Book Review: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon cover

I hope that everyone is doing well, and getting ready for the weekend.

Things have been going fairly well here, now that I have caught up on many of things that I have been meaning to get to, as well as continue doing what I like.

Recently, I got some books from Amazon that I would either try or get because I was not able to get around to it last month.

Today, I will be reviewing on of those titles, which is called The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

Life as a detective may seem easy to, as they can seeming relax between cases, and Sam Spade does seem to be doing fairly well for himself.

However, when somebody comes into his office to ask either him or his associate to tail a guy, both the person to be tailed and Sam's associate are killed and Sam finds himself involved in a situation in which he must cooperate with people chasing after a valuable statue if he wants to find the truth and save his own hide.

As many of you guys know, I have gained a huge interest in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres through my exposure of Detective Conan, and some things kind of surprised me, such as Hannibal Lecter first appearing in books, but there is the other surprising fact that there are movies that are well known, yet the book is not, even though it came first, and I thought I would check this out.

After reading it, I must say that I kind of liked it.

From the very first moment that I opened up and start reading this book, I did not want to put it down for any reason, though I do have to satisfy the same needs as everyone else.

While this is not exactly my first time delving into hard boiled detective fiction, as the first time that I delved into this area of detective fiction was with Jim Butcher's Storm Front, and I was not impress enough to read anymore titles like because it did not grab my attention quickly enough, in spite of the fact that it delivered much of what I expected hard boiled detective fiction to have.

However, in this book, the only full-length book from Dashiell to feature Sam Spade, my attention was captured by only the first few pages because things seemed to be interesting from the get go and the atmosphere expected from a work of hardboiled detective fiction was present.

Now, some of you guys might be sighing and saying that it would be obvious that this book would have the expected atmosphere of hardboiled detective fiction, because Dashiell is considered a pioneer of hard boiled detective fiction, just like Edgar Allan Poe is considered a pioneer of the modern whodunit, especially because Gosho Aoyama called Sam Spade “the original tough, serious, hardboiled detective” in the Mystery Library segment of the 21st volume of Detective Conan, but a work can still be pretty terrible if the writing itself is not that great, and Dashiell seems to have understood this back when he wrote this book.

If he was not able to do this much, I would have probably not only been done with hardboiled detective fiction, but I would also not get how this would have been interesting enough for there to be multiple movie adaptations, including the famous 1941 adaptation, of this particular book, as it would have been just as bad as many of the other books out there that do not deserve to be called classics.

Fortunately, he did not fail miserably like that, and I actually feel like giving him a good round of applause for actually delivering something decent.

Hopefully, the writers of today can take a look through this book and see how hardboiled detective fiction is supposed to be done, instead of having writing that feels like it is lacking something, because this is the most important element of creating a great story.

I also liked how the case itself seemed to be rather interesting and was not too obvious.

Even though cases presented in whodunits and cases presented in hardboiled detective fiction do have different things that are needed to make a great case, the fans of hardboiled detective fiction would still want to have an interesting, as that is what will put the detective in the most danger and show off their abilities better.

The case presented here was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of a case in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres in that there was not too much that was obvious and that everything was setup so well that I would have wanted to join Sam Spade as he tracked down the truth and dealt with his enemies, instead of just being a spectator, like I obviously was.

Fans of fiction want to be pulled into the world of the book and immerse themselves, and having cases like these would be able to do just that for the fans of hardboiled detective fiction, much like the fans of the other areas the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres would be happiest with getting cases and heists that are crafted so well that they actually want to try and outsmart the detective.

If the cases themselves were not interesting in a work of hardboiled fiction, the atmosphere that the fans know and love would have been gone and the detective themselves would not have a moment to shine in the face of danger, and that would probably turn them off just as much as a writing style that fails to have the reader engaged, which is something that writers do not really want to see happen, even if they are not confident that the book that they delivered was that great.

Fortunately, Dashiell was able to deliver quite well in this area, and it helped to make the whole book that much more enjoyable, which makes me feel like giving him another good round of applause.

Another nice thing about this book was how the characters actually felt real, even if it was kind of annoying.

While Dashiell is probably not known for fleshing out his characters to the extent that Weston Kincade did in the A Life of Death trilogy or provide as good of a study of how flawed humans can be, as could be seen in the Spice & Wolf books, none of the characters in this book seemed to come off as flat as they do in many other works in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres, and helped to make the world feel a bit more lively, without taking away the atmosphere that people would expect from hardboiled detective fiction.

Not only does the writing need to come off as interesting but the characters need to as well, because hardboiled detective fiction tends to go a little slower than whodunits, though not to the extent that the story could no longer be considered fast paced.

Unfortunately, writers today do not all understand how important it is to have interesting characters in a story, especially if the writer plans to include epilogues in their manuscripts, and it detracts from their stories, much like it did in Scott Rhine's Jezebel's Ladder, which was not as enjoyable because I was not able to like the characters enough for the epilogue to be worth reading, and unless things change, I do not see how things can improve.

Still, the characters that Dashiell Hamett did well enough in presenting his characters that he does deserve some praise for a job well done.

The thing that I liked the most though was how there were a few things to laugh about.

While the humorous things were probably not that unique, where compared to many of the works of fiction written and published where I live, Dashiell seemed to execute things well enough that I was able to get some sort of chuckle.

The funniest moments occurred when the notion of woman's intuition came up.

Throughout the book, Sam Spade asks his secretary what she thinks about the client that he received towards the beginning and the secretary keeps telling him that she is a good woman, which was probably part of the stereotypical notion that women were innocent back then, though I would probably have to talk to my grandmother about that to be sure if my guess is right, and then the woman ends up being involved in the whole thing.

I found this funny because women in our society are said to be full of empathy and able to accurately discern who a person is, yet Sam Spade's secretary was wrong about the client, and this instance shows how women are not actually that good about finding out what the real character of somebody is.

Woman's intuition is said to be flawless, but if Spade's secretary could get things wrong, since first impressions, which is much of what makes up woman's intuition, are not exactly that accurate because a person can behave certain ways for various reason, then it is just as flawed as everything else we come up with and relies an awful lot on assumptions based on tradition.

Seeing this truth play out, as well as the many other scenes, it made the book even more interesting, as well as made things a lot more fun, and it gives me even more reason to give Dashiell a nice round of applause.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, at least that could stand out as much as what has already been talked about.

Because the book was able to capture my interest early and hold it all the way until the end, the case was fairly interesting, the characters seemed to be interesting and felt real, as well as the fact that there were some good laughs, this was a fairly decent book.

Although I liked the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things that are too minor to talk about, such as typos, there was only one thing that really bothered me.

The criminals were a little obvious.

Even though hardboiled detective fiction is not really that big on confusing the reader, whereas whodunits must confuse the reader to be any good, there needs to be a little misdirection, so that the detective has much more to deal, in order to get to the solution, because that is the only way to keep things interesting.

Unfortunately, Dashiell was not able to misdirect me because the person that ended up killing Sam Spade's associate was the most obvious culprit there was, as well as the fact that things were a bit planned that way.

Hardboiled detective fiction is still detective fiction, and fans of detective fiction do not like it when things like this are kind of obvious because it shows that the writer did not think through things too well.

And because Dashiell made that mistake in this book, I was kind of disappointed with the way things ended, though not enough that it downgraded my experience, because the resolution did not seem to come off as strong as if it had been one of the other people.

Really, Dashiell? You expect this to fly, when Agatha Christie was already on the scene when you wrote this? It might have flown off the shelves in the late 1920s and early '30s, but this will not fly off the shelves right now, especially since this book has kind of gone forgotten.

If a reader does not feel like they have been misdirected, even a bit, they will probably not be too interested in something like this, unless they are already interested in Hollywood action flick, and would probably put it down.

Hopefully, writers today can learn from this flaw in Dashiell's work, otherwise I probably would not be willing to give something like this the time of day, because I would actually want to see something that can mesh the things that can make a whodunit great into the less formulaic hardboiled detective story.

Then again, that might be a little much to ask for, since the writers of today are just starting, while the big names just get older, and they are still human, just like the rest of us, so I am willing to give them a chance to see if they can gain the notoriety Agatha Christie had when she was in her prime in hardboiled detective fiction, and not be too disappointed when they ultimately fail.

Thankfully, there was not much else to complain about, so I can just be glad that Dashiell did not ruin things further.

While there was only one thing that was a little annoying, it was not bad enough to hurt the book too much, even if it did disappointing me a bit.

Despite the fact that there was something that was a bit disappointing, the good outweighed things enough to make this worth reading.

I recommend this to fans of hardboiled detective fiction and those that want to give it a try, because it does give a good introduction to the hardboiled genre and current fans of it will be able to enjoy themselves quite a bit.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, but if you are too used the whodunit kind of stories, you might be a little disappointed.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please consider supporting me on Patreon or buy the reviewed title from either Amazon or The Book Depository, so that I can find more worthwhile reads for you guys, and do whatever you do when you find something that impresses you.

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Copyright © 2015 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.