The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Alfred A. Knopf, 1930
A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, an influential man named Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett’s glittering gem of detective fiction, a story that has entertained generations of readers.
When I read reviews of The Maltese Falcon, the term “hard-boiled” was used frequently, so I looked up its definition. Hard-boiled crime fiction is a genre that features a protagonist who battles organized crime and a corrupt legal system during The Prohibition Era. The protagonists of this genre are cynical male detectives willing to shift allegiances. Untypically for the genre, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon does not include graphic sex or violence. It does include language fitting to the characters and their situations.
I read The Maltese Falcon because it is considered a classic and because a writer with more experience than I said I should. Although the plot and character-types fall outside of my preferences, I enjoyed Hammett’s writing style. The progression of events unfolds methodically, without unnecessary commentary. Only specific, telling details are included in descriptions. Every chapter ends with building tension so the reader cannot easily put the book down.
Also, Hammett limits interior thought from the characters, so readers must observe the events and make their own conclusions. This limitation of interior thought also translates to uncertainty about who readers can trust. We are right there in the room with protagonist Sam Spade, seeing events unfold, but because we don’t know what Sam Spade is thinking, we can’t be sure if he is still on the good side of things or not. As a reader, I found this fascinating. As a writer, I found it inspiring.
Have you read The Maltese Falcon recently? What are your thoughts about it?