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The Maltese Falcon/The Thin Man/Red Harvest…

The Maltese Falcon/The Thin Man/Red Harvest

by Dashiell Hammett

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what can you say. Classic ( )
  billyegluck | Jan 22, 2014 |
I read this collection of three short novels by virtue of its inclusion in the list of 100 Essential books in Everyman’s Library. The novels included in this book are The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man and Red Harvest.

My first impression, upon reading the first 50 pages of The Maltese Falcon, the first novel in the collection was that it contained every stereotype you can imagine in a book involving private eyes, bad guys and damsels in distress. Then it occurred to me: This was the original; the first of what later became a genre. Until this was written, there were no Sam Spades, or cunning molls, or gun wielding gangsters (at least in contemporary fiction). Nevertheless, after an additional 70 years of such stories and treatments, it can’t help but come across as tired and overdone. Also, having seen the movie version, it is impossible to read the book without picturing Humphrey Bogart as the quintessential cigarette smoking, whiskey drinking, bad guy thumping, wise cracking private detective that became the model for all future private detectives. The underlying story is completely secondary to the characters in the novel, from the Peter Lorre portrayed, effeminate, Middle Eastern bad guy (slapped around by Sam Spade, as you might imagine) to the fat, refined Turkish antique collector. I can imagine the sensation that this work caused upon its release over 75 years ago.

The second story, The Thin Man, is of the same Noir genre. Nick Charles, a retired private investigator is unwillingly pulled into a murder investigation. Again, this is very much a character driven work. The adults in this novel seem to drink heavily, around the clock. Waking in the middle of the night to get a drink of whiskey and staying out until the mid-morning hours, frequenting dinner parties and speak easies. Very similar in style and character development to The Maltese Falcon, as is the final book in the trio, Red Harvest.

In Red Harvest, a San Francisco private detective is hired by a newspaper editor in the town of Personville (known as Poisonville). Upon arrival into town, the detective’s client is murdered. Instead of returning to San Francisco, the detective stays, and is pulled into a rat’s nest of conflicting power struggles and gang feuds, with frequent gunplay and criminal activity of various sorts. The detective cleverly plays all sides against the others, though to what benefit it is hard to imagine, as he has already been paid. In any event, if you liked the first two stories, you’ll certainly like this one as well, the template and characters are virtually indistinguishable.

In rating these works, I’m faced with much the same dilemma as when I read William Gibson’s science fiction classic, Neuromancer, a ground breaking work decades ahead of its time, which has necessarily been diminished by the passage of time and the advent of much of the technology forecast in the novel. Read at the time of its release, it must have been truly original and spellbinding. Read thirty years later, it is nothing special. The same can be said for Hammett’s work. In the 30s and 40s, this must have been a breath of fresh air, now, in light of the succeeding eighty years, it is hackneyed and trite. It deserves every accolade it has garnered, as the foundation for a genre of literature and film that has produced such classics as Chinatown. As a present day reading experience however, three stars is generous. ( )
  santhony | Oct 22, 2012 |
I was surprised that all 3 of these books were listed on the 1001 list. I understand that Hammett is a master of the mystery genre, but they are quick easy reads with not much to them.
I liked The Thin Man the best. Maybe because it was so different than the normal mystery genre. The detective was very involved in the New York social scene and seemed somewhat debonair, rather than the detective in The Maltese Falcon who was the stereotype quiet trenchcoat/fedora type. I did enjoy the film noir quality to The Maltese Falcon. I saw the film years ago and the atmosphere of the old 1930's films is embedded in this novel.
In all three of the novels I kept forgetting that it was being told from first person because Hammett never tells us the interior thoughts. We mainly hear from dialogue that sounds like it is straight from a gangster flick. The Red Harvest dragged for me. It deals with detective coming into a town being torn apart by mobsters and corrupt cops. I lost all the corruption ties and gang links in the 2nd chapter. ( )
  strandbooks | May 28, 2010 |
I didn't expect to like The Maltese Falcon, but was completely impressed by the characters and the dialogue. The fact that there is no inner dialogue makes the story seem to be written for the screen.
One of my favorite quotes is from Sam Spade to Joe Cairo, "And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it." (71)
Hammett includes a great description of "the fat man," Mr. Gutman, on page 107:
"Spade went in. A fat man came to meet him.
The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, were dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a black cutaway coat, black vest, black satin Ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped grey worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes.
His voice was a throaty purr. "Ah, Mr. Spade," he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand like a fat pink star.

I did not like The Thin Man at all. The characters were not as interesting as in The Maltese Falcon, the dialogue was not so clever, and I was put off by the obvious fact that Nick is an alcoholic. What is engaging about that overriding character facet?

This edition has an excellent introduction that summarizes Dashiell Hammett's life and a chronology that outlines his life in conjunction with historical events. ( )
  WintersRose | Jul 24, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375411259, Hardcover)

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

The three classic novels published here in one volume are rich with the crisp prose, subtle characters, and intricate plots that made Dashiell Hammett one of the most admired writers of the twentieth century.

A one-time detective and a master of deft understatement, Hammett virtually invented the hard-boiled crime novel. In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade, a private eye with his own solitary code of ethics, tangles with a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. The Thin Man introduces Hammett's wittiest creations, Nick and Nora Charles, who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. And in Red Harvest, Hammett's anonymous tough-guy detective, the Continental Op, takes on the entire town of Poisonville in a deadly war against corruption.

"Dashiell Hammett is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one hell of a writer."—Boston Globe

”Hammett was spare, hard-boiled, but he did over and over what only the best writers can ever do. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”—Raymond Chandler

”Hammett’s prose was clean and entirely unique. His characters were as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction.”—The New York Times

”As a novelist of realistic intrigue, Hammett was unsurpassed in his own or any time.”—Ross Macdonald

”Dashiell Hammett’s dialogues can be compared only with the best in Hemingway.”—André Gide

”Hammett is one of the best contemporary American writers.”—Gertrude Stein

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:26 -0400)

Three novels involving private detectives and shady characters tackle homicide, treachery, and corruption.

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