The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett

~~moved from GR~~


The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett


 Like Raymond Chandler, I have to give Dashiell Hammett credit for essentially creating one of my favourite genres: hardboiled detective/noir. In addition, Hammett's account has much more factual basis than Chandler's, as Hammett could draw from his own experiences as a Pinkerton detective. Plus, there are some truly terrific quotes in the book:

“I distrust a man that says 'when'. If he's got to be careful not to drink to much it's because he's not to be trusted when he does.”

Even so, I just can't seem to force myself to like or appreciate The Maltese Falcon, and the reason is pretty simple: I really don't like the characters.

It seems to me that every subsequent noir PI is based on either Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, and I am unilaterally pro the ones based on Marlowe. Marlowe is the fast-talking, sarcastic, cynical idealist, a jerk with a heart of gold, a tarnished knight walking the mean streets. Sam Spade... isn't. Spade's story starts out when (you guessed it) a beautiful and mysterious damsel in distress walks into his office and asks for his help. This inevitably leads to his partner's death, and Sam makes it reasonably clear that he doesn't care much personally for his partner. Oh, he's also screwing (yes, I need a word that coarse and forceful) said dead partner's wife. And his secretary. And, soon enough, said damsel. And any other woman he comes across, all while making them think they are exclusive. So Spade isn't precisely pro his partner's murderers, but he plays along, bargaining and investigating and apparently on their side. And let's be honest, it's pretty difficult to determine whose side he is on. At the end, when he frames someone else for a murder and walks off into the sunset, but does send at least some of the criminals to prison, he is asked why he didn't throw in with them. He responds that the money wasn't good enough. I honestly can't tell how serious he is, and that level of protagonist moral ambiguity really bothers me.

So no, I don't like Sam Spade, and I hold a grudge because I also tend to dislike any protagonist based on him. However, even I can recognize how significant Hammett was to the birth of noir.

Definitely a worthwhile read.