Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

     There I was, with that book in my hand. Old. Worn cover. Someone didn’t care for their property. Pretty short too, the kind of popular hack novel you’d see on every rack in every store. But no. I knew there was more to the story. There always is.
     So I leaned back with my feet on the table and popped open a Leinie’s. They said the author, this Dashiell Hammett, used to be a Pinkerton. We’d see how well he knew his stuff. I opened to the first page, read it through quickly.
    I was right. This was going to be a long night.

     The Maltese Falcon is best known as “that movie with Humphrey Bogart”. This is kind of sad; as much as I like the movie, the book is still quite entertaining. Sam Spade is a forerunner of the modern anti-hero. He’s a lecher (though not as bad as his erstwhile partner), he’s ruthless, and he’s not above making an innocent person take the fall. But the world he inhabits is just as messed up as he is, and compared to everyone else he’s a decent guy.
     He and his partner get a visit from a beautiful woman who claims she is looking for her sister, who ran off with a dangerous man. Sam immediately knows something up, and he’s right; his partner gets murdered and Sam gets tossed into a complicated plot to find a priceless antique. There seems to be no one he can truly trust except himself. He’s an interesting character, that’s for sure. I didn’t find him that likeable at first, but he grew on me, and the other characters were the same kind of complex. We never quite find out just how innocent Brigid is; she’s definitely in on the scheme, but how much of it is getting in over her head is never made clear. Even the young punk Wilmer seems at first to just be a violent little brat, but he shows great fear at being handed over as the fall guy, and apparently had some protective feelings toward Gutman’s daughter.
     My main problem, really, was trying not to envision Bogart when reading. Sam is actually described as a blond with a sharp widow’s peak, but the initial exposure remained in my mind.

     If you enjoy detective fiction, this is definitely one of the ones you should read, as the origin of the modern hard-boiled detective.

Quit dyeing yer hair, Sam.

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