, without having seen her, without even having talked to her on the phone. He wouldn't take me to her. He said she didn't want to see me. I can't believe that. He promised to tell her he had seen me, and to bring her to see me--if she would come--this evening at the hotel. He said he knew she wouldn't. He promised to come himself if she wouldn't. He--"
She broke off with a startled hand to her mouth as the door opened.
The man who had opened the door came in a step, said, "Oh, excuse me!" hastily took his brown hat from his head, and backed out.
"It's all right, Miles," Spade told him. "Come in. Miss Wonderly, this is Mr. Archer, my partner.
Miles Archer came into the office again, shutting the door behind him, ducking his head and smiling at Miss Wonderly, making a vaguely polite gesture with the hat in his hand. He was of medium height, solidly built, wide in the shoulders, thick in the neck, with a jovial heavy-jawed red face and some grey in his close-trimmed hair. He was apparently as many years past forty as Spade was past thirty.
Spade said: "Miss Wonderly's sister ran away from New York with a fellow named Floyd Thursby. They're here. Miss Wonderly has seen Thursby and has a date with him tonight. Maybe he'll bring the sister with him. The chances are he won't. Miss Wonderly wants us to find the sister and get her away from him and back home." He looked at Miss Wonderly. "Right?"
"Yes," she said indistinctly. The embarrassment that had gradually been driven away by Spade's ingratiating smiles and nods and assurances was pinkening her face again. She looked at the bag in her lap and picked nervously at it with a gloved finger.
Spade winked at his partner.
Miles Archer came forward to stand at a corner of the desk. While the girl looked at her bag he looked at her. His little brown eyes ran their bold appraising gaze from her lowered face to her feet and up to her face again. Then he looked at Spade and made a silent whistling mouth of appreciation.
Spade lifted two fingers from the arm of his chair in a brief warning gesture and said:
"We shouldn't have any trouble with it. It's simply a matter of having a man at the hotel this evening to shadow him away when he leaves, and shadow him until he leads us to your sister. If she comes with him, and you persuade her to return with you, so much the better. Otherwise--if she doesn't want to leave him after we've found her--well, we'll find a way of managing that."
Archer said: "Yeh." His voice was heavy, coarse.
Miss Wonderly looked up at Spade, quickly, puckering her forehead between her eyebrows.
"Oh, but you must be careful!" Her voice shook a little, and her lips shaped the words with nervous jerkiness. "I'm deathly afraid of him, of what he might do. She's so young and his bringing her here from New York is such a serious-- Mightn't he--mightn't he do--something to her?"
Spade smiled and patted the arms of his chair.
"Just leave that to us," he said. "We'll know how to handle him.
"But mightn't he?" she insisted.
"There's always a chance." Spade nodded judicially. "But you can trust us to take care of that."
"I do trust you," she said earnestly, "but I want you to know that he's a dangerous man. I honestly don't think he'd stop at any-thing. I don't believe he'd hesitate to--to kill Corinne if he thought it would save him. Mightn't he do that?"
"You didn't threaten him, did you?"
"I told him that all I wanted was to get her home before Mama and Papa came so they'd never know what she had done. I promised him I'd never say a word to them about it if he helped me, but if he didn't Papa would certainly see that he was punished. I--I don't suppose he believed me, altogether."
"Can he cover up by marrying her?" Archer asked.
The girl blushed and replied in a confused voice: "He has a wife and three children in England. Corinne wrote me that, to explain why she had gone off with him."
"They usually do," Spade said, "though not always in En-gland." He leaned forward to reach for pencil and pad of paper. "What does he look like?"
"Oh, he's thirty-five years old, perhaps, and as tall as you, and either naturally dark or quite sunburned. His hair is dark too, and he has thick eyebrows. He talks in a rather loud, blustery way and has a nervous, irritable manner. He gives the impression of being--of violence."
Spade, scribbling on the pad, asked without looking up: "What color eyes?"
"They're blue-grey and watery, though not in a weak way. And--oh, yes--he has a marked cleft in his chin."
"Thin, medium, or heavy build?"
"Quite athletic. He's broad-shouldered and carries himself erect, has what could be called a decidedly military carriage. He was wearing a light grey suit and a grey hat when I saw him this morning."
"What does he do for a living?" Spade asked as he laid down his pencil.
"I don't know," she said. "I haven't the slightest idea."
"What time is he coming to see you?"
"After eight o'clock."
"All right, Miss Wonderly, we'll have a man there. It'll help if--"
"Mr. Spade, could either you or Mr. Archer?" She made an appealing gesture with both hands. "Could either of you look after it personally? I don't mean that the man you'd send wouldn't be capable, but--oh!--I'm so afraid of what might happen to Corinne. I'm afraid of him. Could you? I'd be--I'd expect to be charged more, of course." She opened her handbag with nervous fingers and put two hundred-dollar bills on Spade's desk. "Would that be enough?"
"Yeh," Archer said, "and I'll look after it myself."
Miss Wonderly stood up, impulsively holding a hand out to him.
"Thank you! Thank you!" she exclaimed, and then gave Spade her hand, repeating: "Thank you!"
"Not at all," Spade said over it. "Glad to. It'll help some if you either meet Thursby downstairs or let yourself be seen in the lobby with him at some time."
"I will," she promised, and thanked the partners again.
"And don't look for me," Archer cautioned her. "I'll see you all right."
Spade went to the corridor-door with Miss Wonderly. When he returned to his desk Archer nodded at the hundred-dollar bills there, growled complacently, "They're right enough," picked one up, folded it, and tucked it into a vest-pocket. "And they had brothers in her bag."
Spade pocketed the other bill before he sat down. Then he said: "Well, don't dynamite her too much. What do you think of her?"
"Sweet! And you telling me not to dynamite her." Archer guffawed suddenly without merriment. "Maybe you saw her first, Sam, but I spoke first." He put his hands in his trousers-pockets and teetered on his heels.
"You'll play hell with her, you will." Spade grinned wolfishly, showing the edges of teeth far back in his jaw. "You've got brains, yes you have." He began to make a cigarette.
What People are Saying About This
“Dashiell Hammett . . . is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer.” –The Boston Globe
“The Maltese Falcon is not only probably the best detective story we have ever read, it is an exceedingly well written novel.” –The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Hammett’s prose [is] clean and entirely unique. His characters [are] as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction.” –The New York Times
Reading Group Guide
1. For discussion: The Maltese Falcon
Sam Spade's attitude toward authority is patently clear in remarks like "It's a long while since I burst out crying because policemen didn't like me" [p. 19] or "At one time or another I've had to tell everyone from the Supreme Court down to go to hell, and I've got away with it" [p. 170]. How is Spade's distrust of power manifested in his actions? How important is distrust as an aspect of his character?
2. Of the three women in the book--Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Effie Perine, and Iva Archer--are any fully realized, or are perhaps all three, as stereotypes, three sides of one woman? As a stereotype, what does each woman represent? What does Spade mean, and what does it say about Spade, when he tells Effie, "You're a damned good man, sister" [p. 160]?
3. A blatant stereotype is Joel Cairo: "This guy is queer" [p. 42], Effie informs Spade when the perfumed Cairo comes to the office. Is a homosexual character effective or necessary in the plot? Would he be as effective without sterotyping? Why do you think Hammett created him?
4. Near the end of the story, Spade says to Brigid, "Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be" [p. 215]. What evidence is there that he's not crooked? Does honor temper greed in his negotiations with the others in the hunt for the black bird? How are greed and ruthlessness packaged here so that ultimately we might not care whether the characters are crooked or not? Does style compensate for all in the hard-boiled genre?
5. "By Gad, sir, you're a character" [p. 178], says Gutman, laughing, when Spade suggests making Wilmer the fall-guy. Is the Spade-Gutman relationshipone of justice versus corrupt wealth or one of equals competing for the same prize? How does Gutman's sophistication and erudition reveal another side of Spade?
6. When Spade returns to the office in the last scene, Effie does not greet him with her usual verve. What has happened to the breezily affectionate bond between them? What is Effie's relationship to Brigid? Will Effie forgive Spade, or do we not know enough about her to make predictions?
Comparing the Hammett, Chandler, and Thompson:
1. How does the way Chandler uses Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye resemble or differ from the way Hammett uses San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon? To what extent is this the result of their individual writing styles? Does Thompson resemble either writer with his descriptions of the West Texas oil country in The Killer Inside Me? How important is setting in each of these novels?
2. Although they were brilliant innovators and stylists, Hammett and Chandler were writing for a genre that dictated resolution of the plot. Thompson, on the other hand, in The Killer Inside Me creates a plot rife with ambiguity. What element or elements of his predecessors' style does Thompson retain? Could Thompson have written The Killer Inside Me without the models of Hammett and Chandler?
3. Thompson inverts traditional crime fiction by writing from the viewpoint of the criminal instead of the detective. In the novels of Hammett and Chandler, how different is the criminal from the detective? Where do Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe fall in their respective, or mutual, attitudes toward authority and law?
4. How does the characterization of women in The Maltese Falcon compare with those in The Long Goodbye? Is Brigid O'Shaughnessy the equivalent of Eileen Wade? Is Effie Perine the equivalent of Linda Loring? What do the differences in these characters tell you about the hard-boiled style? About the authors?
5. Chandler and Thompson write in the first person, and Hammett uses the third person in The Maltese Falcon. How would each of these novels have been affected--for better or worse--if the voice had been reversed? What are the inherent advantages and/or limitations of writing in the first or third person?
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your reading of this outstanding selection from the "hard-boiled" school of crime writing: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. We hope that it will provide you with new ways of looking at--and talking about--the nature of detective fiction, as well as give you insight into how the hard-boiled style of writing emerged in the genre; how the style was shaped by twentieth-century American culture and by the lives of the men who created it; and how this form of writing has subsequently affected the way we view ourselves as Americans.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dashiell Hammett's unique writing style and dramatic twists make this detective novel an unforgettable read. Sam Spade is a combination of Ian Fleming's James Bond and Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, a character with guts, skill, and one heck of a brain. All in all, this novel is one for the bookshelf.
Ever heard of Sam Spade? This is the book where he got his start. I had always wanted to read this mystery and finally got around to it when I saw it at Barnes & Noble. THE MALTESE FALCON is full of intriguing plot twists and slippery characters. The Maltese Falcon is a rumor, a legendary sculpture worth a world-round trip to find. Sam Spade gets mixed up in the treasure hunt when it crosses his path in the form of Miss Wonderly. She draws him in with her story, and when Spade investigates he finds that he can trust no one, including his client, and that rumors fly as easily as dandelion seeds. I admit that when I read the truth behind the mystery, I was more surprised than I should have been. It was simply an ending that I had not considered. Nevertheless, THE MALTESE FALCON is written with considerable skill, and it should be a welcome addition to anyone's library.
To the students to criticized Maltese Falcon rather harshly, I say 'Bravo! For expressing yourselves' I do, however, disagree with your poor assessment of this book. Maybe it's because I'm a little older (okay a lot older), and I know what a great contribution this book (and subsequent movie) has been to the Mystery genre and to American Literature. I urge you to read it again when you have a few grey hairs on your head (or are trying to hide them, like I do.) Who knows,if I had read it when I was your age, maybe I wouldn't like it either. Happy New Year and God Bless.
Pulp fiction at its best. Not a feel good ending, but the only type of ending that mix of characters could product. Both the detective and a female character in the novel provided some inspiration for two of the characters in my novel. R Hemingway
A great mystery story full of deceitful characters, witty one-liners, strong men, and beautiful women.
This remains one of the best detective thrillers of the genre. Many have copied the style, but no one comes close to Dashiell Hammett. His story is still fresh and original, in spite of the corniness of the dialog. But the reader should remember, if the dialog seems a bit hackneyed it's because it's been copied by hundreds of lesser writers.
The unique style of Hammett's writing just kept me glued to that book, although there were some parts that were hard for me to understand, I still liked it. "The Maltese Falcon" has many interesting and well worked, each on with his own wants, looks and personality. I recommend this book to the people who like mystery/ action books, because of the thinking and puzzling you have to do as a reader. The story has many odds and ends because of how everything gets bound together at some point. At the beginning of the book Mr. Spade (the main character) meets a lady that her name is Summer, but later finds her real name after a lot investigating, which is Brigid O'Shanngeness. He also meets a man named Cairo. Brigid and Cairo know each other and it turned out that Cairo is sent by a man, a man named "G" or, Mr. Gutman, to find Brigid and tell her to hurry and find the thing he told her to, while Mr. Spade didn't know anything that they were talking about. Later Mr. Spade finds out by himself that is was a fat man that paid Cairo who paid Brigit to find the falcon, and Spade needs to find the falcon with police on his back from his partner's murder and Mr. Gutman from the falcon. This book is well spread out with a lot of detail and well thought out. The plot is all but too long and agonizing. The reason I gave this a five star is because of the excitement and how all the characters were all linked together.
The Maltese Falcon is one of those rare timeless wonders. The writing style is perfect and to the point, but is detailed in a way that seems to have been lost throughout the years. Even though it is a very short book you get to know the characters so well. Down to the very subtle habits and mannerisms. The whole time I was reading it I couldn't help but comment how real and vivid the characters are. The story itself will keep you thinking and entranced. And the ending is wonderful! It's such a simple book that will be a classic a hundred years from now. It is that timeless. Also, the violence is minimal and the swearing is almost nonexistent. It also is very discreet with sexual situations, making it perfect fun for any age!
Sam Spade, the archetypal hard-boiled detective, may have been copied but has been rarely matched by other writers. I've read this book several times and the dialogue remains fresh and crisp. Greed, lust and betrayal are at its heart and Hammett's chaacterisations and the realtions between the protagonists just keep you wanting to turn the page. Read it.
I seem to have trouble liking classics. I had heard that [The Maltese Falcon] was Dashiell Hammett's finest work, but if t is, I don't want to read another. I got through this book, that's about all I'll say because I felt that the writing was poor and that there was too much repetition of the actions and words that were used. If I read one more time about how he rolled a cigarette, I was closing the book and quitting right there. Besides the fact, I didn't think that it was much of a mystery.I hope that this year I can find at least one new classic that I can enjoy.
It's interesting to approach a story that's so much a part of the pop-culture consciousness and try to put aside those assumptions and associations. It's fun to read the original source material, but the characters from the classic 1941 adaptation of the book keep springing to mind (it doesn't help that the movie lifts most of the dialogue verbatim from the novel). It's an interesting story and one of the best known and influential. Certainly the novel lives up to the reputation.
Because I¿m such a Chandler fan, I always compare any ¿noir¿ PI to Philip Marlowe. Sam Spade is a different animal altogether. Of course I couldn¿t help picturing Bogart in my head at first, but by the end, the blonde Satan took over and I think that fits Spade¿s borderline-sociopath nature better.Spade is more ruthless and cruel than Marlowe and more devious and intellectual than Hammer. He¿s manipulative and has questionable motives for the things he does. During this latest ensnarement (I didn¿t really think of this as a case, more of a trap) he knew the extent of how much he was being played pretty much from the start. Instead of trying to rectify things, he just turned the tables and set people up, some in needlessly cruel ways. It didn¿t make him likable in the way Marlowe and even Hammer are likeable, but he is interesting to watch.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Funny thing is, I preferred The Maltese Falcon movie to that of The Big Sleep. I think this could be because I like knowing a little bit about what the detective is thinking and you really have very little idea with Sam Spade. I also felt like Marlowe was a bit of a white knight and very protective of his clients, where Spade seems more hard-boiled, although still tight-lipped about his client's personal business. This is a great detective story that I would recommend to other mystery lovers, and I wouldn't hesitate to read another novel by Dashiell Hammett myself. In fact, it would be nice to read one where I didn't already know where the plot was going, having seen the movie first.
As soon as I finished this, I looked up "Sam Spade," the detective protagonist of this novel, on the internet to find out if he was in any other novels by Hammett, and was disappointed to find out the answer was "no." (Although he appears in an authorized prequel by Gores, Spade and Archer, and 3 short stories--I may look those up.) Hammett and Chandler are often spoken as together forming classic noir, and I read that Chandler's Philip Marlowe was inspired by Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon was written in 1929), but I'd say the resemblance is pretty superficial--and I greatly prefer Hammett. Hammett's style, for one, while as vividly visual, slangy and with dialogue every bit as snappy, wears a lot better--no similes were abused in the making of this novel. I think the objective point of view helps. There's no mystery about what Marlowe thinks--of women, of homosexuals--all in that intimate first person voice that makes him, to me at least, all the more repulsive.We never really see inside Spade's mind though--so I stayed intrigued, and am not sure even at the end if he's better or worse than he seems. Also, there's Spade's relationship with his secretary, Effie. It's one thing that keeps him sympathetic--that there's one woman at least for whom he has respect, affection and trust and whose loyalty he's earned. I don't much like noir--too gritty, and what I knew of Hammett and his politics if anything would make me not want to like this novel--but I did. It was an engrossing read from beginning to end, and if there was another Sam Spade novel, I'd soon be reading it. Since there's not, I guess I'll just have to try The Thin Man with Nick and Nora Charles.
I know the movie well, and it's great to read/listen to the novel to spot the places where it diverges. Bogart and Astor weren't good physical matches for their characters, but their performances perfectly captured Hammett's creations.
This book was very engrossing, even to myself, who already knew the plot from seeing the 1940's film version with Humphrey Bogart. Surprisingly, the movie was extremely similar to the book, aside from a couple elements edited out for the film censureship of those days. The book and movie are excellent entertainments.
Probably like everyone else, I watched the Bogart movie version of this multiple times over the years, but never thought of reading the book. When I did get the opportunity, I was pleasantly surprised to find it an excellent read. And not really remembering the outcome of the movie, the ending was a nice twist too!All in all, a very good read!
How far are you willing search and sacrifice to find that that you have always wanted.
I finally understand why people like this author! This is a great mystery, with lots of twists and guessing who's telling which parts of the truth. Sam Spade is a great main character who's easy to root for and I loved his secretary, Effie. Highly recommended for any mystery-lover.
The Maltese Falcon reads like a photo (if this metaphor makes sense) - the imagery is well-rendered without being overly-descriptive, and it really puts the reader into the scene, as it were. It was a quick read, full of action and enigmatic characters, and it's easy to see how much it contributed to the film noir genre.
At first I found Hammett's prose to be as abrasive as his main character, Sam Spade. Slowly, however, I found myself being drawn into Hammett's world, until by the end I couldn't put the book down. And while I ultimately prefer the simpler style of Chandler, Hammett is certainly better at creating characters that haunt and plot lines that beguile. Definitely one of the best Noir books I have ever read.
A modern classic that was a surprisingly light read. I would have rated it higher if the climax and ending had been different. Still this was well worth the time spent reading it and would have been a promising series instead of a one shot classic.
Sam Spade is a tough 1920s detective working San Francisco. Brigid O'Shaughnessy, an alluring redhead, approaches his partner, Miles Archer, about an assignment which he accepts. That night, while on the job, Archer is killed, and the police suspect Sam. He quickly finds himself caught up in a scheme to obtain the "Maltese Falcon," a priceless statue that has been lost for hundreds of years. Sam's fast talking style enables him to deal with thugs, Joel Cairo, Kasper Gutman, and Wilmer Cook, while still holding off the cops and charming the ladies. Hammett's writing is wonderfully descriptive, but to the point; this brief novel is only around 200 pages. Anyone who enjoys noir and pulp must read this gem.
Why should anyone read THE MALTESE FALCON?The classic Bogart flick is a near-perfect redition of Dashiell Hammett's tough-guy dialogue. Director John Huston cast the film so well, that it's impossible to imagine the characters any other way. And in all its twists and turns, the movie captures every nuance of Hammett's plot, and even adds to the mix.So, again: Why should anyone read THE MALTESE FALCON? The same reason why the movie is so watchable time after time; If you haven't read it, you don't know how good it is, and if you have read it, it's so good, you can't wait to read it again.In THE MALTESE FALCON, Hammett nails every element of the detective genre so precisely, so superbly, that it's a wonder anyone ever tried to write another detective novel after him. There are simply none better, a detective novel that goes beyond its pulp roots, and enters the realm of 'capital L' Literature.The plot, for those three people who are unaware, is as follows; Detective Sam Spade has unwittingly become a pawn in a bizarre game of chess. After his partner Miles is killed, he finds himself immersed in a convoluted plot involving a double-dealing moll, a sly fat man, a creepy small man, and a treasured statue of a bird that, if it exists, is worth unimaginable riches. But Spade is unwilling to be used in such a fashion, and starts to set himself up as a player in the scheme, all the while trying madly to figure out exactly what he should do.I have always believed, in the best of the genre, that the actual plot comes second to the characters, and FALCON is no exception. Hammett's Spade is a remarkable resourceful character, living by a code that even he may not truly believe in. The characters of Gutman, Cairo, Brigid, and Wilmar are by turns despicable, evil, comical, and touching. Spade may be the driving force, but Hammett knows that Heaven is in the details; not one minor character is spared his sharp eye for character and ear for dialogue.But Hammett does not skimp on the plot, either. He is well aware of what Alfred Hitchcock named the 'MacGuffin"; the one object that motivates the characters. It doesn't matter whether or not the reader believes in it, it is only important that the characters believe. Hammett knows this, and uses the bird to unmask the evils that men do, the depths to which people will sink for greed, Spade included. They morally descend into murder, betrayal, and a surprising amount of sex (that the movie simply could not show, considering the age it was made in).But why is THE MALTESE FALCON so good? There are many other sterling examples out there, from Raymond Chander's FAREWELL MY LOVELY (a favorite of mine), to Walter Mosley's WHITE BUTTERFLY. But FALCON has that one elusive quality that will keep a reader coming back for more. I wish I knew what that was. I personally believe it is Hammett's understanding of the human condition, of the many contradictions that make up an individual. To use Spade as an example, Hammett has created a character who is cruel, and hard-headed, and greedy, and self-serving. Only a man who knows what a person is capable of could ever attempt to make someone like that the hero.P.S. Incidentally, unlike the otherwise perfect casting in the movie, Spade does not resemble Humphrey Bogart in the slightest. He is a tall, hulking figure, with thinning blond hair and sharp, angular features, often described as a 'blond Satan'. But it is remarkable that, despite this, Bogart's portrayal is so note-perfect that you can't help but picture him anyway.
Great book with memorable characters and fantastic dialogue. A classic.