Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The writing in Hammett's Maltese Falcon seemed to get more fluid as it went along. It started out stilted and choppy. I also wasn't particularly keen on his predilection for cataloging every single item of clothing every character was wearing. Another thing that I found strange was his choice to describe in user-manual detail exactly how, step-by-step, Sam Spade rolls a cigarette. This happened early in the book and killed the forward movement of the narrative for me.

But I read on because I found this to be a pretty interesting read (as a cultural artifact, if nothing else). I was surprised to learn that Spade's physical appearance differs so greatly from how the archetypal hard-boiled detective is portrayed in film. He's described here as a blond Satan (his countenance comprised of letter Vs, like something we'd see in a Silver Age Marvel comic book), nothing like Humphrey Bogart. I was also surprised to learn that Sam Spade is a complete asshole. You find this out early on, and it colors your perception of him throughout the book.

This book had some scenes that were pretty silly. For example, at one point a stranger comes into Spade's office, and after a short conversation, points a gun at him and wants to search the office. Spade brutally disarms the gunman, knocks him out cold, and then searches through the guy's belongings. When the gunman wakes up, they finish their conversation, come to an agreement, and Spade hands the loaded gun back to the gunman! Well, of course, the gunman goes right back to pointing the thing at Sam. Pretty silly.

One more thing that I found disappointing was that the titular falcon winds up in Spade's hands through absolutely no detective work on his part. I like it when detectives succeed through detection. I don't know, maybe I'm alone in this.

I still plan on reading Red Harvest. I've not given up on Hammett, yet.

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