The Maltese Falcon
One of the greatest crime novels of the 20th century.
'His name remains one of the most important and recognisable in the crime fiction genre. Hammett set the standard for much of the work that would follow' Independent
Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down…
Why read it?
7 authors picked The Maltese Falcon as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
This book proves that plots can both be tight and make no sense at the same time while still telling a story that holds our interest. The Maltese Falcon is a mystery that never gets solved, but by the end, you understand the point that Hammett wanted us to understand: for criminals, the world is a greedy mess, and chasing dark dreams for them is what they want more than catching the dream. The book is better than the movie, and the movie is fantastic.
Hammett and Raymond Chandler were the founding fathers of the hard-boiled crime genre. This iconic novel features San Francisco private investigator Sam Spade. Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, are hired for a job by an attractive young woman and almost immediately Archer is murdered. Spade, who has been having an affair with his partner’s wife, must now hunt down Archer’s killer while dealing with a group of curious and untrustworthy con artists who are hunting for a very valuable and long-lost statuette.
The Maltese Falcon is the prototype for a historical PI mystery, even if it was written in 1929, the time that it took place. Sam Spade is the PI that generations of writers emulated with their protagonists. He is a wise cracking tough guy with his own set of principles that don’t always stack up the same as the law. Where he is stark, black, and white in a tumultuous time, the supporting cast is a colorized version of glittering personalities that gives flavor to a mystery full of plot twists and layers of deceit, lies, and corruption.
As the father of the hard-boiled PI novel, Dashiell Hammett takes the reader through San Francisco, using full advantage of the fog, the streets and intersections, the drug stores and eateries, and the horn on Alcatraz Island to create an indelible sense of the city circa 1930. Many sites still stand, including John’s Grill on Ellis Street, a steakhouse where detective Sam Spade eats a meal near the end of the novel. Several years ago I visited John’s Grill. After I showed my Mystery Writers of America membership card and said how thrilled I was to be there, the server…
This classic crime story set the pattern for many private eye stories to come. The fast-paced story unfolds as characters try their best to double-cross each other in the space of hours. Noir wasn’t invented in this book, but it sure got a big kick in the right direction by Hammett.
Much like Chandler gave writers of PI novels a standard of wit and intricate plotting to aim for, Dashiell Hammett, with Sam Spade, sets the standard for the profile of the hard-boiled PI. He’s endowed with the flaws all men (or most of us) are heir to, but unlike most of us, he has principles and, quirky and self-defeating though they may be, he’ll hold to them no matter what paycheck, peril, or seductress attempts to lure him away. So many others have called The Maltese Falcon the best PI novel ever published, I won’t bother.
This might be the easiest No. 1 in the history of No. 1s. Falcon is the gold standard of hardboiled detective fiction, the blueprint mystery-PI writers have faithfully followed for damn near a century now. Falcon lets PI Sam Spade careen into the world, a new kind of tough-guy anti-hero hero, tight-lipped, wisecracking, violent, street-smart, with devastatingly sexy femme fatales, cheerfully amoral and very witty bad guys. The best part? Sure, the novel is better than the movie. It usually is. No, it’s the prose: Minimal, evocative, more so than even Hemingway. Hammett lets the story play out through the…
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