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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
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The Maltese Falcon (1930)

by Dashiell Hammett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Sam Spade (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,971209820 (3.91)587
  1. 80
    The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (InvisiblerMan)
  2. 81
    The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Cecilturtle, TAir)
  3. 50
    Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (caflores)
  4. 10
    Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan (BookGirlVL)
    BookGirlVL: A recent addition to the hardboiled US scene. The protagonist befriends the publisher of a mystery magazine called Grey Streets, which prints hardboiled short stories.
  5. 21
    Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (InvisiblerMan)
  6. 10
    Maltese Falcon [Picador Film Classics Library] by Richard J. Anobile (bks1953)
  7. 11
    The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: The two detectives have a key trait in common: dogged pursuit of the truth and the truth has many twists along the way.
  8. 00
    Spade & Archer by Joe Gores (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Later prequel by another author
  9. 12
    The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (benmartin79)
  10. 12
    Britten and Brülightly by Hannah Berry (lucien)
    lucien: A great modern take on the noir genre in comic form. Berry is successful at both weaving a solid noir tale and having some good fun with genre conventions.
  11. 02
    Private Midnight by Kris Saknussemm (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Dark detective fiction, both radical for their times.
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» See also 587 mentions

English (196)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (206)
Showing 1-5 of 196 (next | show all)
A fun read, better than the movie ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
(Original Review, 1981-02-05)

For me there is an outer level of “The Maltese Falcon,” a mystery story, then an inner layer of the accelerated, psychologically intensified 5 days of the Falcon, and then within that the noir love story of Sam and Brigid, and this idea of the parable just seemed to add a strange and unexpected inner layer to the Sam and Brigid story, one of precisely the old medieval 'mystery' of sin and redemption. And just as Hammett gave us Satan, he gave us plenty of medievalism too in the story of “The Maltese Falcon” and the Knights Templar (themselves accused of Satanism), and he gave us the Levant connection. I don't have this all packaged together but I think there is at least a case to be explored if not made. I have been calling him a dark knight all the while and said earlier that Sam is more than willing to fight fire with hellfire and that too makes him 'satanic' in a much reduced sense, in that unlike the traditional heroes, the white knights, he fights dirty against dirty fighters. We have seen how much people are willing to condemn him for it in comments here and elsewhere. It is though, perhaps part of a bigger picture.

The noir sublime, it is a great idea, I just don't know that it is possible. We live in the times we live in and there is little of the old aesthetic of the sublime. If we get any sublime today it tends to be from deep space, or undersea, photography or pondering quantum paradoxes. Our noir is not the old Dark Romantic, it is noir. But the power of blackness is not the old power of dread and terror from Beyond or Above, its entirely post Nietzschean and is, as I said above, human, all too human, and that means sordid. Man is the measure of all things, and it is not a very big measuring stick. Hammett, I am sure had no illusions about that, but the satanic is still with us, it is just within us and all around us. It is us.
I don't know whether there is really any vital literary character in the 21st century who can carry the banner of the dark hero, although the media is full of them, but I do think Sam Spade could and maybe did. Anyway if you do think about it and come up with something please post it.

And Sam Spade has also in some manner a certain grandeur, he is larger than life, a more powerful being than the rest of us. Marlowe, not so much. Marlowe is the eternal underdog who somehow wins, Spade the eternal top dog who is a sure bet to win. Satan was God's underdog, but never ours. After a time at a big agency, learning his trade, Spade would HAVE to have his own shop, be his own man, Marlowe could have his because of Spade creating the model. Being his own "man" is the entire essence of being Satan in literature, if not religion.

There is NO sublime in “The Maltese Falcon”, it is more anti-sublime and deliberately so. This Satan has to get up and go to work in the morning having none of the powers of Milton's Satan, since no one could believe in such sublimity in 1928. It's hardboiled. Implicitly Sam has made a moral choice, he is on the side of the law, not a criminal, and you have to believe he would be a very good criminal if he chose to be so, and he has that choice. Sam sets out to do, and does, something very noble that tends to get lost in crime fiction, and he does it on his own, not hired, or consulted. He sets out to solve a murder and bring the killers to Justice. That seems to me to be noble and heroic (since it involves considerable risk to himself). It is his will to do it.

It is impossible today to be one's own angel, but one can be one's own machine. That is the essence of the Satanic NOT being the bad guy, unless you are religious and believe the Christian version. Imagine Satan as not being the corrupted being of religion and media, but a being who insists to be his own master. I believe that is why Milton's Satan captivated the imagination of romantic poets that:

Hazlitt named Satan as “the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem” ... A year later, Percy Shelley maintained that Satan is the moral superior to Milton’s tyrannical God, and why Milton sided, however unconsciously with Satan. It is the uncoupling of Satan from sin and evil, and his role as an agent of free individual will that makes Satan heroic. And THAT is possibly the widest possible sense of right and wrong there is, that and being your own master, to do what is right. Sam does what is right. And Satan is sublime because he opposes omnipotent power, Sam no.
“The Maltese Falcon” has been called a proto existential novel and he is an absurd man, because in a nihilistic universe, without right and wrong for him to be aware of, he is yet a hero and chooses not to do wrong and yet to do his own will. ( )
1 vote antao | Dec 5, 2018 |
This classic is now dated but still an interesting read. Some of the language is now reads like a cheap imitation of a pulp novel dated and some of the descriptions no longer make sense. Critics credit this book along with those of Raymond Chandler with inventing the noir form of fiction. I think Chandler is the better writer and Christopher Marlowe is not as much a sociopath as Sam Spade. ( )
  Tatoosh | Nov 20, 2018 |
File this under “overrated classics.”

The story started off strong enough. There are two murders in quick succession, a dame who seems to be a damsel in distress (we know how that will turn out), a crafty PI, and run-ins with the police. All the elements of an intriguing page-turner are there.

Then Hammett's writing starts to slowly kill the novel. His dialogue is fine – it often sizzles, especially when Spade is speaking. (And I should note that Spade is eloquent even when he doesn't speak – maybe more so.) His narrative, though, is painful. “He was wearing this. He was wearing that. He walked to the door and opened it.” It's tedious stuff.

And I've never read a novel where facial expressions are described so often. Nearly every page features someone's – usually Spade's – face changing to fit the situation, and the character's agenda. And the eyes! Eyes brighten and dim. They glimmer. They become moist. They become wide, sometimes so wide you can see a bunch of white. After a whole novel of this, I felt up to my eyeballs in a mound of these sorts of descriptions, and that mound was an eyesore.

I understand it's supposed to be psychological and all, but Hammett could've added some variation and still gotten the point across.

There are also a lot of heavy-handed scenes. Spade convincing Gutman of the need of a fall guy is one. The history of the falcon is an info-dump so poorly done it's almost satirical. (Then again, maybe it's meant to be satirical, since it certainly seems to bore Spade.) Even the final scene between Spade and Brigid is boring, since they just repeat themselves over and over (and over and over) until Spade makes it clear he's going to stick to his guns.

I give it three stars mainly because Sam Spade is such a strong character. He's the most cunning man in the room, and I read to see what he'd do – or not do – in each situation. The other characters, for the most part, serve as props for Hammett to show how intelligent and wily Spade is.

Besides Spade, there wasn't much to interest me after the first third of the book was over. I think I'll steer clear of Hammett's other “classic” novels. ( )
1 vote roguehomebody | Nov 13, 2018 |

My top ten reasons why this Dashiell Hammett is one of the greatest crime novels ever written:

1. The Voice – Tough, Crisp hardboiled – the story isn’t told in first-person but certainly has the feel of first-person since we are so close to Sam Spade it’s as if we’re peering over the detective’s shoulder from first to last page.

2. The City – The buildings and streets in San Francisco have such a tangible presence, even today, after nearly 100 years, they still give Maltese Falcon tours.

3. Femme Fatale – Brigid O’Shaughnessy is the femme fatale. Her looks, her way of speaking, her cunning, her charms, her allurement– legions of writers of detective fiction have changed her name, her home town, color of her hair and eyes, but all you have to do is scratch the surface and there she is.

4. Outside the Law – Nobody likes a cog in the legal wheel or a grey flannel flunkey following orders. Sam Spade is anything but – an outsider to the police, district attorney and even his clients, Sammy is his own man, cracking the case in his own way, in his own time and even willing to get socked in the jaw by a police lieutenant or pulled in by a high ranking official to make it happen.

5. Tone – Sharp and crisp. If you read (and look) carefully, an entire world is disclosed, as for example: “Spade emptied the unconscious man’s pockets one by one, working methodically, moving the lax body when necessary, making a pile of the pockets’ contents on the desk. When the last pocket had been turned out he returned to his own chair, rolled and lighted a cigarette, and began to examine his spoils. He examined them with grave unhurried thoroughness.”

6. Violence – Nothing juices the action in a detective fiction more than cold bloody murder. An entire string of murders are featured here, all happening at the right time to accelerate tempo. Also, there’s a good amount of roughhouse, with the least likely man in the novel, Joel Cairo, getting beat up every time he turns around. Serves him right for thinking himself so refined and above it all.

7. The Color of Character – Dashiell Hammett set the gold standard here for writers of detective fiction. “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 such 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, where dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a back 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.”

8. The Moral Code – As one character finds out the hard way, Sam Spade is a man of the high, uncompromising character. You will have to read the novel to find out just how high and just how uncompromising.

9. The Whole is Greater than the Parts – The Maltese Falcon has that special something that separates it from other crime fiction, even crime fiction of the first order. What is it? Hard to put your finger on it, but as millions of readers have discovered every time they pick it up, this is one doozy of a classic.

10, The Dingus – Ah, yes, the object of obsessive desire, the bird with all those long-lost jewels. Has there ever been a famous actor more closely connected with a famous object? And, yes, in many ways, the much sought after black bird adds a unique aesthetic dimension to this tale of noir.
( )
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 196 (next | show all)
[I]t would not surprise us one whit if Mr. Hammett should turn out to be the Great American Mystery Writer. . . . In short, "The Maltese Falcon" is the best one, outside the . . . polite classes, in Lord knows when.
added by NinieB | editNew York Herald Tribune, Will Cuppy (Feb 23, 1930)
 
If the locution "hard-boiled" had not already been coined it would be necessary to coin it now to describe the characters . . . .
added by NinieB | editNew York Times (Feb 23, 1930)
 

» Add other authors (75 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hammett, DashiellAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Angell, OlavTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meier, RaymondCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.
Quotations
The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second 'you'.
"People lose teeth talking like that." Spade's voice was still amiable though his face had become wooden. "If you want to hang around you'll be polite."
The boy repeated his two words.
Spade by means of his grip on the Levantine's lapels turned him slowly and pushed him back until he was standing close in front of the chair he had lately occupied. A puzzled look replaced the look of pain in the lead-colored face. Then Spade smiled. The smile was gentle, even dreamy. His right shoulder raised a few inches. His bent right arm was driven up by the shoulder's lift. Fist, wrist, forearm, crooked elbow, and upper arm seemed all one rigid piece, with only the limber shoulder giving them motion. The fist struck Cairo's face...
"I don't know where that damned bird is. You don't. She does. How in hell are we going to get it if I don't play along with her?"
Cairo hesitated, said dubiously: "You have always, I must say, a smooth explanation ready."
Spade scowled. "What do you want me to do? Learn to stutter?"
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Haiku summary
Yes, I'm guilty, but
I'll get free with female wiles.
Whoops, need a Plan B.

(Carnophile)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679722645, Paperback)

Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's archetypally tough San Francisco detective, is more noir than L.A. Confidential and more vulnerable than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. In The Maltese Falcon, the best known of Hammett's Sam Spade novels (including The Dain Curse and The Glass Key), Spade is tough enough to bluff the toughest thugs and hold off the police, risking his reputation when a beautiful woman begs for his help, while knowing that betrayal may deal him a new hand in the next moment.

Spade's partner is murdered on a stakeout; the cops blame him for the killing; a beautiful redhead with a heartbreaking story appears and disappears; grotesque villains demand a payoff he can't provide; and everyone wants a fabulously valuable gold statuette of a falcon, created as tribute for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Who has it? And what will it take to get it back? Spade's solution is as complicated as the motives of the seekers assembled in his hotel room, but the truth can be a cold comfort indeed.

Spade is bigger (and blonder) in the book than in the movie, and his Mephistophelean countenance is by turns seductive and volcanic. Sam knows how to fight, whom to call, how to rifle drawers and secrets without leaving a trace, and just the right way to call a woman "Angel" and convince her that she is. He is the quintessence of intelligent cool, with a wise guy's perfect pitch. If you only know the movie, read the book. If you're riveted by Chinatown or wonder where Robert B. Parker's Spenser gets his comebacks, read the master. --Barbara Schlieper

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A murder involves Sam Spade in a dangerous search for a valuable statue.

» see all 20 descriptions

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