The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

Book - 1957
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Publisher: San Francisco : North Point Press, c1957.
ISBN: 9780865471566
Characteristics: 291 p.


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Dec 03, 2019

This is probably because I'm "from a different era". But the values (or lack thereof) being pushed by the book turned me off of the mystery real quick. The main character talks to a woman who's desperate for his skills as a private detective, but she doesn't have money. She begs him to help and asks if she must pay with her body to help him. Pretty dark, right? But he grabs her face, kisses her without permission and says that he'll "think about it". Disgusting. I know he's a man on the edge apparently but devaluing a human being to that level? No thanks, that's not a hero I'd enjoy reading about. Also the book takes great care to tell us how hot various characters are for no reason aside from the possible conclusion that the author is lonely or ashamed of their sexual desires. He needs to tell us what outfits they are wearing how they put them on and that the main male character's skin is soft and pink. Out of nowhere. Gross. The detective's also an idiot. He beats up a guy who was about to shoot him, knocks him out, rifles through his pockets to get an idea of who he is and after chatting with him and the offender offering a quick apology, he asks for his gun back, and the detective gives it back to him and then is surprised when he yet again threatened at gunpoint. What a moron.

StevenOClark Aug 24, 2017

I finally got around to reading The Maltese Falcon. A great, terse novel. Hammett's life was the equal of his book. He lived as well as he wrote.

Apr 25, 2017

Great novel, intriguing and full of suspense. The characters and locales are described in a style that is engrossing, yet concise and minimalistic.

Jun 22, 2015

Dashiell Hammett’s beloved detective novel follows hard-boiled sleuth Sam Spade as he navigates through a web of murder and deception. He finds himself surrounded by a colourful cast of characters, such as a mischievous femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, who has as many aliases as Spade has clever retorts. Then there’s Joel Cairo, a slimy and cowardly criminal who enlists Spade’s assistance. Perhaps most eccentric of all is Kasper Gutman ( also known as “The Fat Man”), a gluttonous fiend, seduced by the lure of money. What these three peculiar villains have in common is their desire to get their hands on a falcon-shaped ornament, the titular MacGuffin. As the novel progresses, Spade begins to uncover sinister secrets and the desperate lengths these people will go to have the falcon for their own.

Most noteworthy is Hammett’s signature approach to writing. His words have a Hemingwayesque bluntness and are written with concision. The Maltese Falcon is hardly subtle, but possesses a sense of wit and charm that makes it memorable. But most admirable is Hammett’s ability to write a quasi-realistic mystery novel, where the reader is capable of suspending their disbelief to follow the plot. In Hammett’s earlier novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, Hammett would pile the pages with action and story, to the point where it became impossible to accept so much was occurring in such little time. But The Maltese Falcon is far more down to earth, calm, and entertaining.

Hammett’s protagonist is stolid and clever; he’s unflinching and always has a clever response up his sleeve. Though the character of a headstrong, jocular, and ingenious detective has become somewhat of a cliche after the likes of Hammett and Raymond Chandler, that only goes to credit Hammett’s gift for writing exciting and memorable characters. After all, everything that is now cliched was once innovative and refreshing. Yet in Hammett’s novels, the main character is always the same person. It’s the supporting personalities that give the narrative its colour. The Maltese Falcon has no shortage of engrossing secondary characters, nor does it have a shortage of descriptions for them. Spade is described as looking “rather pleasantly, like a blond Satan.” When we’re introduced to the Fat Man, as he approaches “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.” This vivid detailing is consistently found within the pages of The Maltese Falcon, as Hammett uses imagery to give us an idea of the smoky and slimy underworld he’s so enamored with.

Thematically, the novel does exist in fairly shallow territory. At least in the sense that there are no grand revelations about life and existence or other “big ideas”. It’s a story with a primary goal to entertain the readers, but it also provides some of Hammett’s insights on the world. The Maltese Falcon is filled with death (interesting, however, is the fact that all of the violence occurs off the page). Countless lives are lost over the Falcon, an ancient and valuable decorative object. People are fuelled by their greed past the point of common sense. Lives are sacrificed over such a seemingly trivial object. Hammett’s goal seems to be in pointing out the tremendous lengths human avarice will put people through.

But do not mistake The Maltese Falcon for pulp fiction. There’s nothing cheap about it. This is as sharp as American 20th century detective novels get. Excitement bubbles less within the story but more within the characters who populate it. Hammett’s quick-witted writing is what makes The Maltese Falcon more than merely a great mystery novel, but a downright great novel in relation to any genre.

Apr 24, 2015

Hammett's descriptions of his characters are like comic book illustrations: often so grotesque that I laughed in disbelief.

EuSei Mar 18, 2015

I enjoyed the movie (where Humphrey Bogart played an excellent Sam spade) more than the book. (I felt the same with "The Thin Man.") I guess I just don't like super "hard-boiled dicks" with an excessively cold demeanor and zero conscience (i.e., the nowadays considered unfashionable power to differentiate right from wrong). I read several critics' reviews in other websites stating that Hammett had a "Hemingwayesque" style; while I am not a literary critic, I found nothing in his prose to compare to Hemingway's. Hammett uses a lot of minutely detailed descriptions of what each character in each scene is doing, every little blink is recorded. It can get a bit tiresome after a while. But it is a good book, nevertheless.

bookfanatic1979 Oct 22, 2013

I found an old copy at my library’s used book sale and thought “What the hell?” I never would have read it if I hadn’t tripped over it. I think I enjoyed it more for the glimpse into the past than for the actual plot. It’s a classic, no doubt about it, and I can appreciate it for such, much as one would appreciate a fine work of art in a museum. A large part of what may have shocked readers when it first came out may be considered “old hat” to the modern reader.

Jun 19, 2013

Arguably the unbeatable aura of the American private-detective in fiction belongs to one man and one work of fiction. The man is Dashiell Hammet and the work is "The Maltese Falcon". He was a man who just seemed to know things about life and knew how to captivate us when others failed. Where did Hammet get these wonderful ideas? Millions have seen the movie starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade but reading the book is a treat. When the author is as good as Hammet his reputation makes the careers for the actors rather than actors making the career for the author. Hammet was alcoholic and suffered from tuberculosis contracted when only 24 years old and just probably wore out before his time was due. He died at the age of 66.

Roxannajayc Jul 23, 2012

One of the best detective novels of the 20th century.

Oct 07, 2011

A classic--and the beginning of the hard-boiled detective genre.

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Jan 03, 2011

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, V. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down – from high flat temples – in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

Jan 03, 2011

“I want you to know that I couldn’t be any fonder of you if you were my own son; but – well, by Gad! – if you lose a son it’s possible to get another – and there’s only one Maltese falcon.”


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FavouriteFiction Sep 30, 2009

Blamed by the police for his partner's death, hard-boiled detective Sam Spade searches for a stolen Middle Eastern statuette.

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