A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{June 12, 2014}   The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

maltesePlot: When Sam Spade is hired to track down a woman’s runaway sister, he knows she isn’t telling him the full truth. Soon his partner is dead and several parties are threatening him for information of a black stone falcon that he doesn’t possess, yet. He must use all his resources in order to find it and remain alive and out of jail.

I read this book for my book club and I’m so glad that I it was chosen. It’s one of those classics that I’ve meant to read for a long time but never got around to. It is an intriguing mystery and Hammett is an effective writer. He is very descriptive: we know what every character and place looks like in great detail. But the magic of Hammett’s writing is that this never slows the pace of the narrative. He also has a nice turn of phrase. He says of Sam Space that “he looked rather pleasantly like a blond devil.”

He also has a way with snappy dialogue.

Some elements of the story seem cliched. When a beautiful woman strolls into the narrative, I knew at once that she was trouble. This is the femme fatale we have seen a million times. They are cliches but Hammett did them first. If they have become cliches it’s because Hammett made them so memorable and effective.

Given the time period that this was written in, I feared some cringe worthy sexual characters. Spade is a cad who sleeps women and betrays them but he isn’t painted as a good man. Iva, his partner’s wife, is painted as annoying, disloyal and selfish. But Brigid and Effie surprised me. Brigid is a liar and self-interested but she is fascinating and complicated. Effie too has promise: sweet and naive but she is good at her job too.

If you like mysteries, this is a classic you should not miss. I’m planning to check out some of his other novels in the near future.

2014 (#23)


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