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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon (original 1930; edition 2011)

by Dashiell Hammett

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6,198190655 (3.92)515
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

Work details

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)

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Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
I once read the following in some TV guide regarding the classic movie adaptation: “The 1941 mystery is the yardstick against which all private-eye films are measured.” It is even more true of the novel. Never before (or since) has a protagonist been forced to look so deeply within himself, to have to explain who he is to so many while not completely understanding why he is that way himself. Sam Spade knows what he has to do, and extensively he knows why he has to do it. He acts assuredly, without hesitation. Yet there is a deeper part of himself that is merely along for the ride, as if some of his decisions were never really decisions at all. He has led a life with more than a few amoral choices but when confronted with what should be the easiest of shortcuts, he discovers he has a moral core that cannot be so easily overruled. An array of fascinating characters and the explanation and solution to several murders become side issues once all the lies are exposed. THE masterpiece. ( )
  JohnWCuluris | Jun 10, 2016 |
The Maltese Falcon is a decent crime novel but, alas, it is another of those 'classics' which is to be respected for its influence rather than enjoyed for its content. The plot is rather restless and whilst this serves well in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film adaptation – highly recommended, even if just for its style – it is harder to follow on the page. This fast pace is set against Hammett often getting bogged down in descriptive prose – telling us details about all the physical features of his characters and how they're dressed, even all the ordinary stuff they're doing like rolling cigarettes – meaning we have a fast-slow-fast-slow development of the plot which made for a rather queasy ride.

Elsewhere, the sexism is rather glaring to modern standards and the protagonist Sam Spade lacks a lot of the charisma that Bogie would later imbue him with. As a detective story, The Maltese Falcon is also rather unorthodox in that Spade doesn't really do much active detective work. As he says on page 83: My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery. It's all right with me, if you're sure none of the flying pieces will hurt you." Consequently, a lot of the book is just Spade being abrasive with various players and coming out at the end a little bruised but essentially none the worse for wear. It made me less invested in the story as I thought Spade a rather passive character who did little to shape the progress and outcome of the plot.

The film adaptation is also extremely faithful to the book in its dialogue and its plot details, so there's little to be gained from experiencing both. Having nonetheless done so, I find that the film is far superior to the book. Whilst I will remember much about the film (and, as it was Bogie's first leading role, it has historical merit too), I think the book will prove to be quickly forgettable." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
I have always wanted to read this book. I am glad our library book club chose this one. It is about a detective that gets hired by a woman who is part of a ring of thieves. The twists and turns the story takes made for an interesting ride. ( )
  crazy4reading | May 27, 2016 |
The plot is unpredictable and satisfying, and a good reason to read this novel. But it’s not the main reason. The main reason is...

The people! God, the people! It’s not a nice group portrait, but it’s an amazing one.

Cynical, manipulative, ruthlessly, remorselessly dishonest.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy (if that’s her real name), who when one of her lies is uncovered, apologizes... and tells another one. When that one’s exposed, she apologizes and tells another. You never actually know if you get the truth from her.

Caspar Gutman, who considers letting Wilbur - “He’s like a son to me!” - hang for a murder because, well, I can get another son. WTF? I don’t think you’re clear on the concept of a son, dude.

The main character, Sam Spade, who sleeps with his partner’s wife (classy move, Sam) and thinks of his partner as a sap. But when his partner is murdered, hunts down the killer, because “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. ... we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it.”

The way people commit murder and arson, etc., just to get their hands on a valuable bauble. It’s just money, people. Sheesh.

The endless, endless layers of lies, from everyone, not just O’Shaughnessy, such that you never hear the truth at all, or if you do, you’re never sure because it might just be another lie. It ineluctably calls to mind the classic metaphor “hall of mirrors.”

The fact that (SPOILER) we never see the real Maltese Falcon, or even know if such a thing actually exists, or is just a myth, a mirage that this collection of liars, killers, and thieves is chasing.

An answer to the question “Is there honor among thieves?” Answer: No.

Another SPOILER warning. In the final scene the major (surviving) participants are sitting around in a room coldly discussing which of them the others will accuse of the unresolved murder, so the rest of them can walk free. Our “hero” is in on this; and though he’s not the killer, he obviously doesn’t care much whether the true killer is the one who goes up for murder. In the end, it’s the true killer who gets accused to satisfy the cops, but this is only because it’s the most convenient solution for everyone else, not because it’s true.

It's a pit of vipers, among whom our hero is merely the least objectionable viper. Although he makes this intriguing statement: “Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be. That kind of reputation might be good business - bringing in high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy.” But of course we don’t know if we can trust this, either.

All this sounds like I’m coming away from the novel with a main reaction of moral disapproval. But that’s not the case. Hammett himself plainly doesn’t approve of most of this - except for the hero’s admirable ability to avoid being conned by professional con men and women - he merely shows it to us. And so the main reaction this reader has is not “That’s appalling!” - though it is appalling - but, “Wow, what an astounding portrait of a certain set of people!” They’re horrible people, yes, but they’re horridly fascinating horrible people. ( )
1 vote TFleet | May 16, 2016 |
Never been a big 'mystery' or 'detective' fan; but this comes as always one of those 'highly regarded' 'must reads' of the genre (along with of course Sherlock Holmes). While it was good, and I did enjoy the "LA Crime Noir" like [sub]genre (even if it was San Fran rather than LA), it was ultimately just 'ok' and nothing 'spectacular' or must-readable in my mind. Sam Spade is an interesting and engaging character for the most part, he is a product of his time period in the way he treats women (and homosexuals) and other characters. He was gritty and not the 'over-the-top-never-wrong-super-intelligent-detective'. But he was lacking and never came across as a 'must root for' kind of guy, not even in a sympathetic or interesting way. The novel wraps up rather predictably and quickly and all loose ends get tied up nice and neatly and everyone is swept away sans Spade, which cheapens things (though I definitely didn't want to see a romantic ending with Brigid/Spade). ( )
  BenKline | Apr 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
La audaz mezcla de realismo descarnado y sentimientos románticos, habitual en la narativa de DASHIELL HAMMETT (1894-1961), alcanza en EL HALCÓN MALTÉS (1930) su mejor plasmación. Una estatuilla con figura de halcón que los caballeros de la Orden de Malta regalaron al emperador Carlos V en 1530 ha sido objeto, durante más de cuatro siglos, de robos y extravíos. Cuando, tras mil peripecias, llega a la ciudad de San Francisco, un grupo de delincuentes trata de apoderarse de ella, lo que da lugar a conflictos, asesinatos y pasiones esacerbadas. A ello contribuye el detective Sam Spade mediante el empleo de la violencia más cruda y la creación de situaciones arriesgadas e imprevisibles, aunque siempre esclarecedoras. Basada en esta obra John Huston realizó en 1941 una magistral película protagonizada por Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor y Peter Lorre.
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Hammett, Dashiellprimary 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

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

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