The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett
I’ve been meaning to read this for years. As a fan of Raymond Chandler I figured I should read the original gritty noir American detective, so I was pleased when my book club picked this for one of our “classic” reads. I was late to the book club discussion but I think we all felt the same way: this is worth reading but not as good as Chandler!
I guess I was hoping for that luscious purple prose that Chandler is such an expert at – it’s ridiculous and yet in a way beautiful. Hammett has none of that. Which isn’t to say this is badly written, it’s just a bit plainer, but still very entertaining and with moments of beauty.
The story centres on San Francisco private detective Sam Spade. He’s cynical, a womaniser, good at depriving villains of their weapons and on first-name terms with most local police, the DA and the DA’s secretary. And he sees a lot of his lawyer. The plot begins on page one, with a new client arriving in his office. Miss Wonderly wants Spade and his partner to follow a man for her, a simple enough job that predictably is neither as simple or as safe as it should have been. The maltese falcon of the title takes a while to come into play and is an appropriately mysterious unusual object around which to centre a plot that brings together a variety of criminals.