I read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett a while ago, but kept putting off writing about it because I don’t exactly know what to say about it. First of all, I can’t really decide whether I liked it or not. Second, I just find it hard to discuss. Let me try to describe it anyway…
The novel opens with Sam Spade, and Miles Archer, Private Detectives, being hired by a beautiful young lady who introduces herself as Miss Wonderley to track down her sister who seemed to have run away with an older man of questionable morality. Spade and his partner take on the case, only to learn later that Miss Wonderley isn’t who she claimed to be, and the case was a lot more complicated than she made it out to be. After some unfortunate events regarding his partner Miles Archer, Spade learns the true nature of the case – Miss Wonderley wants Spade to help her obtain a certain priceless falcon statue which dates back to the Crusades. Unfortunately for Spade, and for Miss Wonderley, other people are also on the look-out for the priceless statue. Instead of a straight out investigation, Spade gets involved not only in tracking down the fabled treasure, but also in protecting Miss Wonderley from those who wish to do her harm and get their hands on the bejeweled bird.
I think The Maltese Falcon would fall under the category of noir / hard-boiled detective novel. Its protagonist, Sam Spade, immortalized by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 movie adaptation, is far from the kind-hearted hero. Quite the contrary. Sam Spade is a hard, cynical, sexist, abrasive character who isn’t ashamed to admit that money is the most important part of the job – that and looking out for himself. Spade, like similar characters of hard-boiled detective novels are flawed individuals dealing with their own personal issues which make them a pain in the ass to those around them.
The novel is quite readable, though I found the language and expressions used by the characters difficult to understand at times. Being a hardened Private Detective in the 1930s, Spade’s speeches were oftentimes peppered with slang words and phrases unfamiliar to me but probably quite common at the time and in that setting.
I enjoy crime fiction a lot, and The Maltese Falcon is probably canon in the genre. However, I found it hard to enjoy the novel. I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters, or to even find them believable, and I thought the dialogue throughout were awkward and even downright cheesy. I did think, however, that these might just be the tell-tale signs of a novel described as noir / hard-boiled. I’ve read so many great reviews of this novel, which also seems to be a cult classic, so I was disappointed that I wasn’t blown away by it; that I barely found it interesting. Did I miss something? Do I just not appreciate the art of the noir genre and true hard-boiled detective fiction?
For those who have read this novel or seen its movie adaptation, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.
The Maltese Falcon (1930) – Dashiell Hammett
Alfred A. Knopf; 213 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 2/5