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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon (original 1930; edition 2011)

by Dashiell Hammett

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Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

Thinking, Paperback, 2011.

8vo. 197 pp.

First published, 1929.


Spade & Archer
Death in the Fog
Three Women
The Black Bird
The Levantine
The Undersized Shadow
G in the Air
Horse Feathers
The Belvedere Divan
The Fat Man
The Emperor's Gift
La Paloma
Every Crackpot
The Third Murder
Saturday Night
The Fall Guy
The Russian's Hand
If They Hang You


First, a piece of priceless advice. Don't buy this edition! It is worth neither the $11 nor the £7 boldly printed on the front cover itself. The quantity of typos is quite abnormal and very annoying. ''Thanks a hot'', indeed!

Second, be aware that the following review is full of spoilers (including the movie).

The Maltese Falcon (1929) was my second venture, after Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939), into the realm of the hard-boiled detective classics. Both readings were stimulated mostly by my seeing the classic movies with Humphrey Bogart, made in 1941 and 1946 respectively, whose portrayals of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe have become the stuff that legends are made of. Yet both readings were also sufficiently exciting to generate further exploration of the genre.

For a number of reasons I have enjoyed Hammett's novel more than Chandler's. Which is indeed surprising as The Maltese Falcon is much closer to its movie version and I was much better prepared for it. To put the matter briefly, Hammett's writing, though every bit as detailed as Chandler's (occasionally even more so!), is more accomplished, more atmospheric, and more compelling; his dialogue is superior, his handling of the female characters more convincing. Sam Spade himself is, for my part, a more realistic and more intriguing a character than Philip Marlowe. This is partly because he is not almost impossibly honest, partly because his relationships with women make him more human, and partly because he is a tougher guy with quicker and more sarcastic tongue.

It is a tribute to Hammett's powerful writing that he made me forget completely both the looks and the voice of Humphrey Bogart. Sam Spade is an altogether different character, with his own distinctive looks (''like a blond Satan'') and his own voice (''Shoo her in, darling'', though Bogie imitated this rather nicely). It's interesting that Hammett, writing in the third person unlike Chandler, almost never mentions the mental state of his characters. This includes Sam as well, even though the whole novel is told through his eyes and there is not a single page in which he does not appear. However, Hammett's ability to describe physical appearances, voices and facial expressions is matchless. A number of phrases (e.g. ''hazel eyes' gaze'') stuck into the mind, giving so vivid an impression that even the screen can seldom match. Consider several random examples:

He stood beside the fireplace and looked at her with eyes that studied, weighed, judged her without pretense that they were not studying, weighing, judging her. She flushed slightly under the frankness of his scrutiny, but she seemed more sure of herself than before, though a becoming shyness had not left her eyes. He stood there until it seemed plain that he meant to ignore her invitation to sit beside her, and then crossed to the settee.

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, were dark and sleek.

His voice was a throaty purr

His forehead was bandaged. His clothes had the limp unfreshness of too many hours' consecutive wear. His face was pasty, with sagging mouth and eyelids.

Similarly descriptive passages also work marvellously conveying the atmosphere of the surroundings:

The tappity-tap-tap and the thin bell and muffled whir of Effie Perine's typewriting came through the closed door. Somewhere in the neighboring office a power-driven machine vibrated dully. On Spade's desk a limp cigarette smoldered in a brass tray filled with the remains 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.

Simple, straightforward, direct writing, almost as if you're reading a scientific article, yet oddly compelling. It is only seldom that clumsiness and pretentiousness, plus more repetition of the same words than necessary, mar Hammett's otherwise impeccable and evocative style, as in this case:

The indelible youngness of his face gave an indescribably vicious - and inhuman - turn to the while-hot hatred and the cold white malevolence in his face.

You might just as well have left this ''indescribable'' stuff without description, Dashiell. But it's no big deal.

Perhaps the best thing about Hammett's writing is that all conclusions about his characters, so alive yet so elusive, is entirely left to the imagination of the reader. All you get are hints: spoken words, facial expressions, voices, body language. The difference between appearance and reality is up to you to tell. Now this is something I appreciate very highly. It's also something that creates a sinister atmosphere, much more ''noir'' than in the movie, which fits the story to perfection.

Contrasting with this scarcity of feelings, there is an overwhelming abundance of detail, not just about the exterior of the characters and the surroundings, but also about the action. I do think this is a mistake and a writer is unwise to burden his prose with half-page long descriptions of a newspaper's contents or an apartment’s search. Yet again Hammett passes the test with flying colours. He has a way of stringing words in a most intoxicating manner. Prolixity I would not normally tolerate is here turned into a very exciting piece of fiction. Spade's knocking off Cairo would give an excellent idea how an excessive detail in an action scene, of all places, can work surprisingly well:

Spade by means of his grip of the Levantine's lapels turned 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 lean-colored face. Then Spade smiled. His 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, covering for a moment one side of his chin, a corner of his mouth, and most of his cheek between cheek-bone and jaw-bone.

How much more attractive than ''he punched him in the jaw''!

Considering the spiritual reticence of the narrative, it is instructive to note how Sam Spade is described by the other characters. Their words paint a fascinating portrait. His lawyer, aptly named ''Wise'', is pleasantly blunt and quite accurate: ''You're a son of a gun, Sammy''. His secretary, Effie Perine, is very perceptive: ''you're the most contemptible man God ever made when you want to be''. It's also revealing to know what Sam's – ahem – business partners think. Joel Cairo observes with his frigid formality: ''You have always, I must say, a smooth explanation ready''. The fat, jovial and loquacious Gutman hits the nail on the head with ''You're a character'' and, even more so, with ''Well, sir, frankly I'd like to have you along. You're man to my liking, a man of many resources and nice judgment.''

So this is Sam Spade, a man who looks for ''a reasonable amount of trouble'', but there is also a great deal of trouble that's looking for him. Unlike Marlowe, he is not ''nauseated by women'', but rather on the contrary. He takes them as they come, has as much fun as possible, and moves along. Even though he is not quite as honest and full of virtues as Marlowe, Spade is by no means your ordinary crook without scruples. Far from it. Indeed, he is always ready, much like Marlowe, to get into serious trouble with the police or with the DA in order to protect his clients. What he is not ready to do is to ''play the sap'' – for anybody. He can be cool, detached and inscrutable when dealing with dangerous subjects or situations; note, especially, his handling of ''The Third Murder'' that came out of the blue. He can also be impatient, peevish and irritable when crossed, made a fool of, or punched in the face without a chance to hit back, as amply demonstrated with Brigid, Dundy and the DA, to take but three examples. Altogether, Sam Spade is a surprisingly realistic, coherent and likable character. The last characteristic is a matter of taste, but the other two can only come from a consummate writer.

The plot is every bit as captivating as the protagonist, which means it's nearly perfect. The only slight blemish on it is the episode with Gutman's drugged daughter. It is unnecessary and it is dull. That's the only place in the whole novel in which she appears and it doesn't make much sense. No matter. The rest is brilliantly done, very close to the movie yet far more detailed and, just like The Big Sleep, much easier to understand and follow. If not from the first chapter, at any rate from the second I was set on the edge of my chair and there was no relaxation for the next 180 pages or so. It takes a lot to achieve that with somebody, like me, for whom the plot holds virtually no surprises, nor the dialogue many new lines. The novel adroitly avoids anti-climax. Hammett has a surprise or two in his sleeve until the very end.

Spade's relationships with the ''Three Women'' is a story in itself. In addition to the efficient Effie and the alluring Brigid, there is also the mentally unstable Iva, the wife of Archer, Sam's partner. Spade has all right vocabulary - ''precious'', ''angel'', ''honey'' - and he handles the ladies expertly. Or does he? One of the greatest glories of the book, thankfully retained in the movie, is the magnificently un-sentimental ending. Sam ''won't play the sap'' for Brigid and she is ''taking the fall''. Just then, when the male reader becomes complacent about his resistance to the power of the gentle sex, comes the final page - and it packs quite a punch. In but a few lines the other two women in Sam's life made him ''pale as his collar'' and ''shiver''. It's a superb ending, no doubt satisfying the ladies and leaving us, the men, contemplating disquieting thoughts. Yet another fine thing about Hammett is that he is not as sexist as you might expect.

The screenplay of the classic movie with Humphrey Bogart was apparently ripped off complete from the novel. There had to be many cuts, of course, but pretty much the complete dialogue was kept virtually intact. This includes many great lines that have become legendary thanks to Bogie's inimitable performance. Well, they ''sound'' just as fine in the novel. Here are some particular favourites, almost exclusively coming from Sam's mouth, which are to be found almost verbatim in the movie. The list is by no means complete.

I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble.

Everybody has something to conceal.

People lose teeth talking like that.
[…] If you want to hang around, you'll be polite.

Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be.

You don't have to trust me as long as you can persuade me to trust you.

We didn't exactly believe your story.

We believed your two hundred dollars.
I mean that you paid us more than if you'd been telling us the truth […] and enough more to make it all right.

If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? If I know you can't afford to kill me till you have it, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

[Cairo:] You have always, I must say, a smooth explanation ready.
[Spade:] What do you want me to do? Learn to stutter?

''Mr. Archer was so – so alive yesterday afternoon, so solid and hearty and – ''
''Stop it,'' Spade commanded. ''He knew what he was doing. They're the chances we take.
''Was – was he married?
''Yes, with ten thousand insurance, no children, and a wife who didn't like him.''

You won't need much of anybody's help. You're good. You're very good. It's chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like 'Be generous, Mr. Spade.'''

I hope to Christ they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.
If they hang you I'll always remember you.

[Mocking Iva's ''bright idea'' that he might have killed her husband:]
You killed my husband, Sam, be kind to me.

[Brigid's best offer to Sam, unfortunately but expectedly missing from the movie.]
Can I buy you with my body?

[Gutman's charming explanation why Wilmer is going to be a ''fall guy'':]
- if you lose a son it's possible to get another – and there's only one Maltese Falcon.

[Wilmer's longest and most complex sentence in the novel:]
Keep on riding me and you're going to be picking iron out of your navel.

[Sam's playing dangerous games with the DA:]
Then again, you and the police have both accused me of being mixed up in the other night's murders. I've had trouble with both of you before. As far as I can see, my best chance of clearing myself of the trouble you're trying to make for me is by bringing in the murderers – all tied up. And my only chance of ever catching them and tying them up and bringing them in is by keeping away from you and the police, because neither of you shows any signs of knowing what the hell it's all about.
Now if you want to go to the Board and tell them I'm obstructing justice and ask them to revoke my license, hop to it. You've tried it before and it didn't get you anything but a good laugh all around.
And I don't want any more of these informal talks. I've got nothing to tell you or the police and I'm Goddamned tired of being called things by every crackpot on the city payroll. If you want to see me, pinch me or subpoena me or something and I'll come down with my lawyer.

[And from Sam's stupendous final speech to Brigid:]
Listen. This isn't a damned bit of good. You'll never understand me, but I'll try once more and then we'll give it up. Listen. When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens 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, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.


Next, I've no reason in God's world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you'd have something on me that you could use wherever you happened to want to. That's five of them. The sixth would be that, since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure you wouldn't decide to shoot a hole in me some day. […] All those on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won't argue about that. But look at the number of them. Now on the other side we've got what? All we've got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.

It's a tremendous speech that cannot but make one feel admiration for Spade. The book considerably improves on the movie by having him ruminating, in broken and halting phrases, on the fleeting nature of love: the most important factor why one shouldn't take it very seriously. It would benefit the world to have some of Sam's common sense. He seems to be one of those rare individuals who can, at least to a large degree, separate their reason from their passion. Or is he?

It's easy enough to be nuts about you. […] But I don't know what that amounts to. Does anybody ever? But suppose I do? What of it? Maybe next month I won't. I've been through it before – when it lasted that long. Then what? Then I'll think I played the sap. And if I did it and got sent over then I'd be sure I was the sap. Well, if I sent you over I'll be sorry as hell – I'll have some rotten nights – but that'll pass.

Ironically, one of the most famous (mis)quotations in the movie – the Shakespeare-inspired ''the stuff the dreams are made of'' – is not in the novel. But it is a perfect description of the Maltese Falcon anyway. Also, I must say I was delighted to improve my collection of slang expressions and colloquialisms. Unforgettable examples include ''talk turkey'' (talk seriously) and ''horse feathers'' (nonsense). Now that's the stuff the natural dialogue is made of.

As far as the movie on the whole is concerned, for my part it is worth watching mostly for Humphrey Bogart. He has little to do with Sam Spade from the pages, at least physically, but he is entirely convincing on his own and by no means less fascinating. Peter Lorre as Cairo and Sidney Greenstreet as Gutman (both with small parts in Casablanca as well) do an excellent job as the bad guys, but they are hardly as compelling as their corresponding characters in the novel. Nevertheless, they look perfect – Lorre like a Hungarian gypsy, Greenstreet like Churchill – and they sound perfect: Cairo exceedingly polite; Gutman hearty and sly.

The greatest disappointments are the wooden Mary Astor as Brigid and the guy (whatever his name was) who plays Wilmer. The latter comes off a sinister fellow under Hammett's pen, but in the movie he is rather comic; this is not quite inappropriate, perhaps, as Spade constantly makes fun of him. As for Mary Astor, I wonder who chose her for a role she neither looks right for nor has the capacity to play. Say, Rita Hayworth or Olivia de Havilland would have made a much better job as a femme fatale. Vivien Leigh would have been just awesome. Let's assume that contractual obligations got in the way.

Anyway, it's a fine movie, at least for Bogie's performance and John Huston's masterful direction (note the four close-ups when Wilmer ''woke up'' as a fall guy). The greatest credit, however, goes to Dashiell Hammett for providing a terrific extended screenplay in the form of novel. It fully lives up to its classical status in the genre. I'll be reading him again. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Apr 23, 2012 |
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This is supposed to be a book that helped create and define a genre, but I was completely underwhelmed.

There was so much promise to the book, but I felt in a lot of areas it really fell short. There was certainly a lack in character development and absolutely no suspense or climax to speak of. There was no spark to keep me interested and I only finished it as it was a book club pick. ( )
  NatalieS11 | Sep 29, 2015 |
Sam Spade is one of the most well known private detectives in the genre. I have seen the movie with Humphrey Bogart several times, but this is the first time I've read the book. A beautiful woman comes to Spade's office, looking for help. His partner is murdered, and the cops want to believe he didn't do it. Or do they? Bad guys want something that Spade may or may not be able to deliver. At the center of it all is a valuable black statuette of a bird. The story is fun. The narrator was ok. A few of his voices were over the top.

November 2014 ( )
  NanaCC | Jul 26, 2015 |
Sam Spade is a PI, who is hired by Miss Wonderley to find her sister. His partner Miles Archer is shot while following Floyd Thursby, who supposedly has control over the sister. The police think Sam may have killed Archer. To make matters worse, Sam has been having an affair with Archer's widow. Then Thursby is found dead and Miss Wonderley has checked out of her hotel. She contacts Sam to meet her at her new address under another name. When he arrives, she is evasive, but reveals she has yet another name. Sam doesn't know wether to believe anything she says. Back at his office, the mystery deepens when Joel Cairo asks him to help recover a statuette in the shape of a black bird, then draws a gun on him when they're alone.

This book has been voted as the best mystery by the Mystery Writers of America. The story has many twists and turns. It's a marvel watching Spade trying to stay one step ahead of all the other players. In short, it's a classic story that is hard to beat. ( )
  Bruce_McNair | Jun 13, 2015 |
Perhaps the greatest author of the detective genre, Dashiell Hammett gives us Sam Spade at his best. Set in San Francisco during the 1940's, Hammett brings us back to a time long gone.

The plot is relatively simple, but the characters are what make the novel. Spade is mentally sharp, honest in character, and ready to back up his opinion with his fists. Seemingly having ice water in his veins, Spade is ever the cool customer no matter the odds against him. His client, Brigid, is a double-dealing female willing to switch sides at will when the wind changes directions, obviously used to using her good looks and damsel-in-distress act to get her way. Joel Cairo, the stereotypical homosexual, also seems to be in the game only for himself. The wealthy fat man Casper Gutman and his henchman Wilmer represent the evil antagonists.

The plot is developed slowly. Brigid O'shaughnessy drops by Spades office to hire him to tail her supposed boy friend Floyd Thursby. Brigid is not forthcoming with her real name or the real reason for the job. Miles Archer, Sam's partner, agrees to tail Thursby. Later that evening, Spade receives a call saying that Miles had been killed. Spade becomes a suspect because of his affair with Iva Archer, Miles's wife. Iva actually thinks Sam killed Miles so they could be married. Lt. Dundy, obviously at odds with Spade, is out to bury Sam. However, Spade does have friends in the department, most notably Tom Pohaus. The more Sam tries to get information from Brigid, the more she puts him off.

Enter Joel Cairo. He tries to hire Spade to find a statue of a bird, which we discover is the Malttese falcon. Also, Sam is asked to meet with Gutman, who is also looking to get his hands on the statue. Spade finds out that the statue is a jewel encrusted gold statue of a falcon that has been painted with black enamel to disguise it's value. While the others are trying to use Spade as a pawn to get their hands on the valuable artifact, Sam uses his wits to insert himself into the mix to become a major player. The game's afoot, and only the most cunning player will emerge victorious. Two more murders later, all the main players meet in Spade's apartment to see who will come away with the statue.

The story takes place in San Francisco, which is a fairly large city. But Sam Spade shows the professionalism of his craft by knowing people wherever he goes. This is a classic from a bygone era, and one thing I noticed was that all the men wore hats. I doubt that there will ever be a novel that tops "The Maltese Falcon" in the detective genre. ( )
  NPJacobsen | Jun 6, 2015 |
"His eyes burned yellowly."

That's all I need to say. ( )
  trilliams | May 30, 2015 |
The classic mystery (made into the famous movie) in which private eye Sam Spade is seeking the jeweled falcon in competition with the fat man Caspar Gutman and a beautiful treacherous woman. Brigid O" Shaunessy who is reminiscent of the woman with silver eyes in the Op stores. ( )
  antiquary | Apr 29, 2015 |
With The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett started a genre - - that of the hard - boiled detective. Even more :in Sam Spade, we have one of literature's first anti-heroes. As such, he has become iconic, much-imitated and - parodied. I imagine that as the first of his kind, he busted a lot of models, and is celebrated for that.

But reading The Maltese Falcon in 2013, it was hard for me to do so without all those imitators in mind. Most of the imitators have been hacks. But in the intervening decades, I think some have proven superior, which makes The Maltese Falcon lose some of its glow.

Hammett is actually not a very descriptive writer. In fact, he made me very tired every time he spoke of Spade's "yellow-flecked eyes" and the V in his forehead. (By the time he got to The Thin Man, Hammett was more polished.) The plot, however, carried me on.

And incidentally, I have to say that the edition I read was filled with distracting typesetting mistakes :misspellings, missing quotation marks, etc. The publisher apparently tried saving money by not hiring a proofreader. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
Well, I can't say I really enjoyed this book, I didn't hate it but...I didn't really like it either. Mostly I found it interesting as a look at the early days of a genre.
I suspect many of my problem with it stem from just how different the times and writing styles were compared to today. The misogyny and homophobia in this book was appalling, but a product of it's time.
Beyond that though, while the plot was interesting and I liked the over setting and feel of the book, there were just way to many plot holes, things that worked out just because they worked out with no plausible reason or cause and flat, uninteresting characterizations that often bordered on the insulting. Especially the women. And I could not like Sam Spade, at all. He's a sociopath and I don't get why so many people seem to like him....though I suppose that isn't far off from real life since sociopaths are often charming. I just couldn’t bring myself to like him or care, or like anyone in this book, there was not one sympathetic character in the whole thing.

I'm glad I read it, it was well worth reading just for the experience but I doubt I'll read another Dashiell Hammett book ever again. ( )
  Kellswitch | Apr 4, 2015 |
This is my first Dashiell Hammett book. It was good, but didn't knock my socks off. The ending made up for a lot of flailing throughout the story.

Spade is a bit too hard edged for my taste. And the colloquialisms of the time left me saying "huh?" quite a bit, which may have prevented me from being able to fully appreciate it. I'll definitely try another one down the line. ( )
  grandpahobo | Mar 22, 2015 |
This mystery novel, generally considered to be Dashiell Hammett's finest work, appeared in serial form in Black Mask magazine in 1929 and was published as a novel the following year. Some critics have said that the Biblical invocation "The love of money is the root of all evil" sums up Falcon's theme.
Detective Sam Spade's partner Archer is hot on a case, and as his partner, Spade must find the killer. The investigation becomes enmeshed ( )
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  Tutter | Feb 27, 2015 |
A true classic, one of the great early novels of the hard-boiled American gumshoe, I was reminded while reading it of the apocryphal story of the English student who complained while first reading Shakespeare, "It's full of cliches!" If the style here seems cliched, it's because Hammett set the style. The Bogart movie, of course, had long been a favorite of mine, but Hammett's descriptions are textured enough that I was soon picturing Sam Spade as described by Hammett, not as he appeared on the silver screen. Actually, the events and most of the great lines of the book and movie are remarkably true to each other, with the exception of that great closing line uttered by Bogart in the movie (if you've seen it, you know the line). Also, in the book, Joel Cairo and Wilmer are lovers, which was apparently too daring for the movie audiences of the time. I'm surprised it was handled so matter-of-factly in the novel. ( )
  burnit99 | Jan 27, 2015 |
I bought this book at Goodwill a few years ago and it has wallowed in my massive to-read pile. I had seen the movie but some twenty years ago and didn't remember anything specific.

I've only read noir fiction in its modern urban fantasy form, so it was enlightening to read a classic. It surprised me. First of all, it's a fast read and a short book--about 200 pages. It's a thriller in the purest sense, with constant action and deft twists and turns. I pride myself on predicting what will happen in most books, but here, I was constantly surprised. It is very much a book of its time period. Sam Spade is a macho man if ever there was one. There's sex and adultery--I didn't expect that raciness--and some clever dialogue that alludes to the f-word.

The dialogue is what really makes this. Going beyond Sam's noir schtick, the dialogue sounds REAL (and maybe in the '30s, before it became such a trope, his dialogue had more truth as well). This came across to me last night when I pulled up some movie clips on You Tube. The Humphrey Bogart picture is very loyal to the book, down to exact dialogue. It works phenomenally well.

I'm glad to have read the book. It has a BookCrossing.com label in it, and I intend to return the book to Goodwill so its journey can continue. ( )
  ladycato | Jan 24, 2015 |
Beautiful copy of seminal hard-boiled detective story, with period illustrations and endmaps. ( )
  unclebob53703 | Jan 24, 2015 |
A second read, this time for a book group. More fun than I remembered, and with that snappy pulp style that suited Humphrey Bogart so well. It seemed as though the book could have been created with the movie stars in mind - Sydney Greenstreet as Gutman, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, Elisha Cook Jr. as "the gunsel." A fairly silly plot by today's standards, but read it for the dialogue and the creation of the "noir" stereotypes we all have come to love through Hollywood's portrayals - the sad but outwardly tough private eye, the thick cops, the duplicitous, seductive dame, the true-blue Gal Friday and on and on. Non-PC in its depiction of homosexuals and women, so buyer beware!
  kishields | Nov 23, 2014 |
While I’m familiar with film noir, this is, I think, the first crime story I’ve read that can be called noir. Of course this title is much better known as the film, but I can see how Dashiell Hammett won such praise for his writing. He allows the personality of his protagonist, Sam Spade, to emerge through what he says and does, rarely if ever giving his thoughts, restricting himself to describing Sade’s facial expressions which are often a disguise for what’s really going on his mind. I think this is effective characterisation even if Spade is not someone to like.

What else works well is the way Hammett keeps pushing the plot forwards as you’d want in this type of fiction – the reader has to keep up and this makes it more interesting. As you’d expect there are attitudes that today are considered if not unfortunate, then at least politically incorrect, such as using Cairo’s homosexuality to denigrate him, but this could be attributed to the way Hammett leads the reader to descry aspects of Spade’s character, including the way he was having an affair, loveless on his behalf, with his partner’s wife.

For a novel so rooted in its time and popular culture, this book has stood the test of time well even though I wouldn’t want to read many like it. ( )
1 vote evening | Oct 31, 2014 |
Very good on re-read. Clear lines, succinct dialogue. Knight in rusty armor does the right thing in spite of himself. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 22, 2014 |
I really enjoyed reading Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon." I had already seen the movie so the plot wasn't exactly a surprise-- but the overall tone and pacing of the book that it is fun to read.

Detective Sam Spade is in his office when the pretty Miss Wonderly comes marching in with a problem that needs solving. Spade's partner ends up dead and he becomes mixed up with criminals on the hunt for the mysterious falcon.

This is the novel that was responsible for launching the era of the hard-boiled detective, whose eye for detail helps him solve crimes and have his way with the ladies. I can see why others took the idea and ran with it -- this novel is really great. ( )
1 vote amerynth | Oct 19, 2014 |
Hardboiled San Francisco detective Sam Spade is approached by a mysterious female who asks him to find her sister, which instead turns into the hunt for a valuable statue. I saw the 1941 movie in college as an illustration of noir film and an example of MacGuffin usage and while I am a fan of the film (let's be honest, Bogart could do magic), the book falls a short for me, mainly because I don't like Spade and I think that's a prerequisite if you want to "get" the humor. Perhaps I've read too much modern noir to go along with the silly dames and the macho males. As a sample of its genre it's spot on and I can appreciate it for that, but as an enjoyable read it's not a major hit, unfortunately. ( )
  -Eva- | Aug 1, 2014 |
I really want to like this book because it was highly recommended by other mystery writers. The writing was good and it was written in another era. But I just don't like Sam Spade.


I don't like how he had an affair with his partner's wife. And when his partner's wife became "available," he tried to dodge her. ( )
  annertan | Jul 31, 2014 |
When a beautiful woman shows up in the office of private detective Sam Spade and his partner asking for a tail on a man, it leads to the death of Spade's partner as well as the man he was tailing. Everyone seems to think Spade knows more than he does about the deaths and a mysterious object, and Spade tries not to change their perception while discovering as much as he can about the mystery. I had seen the film several times, but this is the first time I've read the book. Spade can hold his own in a fight, but he has more than physical strength going for him. It's a shame that Hammett didn't write more novels featuring this intelligent, quick thinking, and quick talking private eye. The mystery has a strong sense of place in San Francisco, and it's difficult to imagine the action taking place anywhere else. I have all of Hammett's novels in a collected edition and I look forward to reading the rest at some point in the future. ( )
  cbl_tn | Jul 20, 2014 |
This novel is a classic from 1929. The detective is Sam Spade located in San Francisco and one of the first hard-boil detective genre. Spade and his partner are hired by a woman and soon his partner is dead. This woman isn't telling the truth, uses her feminine whiles to get her way and Sam has to dig for the clues to who murdered his partner and why. Of course it all involves the Maltese Falcon. It's a quick read. I liked it much better than The Thin Man. This book is one of the 100 best on the Modern Library list. ( )
  Kristelh | Jul 9, 2014 |
Hammett is an amazing writer. I picked this book up after reading about Hammett's life, and how, essentially, he wrote furiously and gained fame fast, but then had writer's block the rest of his life.

This book was great in the sense that every detective novel I've ever read, or movie I've seen (or even Picard's holodeck excursions on Star Trek: The Next Generation) are based on the descriptions Hammett creates here.

I have now read 2 of Hammett's books, and I hope to read more!
( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Hammett is an amazing writer. I picked this book up after reading about Hammett's life, and how, essentially, he wrote furiously and gained fame fast, but then had writer's block the rest of his life.

This book was great in the sense that every detective novel I've ever read, or movie I've seen (or even Picard's holodeck excursions on Star Trek: The Next Generation) are based on the descriptions Hammett creates here.

I have now read 2 of Hammett's books, and I hope to read more!
( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
I found a copy of The Maltese Falcon among my adult son's left-behind-upon-growing-up books and decided to reread it (long ago read, long ago forgotten) for two reasons: I needed an "easy read" at bedtime during tax season (I earn my living as a tax consultant) and because so many contemporary poets seem to be fascinated by noir fiction and films and I want to "get it." Hmmm. It's hard to read this book without populating it in one's imagination with movie stars' faces and figures. That said, the aspect of Hammett's novel that most amused and mystified me was his physical description of his characters. I just could not mentally picture all the "v"s inscribed in Sam Spade's face ("His lips protruded loosely, pouting. He drew them in to make a hard v and went to the telephone."), nor his yellow, leaden, molten, etc. gaze. All of this I found hilarious. I also laughed during the big confrontation scene at the end where Sam Spade gets the best of the gang of thieves (Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Gutman, Cairo,& the young and loathsome gunman Wilmer)and while doing so sends Brigid to the kitchen to whip up breakfast (not just coffee, mind you, but eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade). She may have been a cold-blooded murderer and perhaps the most ruthless person in the room, but she was also the "secretary" when the "boss" got hungry. In a less critical view, perhaps Hammett intended to reprise here the breakfast Sam cooked for Brigid the morning after their one steamy night together earlier in the novel. Which brings me to the ending, which buys the book in my opinion. The interchange between Sam and Brigid when he lets her know that he's going to turn her in for the murder of his business partner Miles is priceless. Spade "Well, if I send you over I'll be sorry as hell--I'll have some rotten nights-but that'll pass." Bottom line: "I won't play the sap for you." ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
I very much enjoyed the fast pace and quick banter of this novel, and could not help envisioning Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet while I was reading about Spade, Cairo, and Gutman. It has been a while since I saw the movie, but the book felt very familiar, and now that I see Hammett also wrote the screenplay for the movie, I see why.

Lots of fun! ( )
  glade1 | May 19, 2014 |
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