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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon (original 1930; edition 2011)

by Dashiell Hammett

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5,279None835 (3.91)371
Title:The Maltese Falcon
Authors:Dashiell Hammett
Info:Thinking Ink Media (2011), Paperback, 200 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:books I own, read for school, crime, detective, mystery

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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)

1001 (34) 1001 books (43) 20th century (85) American (83) American literature (91) California (38) classic (97) classics (65) crime (291) crime fiction (111) detective (221) detective fiction (82) fiction (765) Folio Society (49) Hammett (24) hardboiled (137) literature (66) murder (32) mystery (800) noir (278) novel (148) private investigator (48) pulp (32) read (71) Sam Spade (87) San Francisco (104) thriller (44) to-read (79) unread (49) USA (49)
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English (134)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (141)
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
Here we go. Book number two in my 25 crime-fiction classic list! After finishing this, I probably should've started with this one but honestly, who's going to blame me for reading a Raymond Chandler novel first?

Sam Spade and Miles Archer, private eye's residing in San Fransisco, are hired by a woman to procure the safe return of her little sister after she has run off with another man. While Spade accepts the job, he doesn't completely buy Ms. Wonderly's story feeling that there is more to what she's telling them. What turns out to be the understatement to end all understatement's, Spade becomes entangled in a search for a rare, valuable statue that puts his life in danger and his reputation with the law on the line.

I was originally hesitant about starting this noir/hard boiled/crime fiction journey because I was under the impression that these books were going to suffer from such massive over-hype that I would feel RIDICULOUS for not liking them.

This book was just tremendous. Really, just all around greatness from start to finish. It blows my mind that there had not been many books around at the time written in this style or with characters like these. It must have had people reeling when they finished it, scrambling for more!

Like Chandler's The Big Sleep, this book is endlessly quotable. I'm such a fan of great similes and snappy, witty dialogue and this book is just stuffed to the breaking point with memorable lines.

If it hadn't been so damn entertaining, I may have taken a little bit of an issue that Spade never really seems to be in any danger. Despite the fact that these criminals have the upper hand on a few occasions, they come across as buffoons with no real plans of their own.

That being said, it's hard to really find fault in something so excellent.

On a side note, something tells me that if I slap someone and they get angry, I wouldn't be able to tell them they'll take it AND like it. It works for Spade because he's clearly so damn slick but I doubt I have the ability to pull that one off. ( )
  branimal | Apr 1, 2014 |
The Maltese Falcon

Too many adjectives.

The most striking thing about this novel is the physique of the characters, particularly Sam Spade's. Instead of a unified organic whole his body seems to be a writhing assembly of independently minded parts.

One of my favourite sentences is "He made angry gestures with mouth, eyebrows, hands, and shoulders."

What??? Were these parts each making their own gestures? I imagine Spade twitching bizarrely while all these unspecified gestures were being made, which I doubt was Hammett's intent. He's gone to great lengths to convey nothing.

Hammett seems anxious about the potential of bodily parts to break free. On page 1 we learn that Spade's assistant, Effie Perine (never mentioned other than with both names) has brown eyes. On page 22 Effie Perine's brown eyes open wide. On page 24 her brown eyes are uneasy. On page 94 she moves her brown eyes to indicate the inner office. Phew! Still brown, then. Did Hammett imagine we might worry they'd changed?

Hammett uses clumsy expressions which I found constantly interrupted the flow of the narrative. Spade is supposed to look "rather pleasantly like a blonde satan", but also somewhat wolf-like. He has a v-shaped mouth over a v-shaped jaw, and when he smiles he smiles with his lower lip, exposing his 'jaw teeth". (Right, that'll be the bottom/lower teeth.) I think Bogart must have attempted this, as when I read it I immediately remembered him making a curious grimace which exposed his lower teeth. It had made an impression on me because his teeth were not good and it looked both unattractive and peculiar. My attempts came nowhere near a hint of a smile and gave me cramp in my chin.

Spade's wolfishness is reinforced by his gleaming yellow eyes and the 'animal noise' which he frequently makes 'in his throat'.

The following passage gives some feeling of the tediousness of the descriptions:-

"She shook her head, not smiling. Her eyes moved back and forth between her lids as she shook her head, maintaining their focus on Spade's eyes. Her eyes were inquisitive.

Spade put an arm across her back, cupping his hand over the smooth white bare shoulder farthest from him. She leaned back into the bend in his arm. He said: 'Well, I'm listening.'

She twisted her head around to smile up at him with playful insolence, asking: 'Do you need your arm there for that?'

'No.' He removed his hand from her shoulder and let his arm drop down behind her.

'You're altogether unpredictable,' she murmured.

He nodded and said amiably: 'I'm still listening.'

'Look at the time!' she exclaimed, wriggling a finger at the alarmclock perched atop the book saying two-fifty with its clumsily shaped hands."

Even the clock doesn't get away with simply saying the time, it says it with its hands, clumsily shaped though they are. And why was she 'wriggling' her finger? Hands feature a lot in this novel. They are generally ugly, though occasionally slim. Fingers are also ugly, and usually thick. Fingers get frequent mentions. Arms are long. Eyes get up to all sorts, occasionally in collusion with brows - "Anguish clouded her eyes, partly closed them under eyebrows pulled up at the inner ends." It's like having an out of control sat-nav describing moves so peculiar that I was constantly stopping to figure out what they could be, and then working out their feasibility. I reckon that a substantial number of them could only be replicated by a classically trained Indian dancer.

The only conceivable justification for this unhelpful verbosity would be that Hammett was being paid by the word. Which is a pity, because underneath it all is an interesting plot with nice twists.

I quite liked the old fashioned obviousness of the characters' names. The detective is Sam Spade, there is an extremely over-weight character called Mr Gutman, a 'Levantine' called Mr Cairo, and a beautiful, but iffy, client called Miss Wonderly.

Hammett may have a great reputation but I found him altogether too tiring.
  Oandthegang | Mar 19, 2014 |
Old fashioned, poor dialogue, stereotypical behavior. Too much description of Spade rolling many cigarettes. And stupid descriptions like "her lip was between her teeth" instead of "she bit her lip". ( )
  Runs2slow | Feb 21, 2014 |
I'm a mystery kinda girl, and this hit the spot.
Sam Spade is the kind of person I don't like...a real private (figure it out) in more ways than one.
But despite the characters flaws and the heterosexist privilege rampant in the book, I really enjoyed it. The mood, the language, the clever ways of getting around the censors--this is a book worth reading. ( )
  ageoflibrarius | Jan 25, 2014 |
Read 2013 as part of great novels project.
  ntgntg | Dec 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dashiell Hammettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Angell, OlavTranslatorsecondary 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.
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?"
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Haiku summary
Yes, I'm guilty, but
I'll get free with female wiles.
Whoops, need a Plan B.


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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:04 -0400)

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

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