The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

Seven stars

In my ever-growing attempt to expand my reading parameters, I turned to my latest reading challenge book. A great fan of detective novels, I was eager to try Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel that depicts sleuthing at its finest. Full of dated references, this is a story that fans of the genre will love, while those who are easily offended will surely be pulling out their hair as they cite sexism on every page. Sam Spade is a decent investigator, who does not take himself too seriously. Miss Wonderly—a damsel in distress who is easy on the eyes—walks into Spade’s office and tosses money around to hire him. Her sister’s disappeared with a crook by the name of Thursby and Wondely wants answers. Spade is not sure he believes the tall tale, but if someone’s willing to pay him, he and his partner will take the case. Spade’s partner is killed, alongside the aforementioned Thursby, and our protagonist PI is a little concerned. With a penchant for his partner’s wife, it might appear that Spade knocked him off to have the woman all for himself. Spade brings Miss Wonderly back in and learns that she’s been lying to him all along. Her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Thursby was her partner in crime. Turns out Spade is actually needed to sell a priceless statuette from O’Shaughnessy to her former gang members, and promised a large commission. He’s leery, especially when he meets the beefy men who are involved. After being beaten, drugged, and harassed, Spade can count on no one, save his faithful secretary to keep him safe. Spade will have to stay one step ahead of all these goons and keep himself from succumbing to the wiles of Brigit O’Shaughnessy while making sure the Maltese Falcon does not end up in the wrong hands. A classic piece of sleuthing that is just as entertaining ninety-some years after its original publication. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys taking a journey back to a time when gin joints and smoky rooms were all the rage!

While I have heard all about this book, I never took the time to sit down and enjoy it (the joys of reading challenges)! Penned and published in 1929, the book is understandably dated, but that only adds to its superiority over many of the books within the detective genre today. Sam Spade is the ideal detective of the era, winking at women and piecing things together while not hiding his rough edges. Spade may not share his emotions with ease—how many men did at the time?—but he certainly connects with the reader. Spade’s inquisitive mind may not be Sherlockian, but he certainly is able to take things one step at a time and finds himself forging ahead in the case, no matter what obstacles are put before him. Hammett does a great job at adding those obstacles, in the form of both people and actions against his protagonist. The story is full of these dicey moments, where the reader is to wonder how Spade will survive. Hammett creates a wonderful cast of secondary characters, all of whom help in their own way to better the story. There are some stereotypical roles here, certainly some that will anger those espousing liberation, as well as some wonderfully nuanced individuals that only the attentive reader will discover. The story itself is quite good, with some interesting plot twists. I felt that Hammett had some wonderful sparks in this piece, though there was no raging fire as some would have me believe. Sure, this is a ninety-one year old story and things were done differently then, but I found that I could not completely connect to the story of the characters as I might have liked. Perhaps I am too inundated with ‘popcorn fiction mysteries’ in my reading adventures, but something about this ‘classic’ did not resonate with me. That being said, I am but a single voice, so choose to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Kudos, Mr. Hammett, for this great piece of detective work. I liked the banter and even those ‘faux pas’ comments that are peppered throughout. I will have to check into more of your work in the coming months.

This book fulfills the September 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: