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The Maltese Falcon

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Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

213 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1930

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About the author

Dashiell Hammett

465 books2,267 followers
Also wrote as Peter Collinson, Daghull Hammett, Samuel Dashiell, Mary Jane Hammett

Dashiell Hammett, an American, wrote highly acclaimed detective fiction, including The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1934).

Samuel Dashiell Hammett authored hardboiled novels and short stories. He created Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) among the enduring characters. In addition to the significant influence his novels and stories had on film, Hammett "is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time" and was called, in his obituary in the New York Times, "the dean of the... 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction."

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashiell...

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5 stars
31,267 (30%)
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38,445 (37%)
3 stars
24,390 (23%)
2 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,103 reviews
Profile Image for Kevin Kuhn.
Author 2 books567 followers
June 27, 2022
Sam Spade doesn’t need to go looking for trouble, trouble finds him. I found an interesting old hardbound version of this novel at a used bookstore and I couldn’t resist it. Dashiell Hammett wrote this story originally as a serial in the magazine Black Mask. It was eventually published as a novel in 1930. Dashiell Hammett was a major influence on the establishment of ‘hard-boiled’ detective fiction and through film adaptations of his stories – film-noir. Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade in the most famous adaptation of The Maltese Falcon in 1941. I had seen the film long ago and I remember enjoying it, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember the plot. I really enjoyed the read, as it’s as pure a ‘film-noir’ hard-boiled detective story as you get -- brimmed hats, cigarettes, guns, and even opening with a femme fatale walking into the detective agency as the opening scene. If you don't think it's culturally relevant, just know that the prop statue from the 1941 film sold for $4 Million in 2013!

Hammett writes well – narration is largely just descriptions. He keeps things simple, but occasionally slips in clever little phrases, such as:

“Spade put the cigarette in his mouth, set fire to it, and laughed smoke out.”
“She frowned at her knees.”
“She squirmed on her end of the settee and her eyes wavered between heavy lashes, as if trying and failing to free their glaze from his.”

For the most part, he just lets the story playout through the dialog and action of the characters. Without any insight into their thoughts or motivation through narration, we still get very distinct and rich characters. Spade is determined, cold, and highly observant. The feme fatale is devious, manipulative and unreliable, but still somehow alluring and enchanting. That Hammett can create such distinctive characters through dialog and action is the sign of a great storyteller. I flew through this story.

A classic hard-boiled detective novel that stands the test of time with excellent writing, strong characters, and an often-copied, but certainly entertaining plot.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
June 5, 2011
Look out folks…here comes GREATNESS

“When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it”
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Sam Spade (played by the legendary Humphrey Bogart) bitch-slapping the manhood out of Joel Cairo (played by Peter Lorre)….and telling him to shut up and take it!! Do I really need to continue the review after that? That is perfection. However, for those tough sells I will continue with my “Why is this book Awesome” thesis.
First, this story IS NOIR. Now there are a lot of wonderful noirs out there, many of them classics, but this story is THE noir. It is the noirest (aka that which has reached the pinnacle of noirism).
Second, you have a smart, interesting mystery-based plot that is paced perfectly. This book doesn’t just flow…it saunters, it glides, it swaggers.
Third, you have a phenomenal cast of odd and engaging characters without a good guy in sight. Our hero by default, Sam Spade, is as gray as the economic skies over America and moves through the story as cool and slick as a Teflon cat.
Oh…the FUNtastic spectacle that is this book is something to behold.
HOWEVER….all of the above are not even necessary for making this a classic 5 star read. This book is all about the WRITING, especially the dialogue. This novel is stuffed so full of breezy, quotable lines that I’m surprised Hammett was ever able to come up with another one.  In fact, rather then mess this review up any further, I am going to let the dialogue speak for itself….along with some images from the movie version that do not necessarily coincide with the quotes. 
“Say, what's on your mind beside your hat.”
--Sam Spade
***You will quote that line at some time in the future...you know you will.***
“You're a good man, sister.”
Sam Spade
***CoolDAR just starting beeping***
“Listen, Dundy, it's been a long time since I burst into tears because a policeman didn't like me.”
Sam Spade
***The CoolDAR just went to 11***
Joel Cairo: “You always have a very smooth explanation.”
Sam Spade “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?”
***oh shit, I just had a coolgasm....This is tied with “Ugly as Incest” (from The Heroes) as the greatest line of the week. Just classic.***
“People lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around, you'll be polite.”
Sam Spade
 ***And the cool just won't let up...Brilliant, sir….just brilliant*** 
“By Gad, sir, you are a character. There's never any telling what you'll say or do next, except that it's bound to be something astonishing.” Photobucket
Kasper Gutman
***By Gad?….By Gad?….Oh that one is going right into the repertoire as it is too slicktastic.***
"Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “I haven't lived a good life. I've been bad, worse than you could know.”
Sam Spade “You know, that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere.”
***It's official...Sam Spade makes me feel like a dorkadouche.***
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “Help me.”
Sam Spade: “You won't need much of anybody's help. You're good. Chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like 'Be generous, Mr. Spade.'”
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “I deserve that. But the lie was in the way I said it, not at all in what I said. It's my own fault if you can't believe me now.”
Sam Spade: “Ah, now you are dangerous."
***'Ah, now you are dangerous'...Oh…that is so, so good ***
Sam Spade: “All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.”
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “You know whether you love me or not.”
Sam Spade: “Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass. I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you."
***Screeeeech…..back up and re-read that. Yes, that is exactly what he is saying…this guy is like a walking Urban Legend of the ultimate badass.***
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,360 reviews11.8k followers
April 9, 2016

My top ten reasons why this Dashiell Hammett is one of the greatest crime novels ever written:

1. The Voice – Tough, Crisp hardboiled – the story isn’t told in first-person but certainly has the feel of first-person since we are so close to Sam Spade it’s as if we’re peering over the detective’s shoulder from first to last page.

2. The City – The buildings and streets in San Francisco have such a tangible presence, even today, after nearly 100 years, they still give Maltese Falcon tours.

3. Femme Fatale – Brigid O’Shaughnessy is the femme fatale. Her looks, her way of speaking, her cunning, her charms, her allurement– legions of writers of detective fiction have changed her name, her home town, color of her hair and eyes, but all you have to do is scratch the surface and there she is.

4. Outside the Law – Nobody likes a cog in the legal wheel or a grey flannel flunkey following orders. Sam Spade is anything but – an outsider to the police, district attorney and even his clients, Sammy is his own man, cracking the case in his own way, in his own time and even willing to get socked in the jaw by a police lieutenant or pulled in by a high ranking official to make it happen.

5. Tone – Sharp and crisp. If you read (and look) carefully, an entire world is disclosed, as for example: “Spade emptied the unconscious man’s pockets one by one, working methodically, moving the lax body when necessary, making a pile of the pockets’ contents on the desk. When the last pocket had been turned out he returned to his own chair, rolled and lighted a cigarette, and began to examine his spoils. He examined them with grave unhurried thoroughness.”

6. Violence – Nothing juices the action in a detective fiction more than cold bloody murder. An entire string of murders are featured here, all happening at the right time to accelerate tempo. Also, there’s a good amount of roughhouse, with the least likely man in the novel, Joel Cairo, getting beat up every time he turns around. Serves him right for thinking himself so refined and above it all.

7. The Color of Character – Dashiell Hammett set the gold standard here for writers of detective fiction. “The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with such step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, where dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a back cutaway coat, black vest, black satin Ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped grey worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes. His voice was a throaty purr.”

8. The Moral Code – As one character finds out the hard way, Sam Spade is a man of the high, uncompromising character. You will have to read the novel to find out just how high and just how uncompromising.

9. The Whole is Greater than the Parts – The Maltese Falcon has that special something that separates it from other crime fiction, even crime fiction of the first order. What is it? Hard to put your finger on it, but as millions of readers have discovered every time they pick it up, this is one doozy of a classic.

10, The Dingus – Ah, yes, the object of obsessive desire, the bird with all those long-lost jewels. Has there ever been a famous actor more closely connected with a famous object? And, yes, in many ways, the much sought after black bird adds a unique aesthetic dimension to this tale of noir.
Profile Image for Zain.
1,381 reviews140 followers
June 2, 2023
Okay...Didn’t Finish!

I just couldn’t take anymore of this story. Listen, I know writing styles have changed as well as people. I love history and things that are historical. I love reading things from the past.

I don’t expect the same kinds of perceptions, and values or whatnot, but I also don’t have to like it.

I’ve read and enjoyed books from the past that deal with bigotry and chauvinism and misogyny and class prejudices and racism, but somehow, l was able to read and enjoy those books.

This book just rubbed me the wrong way. It started when the protagonist talked bad about Archer, his dead partner. And all the time is committing adultery with his wife.

Then, when he decides he no longer wants a relationship with her, he ducks out on her, and refuses to take her calls. Then, when she catches up to him, he pretends that he cares about her and has feelings for her.

This man is no hero! There is nothing good about his relationship with women. I didn’t read the whole book (l barely got halfway), so I don’t know how much better he treats Miss O’ Shaughnessy at the ending of the book. Based upon the author, probably not much better.

Because I disliked the “hero” so much, I just couldn’t get into the story. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel he has any redeeming qualities.

A reluctant one star. Reluctant, because l wanted to give it zero stars. ⭐️
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
April 29, 2022
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon is a 1930 detective novel by American writer Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue.

‘Sam’ Spade is a private detective in San Francisco, in partnership with Miles Archer. The beautiful "Miss Wonderly" hires them to follow Floyd Thursby, who has run off with her sister. Archer takes the first stint but is found shot dead that night. Thursby is also killed later and Spade is a suspect. The next morning, Spade coolly tells his office secretary, Effie Perine, to have the office door repainted to read simply Samuel Spade.

Miss Wonderly is soon revealed to be an acquisitive adventuress named Brigid O'Shaughnessy, involved in the search for a black statuette of unknown but substantial value. Others are after this falcon, including Joel Cairo, an effeminate Levantine homosexual, and Casper Gutman, a fat man accompanied by a vicious young gunman, Wilmer Cook. O'Shaughnessy begs for Spade's protection, while telling him as little as possible. They meet with Cairo at Spade's apartment and then Spade again presses O'Shaughnessy for details; again she stalls but instead kisses Spade. The next morning, she is asleep in his bed. Leaving her there, Spade slips out to search her apartment.

Effie believes O'Shaughnessy "is all right" and Spade should help her. Effie agrees to hide her at her own home, but O'Shaughnessy disappears again. When Spade meets Gutman in his hotel room, neither of them will tell what he knows.

Spade implies he is looking out for himself, not O'Shaughnessy. Red herrings abound. The police suspect Spade in the shootings because he was bedding Archer's wife Iva. The District Attorney ties the shootings to Dixie Monahan, a Chicago gambler who had employed Thursby as a bodyguard in the Far East. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال1999میلادی

عنوان: شاهین مالت؛ دشیل هامت (هَمِت)؛ مترجم: حسن زیادلو؛ تهران: هزارافسان‏‫، سال1377؛ در272ص، چاپ دیگر سال1388؛ در291ص؛ شابک9789644174600؛‭‬‬

عنوان: شاهین مالت؛ نویسنده: داشیل (دشیل) همت؛ مترجم: پرویز نصیری؛ تهران روزنه کار، سال‏‫1393؛ در272ص؛ شابک9789646728080؛‬

نخستین بار این داستان به صورت دنباله‌ دار در مجله ی «بلک مسک» از شماره سپتامبر سال1929میلادی منتشر شد؛ داستان به صورت سوم شخص بیرونی بازگشایی می‌شود، و از احساسات و اندیشه های شخصیت‌ها چیزی گفته نمی‌شود؛ شخصیت اصلی رمان «سم اسپید» است، فیلم «شاهین مالت (سال1941میلادی)» برداشتی از همین رمان است

شاهین مالت دربارهٔ یک کارآگاه خصوصی‌ است که در پیگیری پرونده‌ ای، با سه مجرم عجیب و غریب روبرو می‌شود، که میخواهند مجسمه‌ ای گرانقیمت را به دست آورند

نخستین آنها زنی است که خود را خانم «واندرلی» معرفی میکند، او وارد دفتر کار «سم اسپید» می‌شود، و جریان دروغینی از ربوده شدن خواهرش توسط فردی به نام «ترزبی» را گزارش می‌کند؛ «مایلز» شریک کاری «سم اسپید» به دنبال «ترزبی» می‌رود، و در تاریکی شب کشته می‌شود؛ پلیس «سم اسپید» را مورد بازجویی قرار می‌دهد، و «اسپید» مجبور می‌شود جهت رفع اتهام از خود، قاتل را کت بسته تحویل پلیس بدهد؛ وی سپس متوجه می‌شود که داستان خانم «واندرلی» دروغین بوده، و نام اصلی وی «بریجیت اوشانتی» و دارای چندین همدست است، که یکی از آنها مردی چاق به نام «گاتمن»، و دیگری یک مرد کوچک اندام، به نام «کایرو» است، آنها با یاری همدیگر در پی به چنگ آوردن «شاهین» هستند؛ «گاتمن» و «کایرو» کوشش می‌کنند با «اسپید» گفتگو کنند، اما میفهمند که «شاهین» دست او نیست، و خودشان می‌توانند آن را بدست آورند، به او کلک میزنند و برای به دست آوردن «شاهین» به بندر میروند، «ویلمر» که آدمکش «گاتمن» است، «ناخدا جاکوبی» را که حامل «شاهین» است مجروح می‌کند، اما وی در حالیکه زخمی است «شاهین» را، به دست منشی «سم اسپید» می‌رساند، و ...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/03/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 08/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Brina.
904 reviews4 followers
February 7, 2017
Born in 1894 and serving as a sergeant in World War I, Dashiell Hammett used his experiences to become one of the premier detective writers of the first half of the twentieth century. Set in Depression Era San Francisco and introducing the world to Samuel Spade, Hammett's The Maltese Falcon became a detective story that many in the genre still try to measure up to today. A classic that helped change the way writers told detective stories, The Maltese Falcon is a classic case that contains all the elements of a fun whodunit.

Drawing inspiration from his own life, Hammett created Samuel Spade, a private eye detective who saw action in Europe in World War I. At the opening of this book, Spade has taken on the services of a new client, one Miss Bridget O'Shaughnessy, who requests protection from thugs who have tailed her around the globe. Along with the assistance of his partner Miles Archer, Spade takes the case; however, Archer is quickly gunned down by one of the aforementioned thugs, and the case spirals into action. Spade is forced to work alone with only bit help from his secretary Effie Perrine and a classic whodunit ensues.

We find out that Spade has contacts all over San Francisco from his work as a private eye detective. The police do not desire that a private detective encroaches on their work, and the chief as well as the district attorney are out to get him for Archer's murder, as far fetched as that sounds. Underneath the murder and thugs is the root of the case- a Maltese Falcon figurine estimated to be worth a million dollars. In the depression era this was a large fortune, and O'Shaughnessy hopes that Spade helps her procure the Falcon and deliver both her and it to safety before the thugs find them.

As this is detective noir, O'Shaughnessy goes from client to lover and good to bad. Each thug has at least one gun or pistol, and more goons seem to be hanging around each corner, all as far fetched in character as the next: Gutman, the fat man and only one with brains in the group; Cairo, the apparent boy loving Levantine; and Wilmer, Gutman's hired kid and fall guy. Each attempts to force Spade into a corner, which of course, he eventually gets his way out of.

The Maltese Falcon is a classic detective noir story and fun whodunit. A depression era story where everyone wore a trench coat and hat and rolled their own cigarettes, it is also a holdover from the 1920s gangster era, which is becoming one of my favorite eras to read about. A pulp noir story that became a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon is a classic detective tale in a genre that I am quickly starting to enjoy. I rate The Maltese Falcon 4.5 and look forward to reading more of Dashiell Hammett's detective cases.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,154 reviews1,694 followers
July 28, 2022

Humphrey Bogart è Sam Spade nel film omonimo direttoda John Huston nel 1941, a undici anni dall’uscita del romanzo.

Se Dashiell Hammet è il padre del romanzo hard boiled, Sam Spade è il papà degli investigatori privati un po’ cinici e un po’ tanto romantici.

Nella mia memoria il tutto si moltiplica meravigliosamente grazie a Humphrey Bogart che interpreta un magistrale private eye prima di diventare l’eterno Marlowe, poi il filo della memoria mi porta a Jason Robards/Hammet con la sua Lillian Hellman interpretata da Jane Fonda e l’amica del cuore Julia che ha il volto di Vanessa Redgrave nel film di Fred Zinnemann, e infine si trasforma in Frederic Forrest che nell’Hammett di Wim Wenders interpreta lo scrittore, film bello e disastroso, prodotto da F.F. Coppola, che si merita un paragrafo a parte.

Jason Robards interpreta lo scrittore Dashiell Hammet (che prima di iniziare a scrivere lavorò nella celebre agenzia investigativa Pinkerton) e Jane Fonda è Lillian Hellman in “Julia” di Fred Zinnemann del 1977.

Il Falcone maltese per me inaugura anche quelle trame ingarbugliatissime che mi spingono ad abbandonare credibilità e concatenarsi dei fatti per concentrarmi su atmosfera, personaggi, stile.

La storia è ambientata a San Francisco negli anni Venti e il rapace del titolo è una statuetta d’oro tempestata di gemme che i Cavalieri di Malta regalarono al re Carlo V, quello dell’impero sul quale non tramontava mai il sole (in quanto parte in Europa e parte in Sud America).
C’è la dark lady, qui con un nome che è tutto un programma (Wonderly), che sarà pure scura e tenebrosa, di incerta moralità, ma è sempre bella, un vero schianto, e il detective privato sa riconoscere sia il pericolo che il fascino femminile.

Frederic Forrest è Hammett nel film di Wim Wenders del 1983. Il set del film fu interamente ricostruito in studio.

Per tornare al film di Wim Wenders, la storia, o leggenda, narra che a film terminato, i produttori erano così scontenti che volle rigirarlo. La prima versione seconde il regista tedesco s’è ormai persa.
Nel film la parte femminile protagonista era affidata a Roonee Blakley all’epoca moglie di Wenders: un anno e mezzo dopo, quando iniziarono le riprese della seconda versione, i due erano già separati e il ruolo andò a Marilu Henner.
Che nella vita reale era la moglie del protagonista Frederic Forrest, ma non lo era più quando il film uscì in sala.
La leggenda si fa più fitta su chi diresse cosa: la versione ufficiale, quella che ho visto, secondo Wenders è un suo completo parto, secondo altre voci fu invece sostanzialmente diretta da Francis Ford Coppola. I rapporti tra i due artisti sembra non fossero idilliaci.
Questo fu il primo film americano di Wenders che avrebbe dovuto spianargli la strada di Hollywood: si trasformò invece in un calvario, sette anni di lavoro in mezzo ai quali il regista tedesco riuscì a infilare un altro film, questo davvero suo e ben più fortunato (Leone d’oro al Festival di Venezia 1982), Lo stato delle cose, un low budget in bianco e nero che racconta la storia di un film e di un ambiguo produttore americano…

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews869 followers
August 4, 2022
“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”

How One Suggestion From Humphrey Bogart Saved The Maltese Falcon

I enjoyed Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I’d seen the movie; however, this was my first read of Hammett’s iconic detective story. There’s a lot of story to unravel (the history of the Maltese Falcon statue being the most prominent here) and lots of characters with their own motivations and shifting allegiances. Hammett’s novel also introduces the no nonsense detective, Sam Spade. As such, it is one of the precursors of hardboiled detective fiction often associated with noir fiction. I’d often linked Hammett to Raymond Chandler and works such as The Big Sleep which introduced the detective, Philip Marlowe. Chandler’s work comes 10 years after The Maltese Falcon. Although both works are about crime, they are not essentially crime dramas. For one, finding who committed the crime is not the aim of the story. At least part of the story is about the damaged and cynical detectives who do the investigating.

These were new kinds of stories which, I think, had a profound influence on the continuation of noir fiction (in both detective fiction and other genres such as science fiction). The grittiness and atmosphere-laden scenes I associate with these early works finds its way into lots of science fiction (some of which I’ve read like China Mieville’s The City & the City and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep titled Blade Runner in the film version and some like Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files). I guess that was something of a digression, but I just wanted to stress The Maltese Falcon as a forerunner of literature that’s still being written.
Profile Image for Anne.
3,922 reviews69.3k followers
November 8, 2022
This might be the gold standard for hardboiled detective stories.


I mean, Sam Spade. Everyone knows Sam Spade, right?
I still prefer Nick and Nora from The Thin Man, but as popular as those two are, I think Sam is probably considered the quintessential private dick.


So, the gist is that hot shady chick comes slinking in one evening, begging Spade and his partner to help her locate her younger sister, who has taken up with a married man.


You tell her, Spade...

Anyway. This lying client, originally known as Ruth Wonderly, who then claims to be someone else and eventually fesses up to being Brigid O'Shaughnessy, is incapable of telling the truth about anything. She's the worst.
Just. the. worst.
So of course, Sammy wants to bang her.


Apparently, Sam is a ladies' man. I'm not sure how, though. He supposedly looks like Satan and treats all the women in his life like shit. <--maybe that was considered hot back in the day?


At any rate, all the women are throwing themselves at him and all the men grudgingly respect him for his manly prowess. Spade is the total package.
And he ain't playing the sap for no ditzy dame, gaddammit!


Spade is a man with questions that need answers. Lots of questions.
How hard is it to shake off a woman you're tired of sleeping with? Is it even wise to do that when you're under investigation for her husband's murder? How much do you owe a partner? Is your secretary really a good judge of character? What's that goofy looking kid doing spying on you? Who's the mousy guy waiting for you in your office with a deal?
And finally, what's a Maltese Falcon, and who the hell is offing everyone in order to get to this weird bird?


This was my 1st time reading Hammett's classic about Sam and his search for the Maltese Falcon, but I had already listened to Hollywood Theater of the Ear's theatrical production of the story. <--they do a fabulous job and I'd definitely suggest it for fans of the book.
However, I'd also suggest that you read the book before listening to it. Because while it is an amazingly well-done adaptation, it is exactly that. An adaptation.
The book is better. <--duh


This was an excellent book.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews3,242 followers
February 28, 2021
Sam Spade a cynical, tough yet honest San Francisco private eye is having a good day Miss Wonderly , later Leblanc and still later Brigid O'Shaughnessy (what's in a name, a rose by any other name would be confusing), comes into his office. All sophisticated charm and beauty, so she lies a little who doesn't, more important gives Sam and his disliked partner Miles Archer $200 for a job, they could use some cash like most people during hard times. Miss Won...Leb... O'Shaughnessy, her name slips from one to the other, no big deal this happens often in the sleazy business , recites a dubious story of a runaway younger sister accompanied by the mysterious Floyd Thursby. Effie Perine his loyal secretary tells Sam, her "woman's intuition" says O'Shaugnessy is good, you can trust, not quite. Miles agrees to shadow Thursby; the couple has just arrived in town, it will be Archer's last assignment. He is soon found dead, in a dark lonely street ...why. And the culprit who killed him this butcher must be found quickly, a strange case to solve if possible, there are things which remain unknown, however afterwards Thursby is also rubbed out this occurs frequently in these type of books for obvious reasons. Suspicion falls on Spade...revenge for Thursby shooting his partner, maybe or his affair with Archer's wife the cause. That's what two inflexible police detectives are investigating, the effeminate Joel Cairo comes to Sam 's office and tells him about the Maltese Falcon a priceless blackbird statuette, from the Middle Ages with a bloody past, numerous deaths induced by those wanting possession of the item . Joel offers him a lot of money for its recovery, a proposition the detective can't refuse. Casper Gutman, (for once a name which describes him perfectly) the leader of a gang of greedy thieves with a small weight problem, is Cairo's secret boss. In addition there's the unimpressive Wilmer Cook the murderous kid gunman, he enjoys his vocation the weapon makes him feel big... After La Paloma a ship from Hong Kong docks in San Francisco, Jacobi the captain goes to Sam's office ( an unusually busy place ) and expires on the floor, with four bullet holes in him the understandable reason . But not before giving the shamus a package...can it possibly be the long sought Maltese Falcon? This superb mystery from long ago still brings in the readers and will always do that.
Profile Image for Francesc.
393 reviews193 followers
April 19, 2022
El clásico de la literatura negra.
Poco puedo decir yo que no se haya dicho ya.
Hammett parió a Sam Spade y se puede decir que creó un género. Hay bastante consenso en esto, aunque hay opiniones de todo tipo.
Sólo puedo decir que no concibo un detective privado al que no le guste llevar armas.

The classic of hard-boiled literature.
I can say little that has not already been said.
Hammett gave birth to Sam Spade and can be said to have created a genre. There is considerable consensus on this, although there are opinions of all kinds.
I can only say that I cannot conceive of a private detective who does not like to carry weapons.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,933 reviews10.6k followers
May 20, 2012
2012 re-read...
Sam Spade's partner is murdered and Sam is determined to find his killer. But what does Miles Archer's murder have to do with the client he was working for or the mysterious Maltese Falcon?

What can I say about one of the Big Two pulp detective novels, the other being The Big Sleep? Well, let's see...

The Maltese Falcon embodies a lot of what made pulp detective fiction great, leading to hordes of imitators. You've got the wise-cracking detective who has a way with the ladies, gunplay, deceit, sex, and murder. Throw in an elusive macguffin and you have a blueprint a lot of writers have been following for over three quarters of a century.

Sam Spade, that blonde Satan, is the father of many detectives that came him. In fact, it would be interesting to see whether he or Raymond Chandler has more bastard detective descendents. The plot the Maltese Falcon is fairly simple. Somebody has the Maltese Falcon and everyone seems to think Sam Spade knows where it is. Miles Archer's murder complicates things a bit but really isn't much more than a bump in the road until his killer is revealed.

The bad guys and supporting cast are an interesting bunch. Brigid O'Shaughnessy lays the groundwork for a lot of femme fatales to come. Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer are more than just stock characters. The cops were a little light on personality but they were mostly in the story to hassle Spade so that's not such of a big deal.

Hammett's prose drives the plot along but lacks the poetry of Raymond Chandler's. Seventeen years after I read The Maltese Falcon for the first time, I have more of an appreciation for Hammett's spare style. The plot keeps moving forward without a single misstep. It's only 200-ish pages but by the end, it feels like the perfect length for such a tale.

Any complaints? Not as such. Modern readers will probably not like the book's treatment of women but it was written in the late 1920's so it has to be given a bit of slack. Honestly, my only complaints are that there aren't any more Sam Spade books and that Dashielle Hammett wasn't Raymond Chandler.

For a parting thought, this line of dialogue nicely sums up Sam Spade's character:
"When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him."
Profile Image for Sanjay Gautam.
222 reviews440 followers
October 28, 2015
Everything seemed separated for the first sixty pages, with no connection whatsoever. But the story was full of suspense and unfolded with many surprises after that. The plot was very captivating, and seemed very realistic. The main thread is 'Maltese Falcon' (I'm not going to tell you what it is, as it would be a spoiler and I hate to give spoilers) around which everything revolves. Its a good read and keeps you guessing till the last.

Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books578 followers
January 8, 2009
C. S. Lewis once observed that you shouldn't review individual books or stories of a general type that you dislike, because your basic distaste for the genre is apt to blind you to the relative merits of how well the author handles the individual features of his/her work, and how it stacks up against other works of the same sort. When it comes to the whole noir school of detective fiction, that's probably advice I should heed; based both on the little of it that I've read and what I've read about it, it's not my cup of tea. The problem for me isn't the dark subject matter: my literary tastes run to the Romantic school, with its appeal to emotion, and the perils and adventures associated with urban vice and crime in sinister settings can be potentially rife with appeal to various emotions. Rather, my negative reaction is to the moral orientation (or lack of it); the noir vision is typically amoral and cynical, convinced that virtue is virtually nonexistent and doomed to defeat if it does exist, and larded with an industrial-strength existential pessimism guaranteed to thoroughly depress most any reader. Related to this is the fact that while the traditional mystery genre sees crime as an aberration of the order of things, which can be detected and set straight by the application of reason, noir views crime as the norm and denies that reason and logic can do much with it. So, noir detectives don't do much traditional detecting.

To try to give Hammett his due within this subgenre, though, this is a well-done example of the school; its classic status is no accident. Sam Spade and the other characters are archetypes, not yet degenerated into stereotypes by the flood of imitations that would follow; Spade's likability factor is about nil (like all detectives of this stamp, he's often obnoxious, awash in chip-on-the-shoulder bad attitude), but you don't readily forget him, or Brigit O'Shaughnessy, Casper Guttman, or Joel Cairo. I read this novel forty years ago (it was included in a mystery anthology, the title of which I don't remember, made up otherwise of short stories); the fact that I can remember it very well after all this time says something about the vividness and force of the writing. And the solution to the murder of Spade's partner is one that does call for genuine deduction on his part, and is one I didn't see coming --though I might have if I'd been more familiar with the noir conventions. (It isn't as surprising as Christie's solution in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd --but it comes close.) A valid criticism might be that the San Francisco setting isn't really evoked very strongly --beyond a few place names and isolated details, the locale could be the mean streets of any city of that day. But Hammett's interest didn't lie in regional realism or a sense of place.

Later examples of noir acquired a reputation for milking sex and violence for all the titillation it was worth, but Hammett avoids explicit sex (though he makes it clear that some illicit sex went on at one point) or gratuitous directly-described violence. Likewise, the bad language is well within the bounds of respectable realism for the characters and situations.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
June 21, 2020
"I'm going to send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means you'll be out again in twenty years. You're an angel. I'll wait for you."

He cleared his throat.

"If they hang you I'll always remember you”—Sam Spade

With 39,000 ratings and almost 4,000 reviews of this book, you don’t need a detailed synopsis and review, but I’ll say it is a great book on so many levels, very entertaining, and if you have never read it, I highly recommend it. It was a pleasure within the same two weeks to read three of Hammett’s great novels, all different—The Thin Man, which is a witty screwball comedy noir, heavy on dialogue; Red Harvest, which is tough and plot-layered and the truest, most violent noir book, about small town western corruption, and The Maltese Falcon, which is again on the lighter side, but features a bit clearer (and yet twistier, so more fun) plot, and is the most entertaining of the three, for my money.


1) Sam Spade, the PI who hated his partner Miles who is killed at the novel’s opening, is having an affair with his wife, but in the end knows he has to be true to the memory of Miles:

“When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around--bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere.” So: A "principled" guy who also isn't afraid to make deals for "the bird" with criminals. Ot "send over" the dame!

2) The delightful lying femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy, who tells a different version of every story every time she opens her mouth:

“The hell with it, Miss--Is your name Wonderly or LeBlanc?”

She blushed and murmured: “It's really O'Shaughnessy—Brigid O'Shaughnessy.”

And later:

Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “I haven't lived a good life. I've been bad, worse than you could know.”

Sam Spade: “You know, that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere.”

Brigid, as it turns out, has been working with

3) slimy Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and a punk named Wilmer. Three of the most delicious characters in fiction!!!

Joel Cairo: “You always have a very smooth explanation ready.”

Sam Spade: “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?”

Gutman laughs heartily at Spade's directness: “That's wonderful. I do like a man that tells you right out he’s looking out for himself. Don’t we all? I don’t trust a man that says he’s not. And the man that’s telling the truth when he says he’s not I distrust most of all, because he’s an ass and an ass that’s going contrary to the laws of nature.”

Gutman is also willing to "send over" his gunman Wilmer:

Gutman smiled benignly at him and said: “Well, Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you, and I want you to know that I couldn’t be any fonder of you if you were my own son; but—well, by Gad!—if you lose a son it’s possible to get another—and there’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

I also this week introduced the three middle schoolers in this house to the Bogart film, and they loved it (which is good, because if they hated it. . . well, to paraphrase Gutman, you can always get more children, but there will only be one Maltese Falcon).

Anyhow, I love both the film and the book, though maybe the film in this instance is even better than the book.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
April 11, 2019
Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon introduces the world to Sam Spade and established a benchmark upon which a genre – the hard-boiled crime novel – was popularized.

Of his character, Hammett says:

“Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.”

Influencing such later writers as Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker and scores of others, Hammett in this 1930 release founded an archetypal hero and a formulaic storyline. Hammett’s Spade, epitomizing these hard boiled protagonists, was not just a solver of mysteries, distancing him from the earlier Arthur Conan Doyle model, but was himself a man of the streets. Hammett describes Spade in sinister terms, calling him a devil and revealing him to be a solver of problems with his iron will and his fists as much with his mind.

The Maltese Falcon, of course, was later made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. Reading the book and thinking of the movie, which stayed loyal to Hammett’s vision, I gained an even greater appreciation for Bogart’s portrayal of Spade and for Huston’s direction.

A very entertaining and recommended novel.

Profile Image for Anne.
3,922 reviews69.3k followers
November 12, 2020
5 stars for the audio adaptation
I listened to the full The Hollywood Theater of the Ear full-cast production of The Maltese Falcon, adapted by Yuri Rasovsky.


I think the audio cast was amazing but since it was an adaptation, I didn't get the whole story (so to speak) and I really want to read the book. I love the way Dashiell Hammett writes, so I was disappointed when I realized it wasn't a narrator reading his exact words.
This was completely MY fault (for not reading the description closely enough) and isn't a reflection on how I felt about this talented voice cast, at all!


I think this would be incredibly entertaining for anyone who has already read The Maltese Falcon. And even without having read it, this was enjoyable and exceptionally well-acted.

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Edition: Unabridged
Awards: Audie Award
Laura Gardner - Narrator
Michael Madsen - Narrator
Sandra Oh - Narrator
Edward Herrmann - Narrator
Burt Ross - Narrator
Michael Saad - Narrator
Armin Shimerman - Narrator
Tom Towles - Narrator
Keith Szarabajka - Narrator
Profile Image for John Culuris.
173 reviews73 followers
February 10, 2021
I once read the following in some TV guide regarding the classic movie adaptation: “The 1941 mystery is the yardstick against which all private-eye films are measured.” It is even more true of the novel. Never before (or since) has a protagonist been forced to look so deeply within himself, to have to explain who he is to so many while not completely understanding why he is that way himself. Sam Spade knows what he has to do, and externally he knows why he has to do it. He acts assuredly, without hesitation. Yet there is a deeper part of himself that is merely along for the ride, as if some of his decisions were never really decisions at all. He has led a life with more than a few amoral choices but when confronted with what should be the easiest of shortcuts, he discovers he has a moral core that cannot be so easily overruled. An array of fascinating characters and an explanation and solution, perhaps the greatest explanation of all time because of the drama interwoven within--and upon rereading they almost become side issues compared how exposed Spade becomes and how he refuses to see it.

THE masterpiece.
Profile Image for James.
Author 19 books3,581 followers
April 29, 2023
Book Review
4 out of 5 stars to The Maltese Falcon, a classic mystery novel written in 1930 by Dashiell Hammett. If you ask a mystery fan when the genre started, a good chunk of them will say during the Golden Age (1920s & 30s) with authors like Dashiell Hammett, specifically with the creation of the Sam Spade character. Immediately what comes to mind is the old-fashioned black-and-white movies with the coat and hat on the detective, the accents and the chase scenes. While these are all true, few have actually read these novels. I've been a fan of mystery since I was a young kid, reading a bunch in my teenage years. I re-read a lot during an independent study course I design while getting my English degree while in college. This book was one of the first the Dean and my professor recommended to me. I had read parts of it and seen the movies made from it, but I wasn't as familiar with the whole Golden Age. But once you read this book, you thirst for more. It's so well-written (apart from some of the ideas that have positively changed since then, e.g. racial or gender bias) from a mystery perspective, you are immediately engaged. And one of the sub-plots in these types of books are often "will he get the girl" or "is the girl on his side of the bad guy's side?" In The Maltese Falcon, you get it all. It's international. It's romantic. It's dangerous. It's scary. It's complex. And it ends in a very unexpected kinda way. It's a game-changer for the genre and that's why it's called the Golden Age. For mystery fans, you better have read this one. For non-mystery fans, it's a good story, and if you like older books, them you should give it a chance.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews613 followers
February 17, 2023
“I haven't lived a good life. I've been bad, worse than you could know.”
“You know, that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere”

“You always have, I must say, a smooth explanation ready."
“What do you want me to do? Learn to stutter?”
The Maltese Falcon is that rare novel that is the foundation of an entire genre: the hard-boiled detective story. I saw the movie years ago, and probably wouldn’t have picked up the book if I wasn’t trying to get through the Pop Chart 100 books list. But I’m glad I did.

The Maltese Falcon is quite good. Sam Spade is a great character, full of snarky banter (see above), delightfully hard-to-read and with his own sense of morality. The plot is perfectly paced, and if you aren’t familiar with the movie, there is much mystery to unfold. There are certainly some parts of the book, written in 1930, that don’t hold up well today (the effeminate gay man, some of the more sexist parts), but overall the book is well worth reading. Recommended.
Profile Image for Robin.
485 reviews2,626 followers
September 26, 2017

"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble.”

I haven't seen the famous movie version of this book starring a young, dreamy Humphrey Bogart, but now I sure want to.

This 1930's noir beauty set the template for hard-boiled detective stories, paving the way for other writers like Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.

The action begins when our hero Sam Spade, finds out his partner, Phil Archer is found shot while on a job. The story has all you could ask for: a tough, smart private eye, a gorgeous femme fatale, murder, priceless jewels, red herrings, gangsters, guns, police, and all in the backdrop of the city of San Fransisco. The characters are just perfect, one of the more memorable ones being the mincing Joel Cairo whose voice on the audiobook that I listened to sounded like the python "Kaa" from the Disney film The Jungle Book.

It's so stylish and distinctive, not to mention cinematic. I couldn't help but think of the characters moving around in black and white, smoke curling around their fingers as they bring a drink to their lips, while eyeing up a potential enemy in the room.

“And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it."
Profile Image for Christy Hall.
261 reviews57 followers
October 7, 2021
The Maltese Falcon is a piece of classic film noir. I’ve seen the movie and enjoyed the story and Bogart’s portrayal of Sam Spade. I have wanted to read the novel for a long time. When a friend wanted to have a buddy read, I made the book suggestion and he agreed. Within five chapters, my friend gave up. I pushed through to chapter 10 and, while I wasn’t in love with the novel, I figured I could finish it. That’s not a great way to start this review but it’s at least the sad truth of it.

I love film noir. The ambiance is thick and the characters are flawed and interesting. The mystery usually has twists and turns and double-crosses. While The Maltese Falcon has all of this, it just took forever to get somewhere. The first ten chapters are full of ambiance - setting, movement, character development. Everything is described in excruciating detail so a reader feels pulled along by force and not completely immersed. There are scenes that are dragged out and conversations that go in circles. Although, I suppose that’s the point. Sam is being worked by so many people but I found it frustrating that he went along with everything. By the end, it feels like a completely pointless adventure. I wanted to root for Sam, but he made it so difficult. I suppose he was stringing everyone along in order to catch them all in their lies. It just took forever and he kept getting caught in stupid situations and it felt like he was being duped when he wasn’t. He just wasn’t as great on paper as Bogart portrayed him.

The rest of the characters are interesting staples of a noir. The evil henchmen, the damsel in distress who’s really a backstabbing b@!$&, the good girl who believes the best in others and helps the “hero,” the annoying and incompetent police force. You name it, this book’s got it.

The setting is its own character for the first half. Setting the mood for a mystery, detective novel is pretty important. I just wish Hammet had been able to blend it better with the plot. It often felt like the story stopped completely in order for him to paint the scene. He was just so wordy…and I like words. I suppose I was just expecting a different flow to the piece.

While I’m glad I read The Maltese Falcon, I’m not in love with it. I wanted to fall in love, so I’m a bit disappointed. I will say that the last 25% was really good and I finally felt like I was reading the book I had imagined it would be. The plot, setting, and characters all flowed well. I just wish it had picked up a lot sooner. I guess I’ll return to the movie and have fun watching it instead.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,228 followers
August 26, 2014
You got nothin' on this book, see?! Yeah! That's right, skedaddle and quick-like!

Private detective Sam Spade smells trouble when a crazy dame walks into his office, and sure enough, his life is soon turned topsy turvy. Spade gets all tangled up in a fishy double murder. The coppers are on him, he's on to the dame and people keep popping outta the woodwork goin' on and on about this g. d. bird! If things keep up like this somebody's gonna get themselves killed dead.

Since the book's publication, the Spade character has become the ideal from which all other hired sleuths to follow would be molded. He's cool and calculating. He's no angel. No, he's in it for himself, yet only gets what he deserves (often a sock on the jaw) and somehow still comes out smelling like roses. This fantastically tight-wound story is a joy to read, made even more so by a hero who defines the word character.

Hammett's like an Italian tailor who's cut and sewn one of the finest suits you could imagine. It's sleek. It's stylish. You feel like a million bucks in it and you want it to last forever. Hell, with quality craftsmanship like that, it just might!

Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,897 reviews1,928 followers
November 13, 2021
Don't miss the Early Black Friday Kindle sale! $1.99 at https://smile.amazon.com/Maltese-Falc...

Book Circle Reads 36

Rating: 3.5* of five, because I love the movie more

The Publisher Says: Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's archetypally tough San Francisco detective, is more noir than L.A. Confidential and more vulnerable than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. In The Maltese Falcon, the best known of Hammett's Sam Spade novels (including The Dain Curse and The Glass Key), Spade is tough enough to bluff the toughest thugs and hold off the police, risking his reputation when a beautiful woman begs for his help, while knowing that betrayal may deal him a new hand in the next moment.
Spade's partner is murdered on a stakeout; the cops blame him for the killing; a beautiful redhead with a heartbreaking story appears and disappears; grotesque villains demand a payoff he can't provide; and everyone wants a fabulously valuable gold statuette of a falcon, created as tribute for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Who has it? And what will it take to get it back? Spade's solution is as complicated as the motives of the seekers assembled in his hotel room, but the truth can be a cold comfort indeed.
Spade is bigger (and blonder) in the book than in the movie, and his Mephistophelean countenance is by turns seductive and volcanic. Sam knows how to fight, whom to call, how to rifle drawers and secrets without leaving a trace, and just the right way to call a woman "Angel" and convince her that she is. He is the quintessence of intelligent cool, with a wise guy's perfect pitch. If you only know the movie, read the book. If you're riveted by Chinatown or wonder where Robert B. Parker's Spenser gets his comebacks, read the master. --Barbara Schlieper

My Review: There's nothing second-best about this book, no indeed not. It's a fine, solid book, one with a lot of good story packed into some very well-chosen words.

But the film, well now, sometimes perfection comes in unexpected places. Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet! What a pair of second-raters! And how perfectly they meshed, and then add Peter Lorre, another second-rater, and the Holy Trinity couldn't have done better work with the tale being told here. It was a super retelling of the basic story.

Wisecracks that, on the page, made me smile and even giggle, came out of Bogart's mouth, and Lorre's, and even Greenstreet's, at a wonderful pace and were there and gone...just like a wisecrack should be. Not to put down the book by any means! It's a fun read, and it's a well-made novel, and it's a classic noir for a reason.

But for me, only for me, I want the film to be my memory of this story.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,224 reviews169 followers
November 30, 2022
The genesis of hard-boiled detective fiction

Private eye, Sam Spade, and his erstwhile partner, Miles Archer, are having a slow day. Spade rolls a cigarette from his stock of Bull Durham. When a beautiful young dish introduces herself with an alias and tells them a story of her younger, impressionable sister having run off with a man named Floyd Thursby, the money is a powerful incentive to accept the case. Despite their new client's wholesome good looks and appearance of youthful innocence, Spade and his secretary, Effie Perrine, have a feeling that this woman is going to be nothing but trouble. When Archer is murdered tailing their mark and Thursby himself is later found murdered, Spade and his client naturally fall under suspicion. As Spade begins to investigate the murders and his client, whose real name is discovered to be Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the case mutates into a sinister international chase after a priceless historical figurine, the Maltese Falcon, originally intended as a gift from Malta to the King of Spain hundreds of years ago but lost in transit when a ship sank in a storm.

If you'd like to discover the source for virtually every convention, stereotype and cliché used for the hard-boiled detective genre, then THE MALTESE FALCON is your book. Dashiel Hammett started it all and Sam Spade is the progenitor for virtually every lone gun-toting, cigarette smoking, hard-bitten gumshoe that followed to the present day - cynical, quick with easygoing sardonic wit and clever banter, lots and lots of casual sex (of course), ambiguous morality, bitter, chauvinistic, single-minded with a strong but entirely self-defined professional ethic, tough, manipulative and self-centered but intensely loyal to those he chooses, and, of course, gritty and rough-cut handsome!

The tough guy, short and snappy dialogue is immensely entertaining and, while it is now quite clichéd (but admittedly still entertaining), it must have seemed extraordinary, novel and intensely innovative when THE MALTESE FALCON was first published in 1930. Brigid O'Shaughnessy serves as the requisite femme fatale that has also been copied and repeated countless times from Philip Marlowe to Mike Hammer to James Bond.

Considered to be one of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century, THE MALTESE FALCON certainly deserves some space on your library shelves. Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Kay ☼.
1,968 reviews677 followers
September 30, 2021
3.5⭐ For BBC dramatization of this classic detective story. I've heard of this book (first edition 1929), but I'm not sure if I'll ever have the opportunity to read the full book. Thankfully, my library just added the BBC edition to its catalog. Wonderful performance by Tom Wilkinson as Sam Spade.
Profile Image for Maria Clara.
996 reviews508 followers
March 30, 2017
No soy muy amante del género negro pero este libro me ha encantado :) No me extraña que lo hayan llevado al cine en varias ocasiones, ya que nunca sabes por dónde saldrá el escritor. Será cuestión de buscar más novelas suyas ;)
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,188 followers
January 1, 2022
["Here's to Plain Speaking and Clear
Understanding": Kasper Gutman
in "The Maltese Falcon"]

In Pursuit of the Third Person Objective

"The Maltese Falcon" is written entirely from the third person objective perspective, which means that there is much about appearances and (almost) nothing about internal thinking or feeling, except to the extent that it is revealed in dialogue (e.g., "I'm frightened"; "I'm so tired of lying").

Right from its conception, the novel seems to have adverted to how cinema might tell the story with a camera.

Hammett consistently focuses on the eyes of the characters, as if they are truly a window into the soul, as if they express or convey the character's emotions, as if they are a part that reveals the whole:

* "Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face."

* "His eyes...were angry."

* "Her eyes, of blue that was almost violet, did not lose their troubled look." (so she felt troubled?)

* "He left her standing in the centre of the floor looking after him with dazed blue eyes."

* "Spade's yellow-green eyes were sombre. His face was wooden, with a trace of sullenness around the mouth."

* "Dundy [looked] at Spade with green eyes hard and bright and satisfied..."

* "His eyes were sultry."

* "Her eyes were inquisitive."

* "[Gutman's] eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, were dark and sleek."

* "The fat man's eyes were dark gleams in ambush behind pink puffs of flesh."

* "His eyes were dark holes in an oily pink face."

"Her face became smooth and untroubled except for the faintest of dubious glints in her eyes."
(This is interesting, because she is untroubled, but he is skeptical, hence we get two perspectives from the one pair of eyes.)

The Fatman and the Greek

The antagonists Kasper Gutman ("the fat man") and Joel Cairo are both from Mediterranean backgrounds, Cairo being referred to as "the Greek" and "the Levantine". (1)

It's significant that the fat man's weight (notwithstanding his pinkish complexion) symbolises darkness, duplicity, nefariousness and criminality. The morally questionable and sybaritic are often "plump", "flabby" or "flaccid" in the novel.

"Like a Blonde Satan"

It's also noteworthy how Sam Spade is portrayed in the novel.

Most of us associate the character with Humphrey Bogart, who played this role in the 1941 John Huston film of the novel.

However, in the first few pages, we're told that Spade was six feet tall (Bogart was five feet eight inches), his body was both broad and thick (Bogart was slim), his jaw was long and bony, his yellow-grey eyes were horizontal (rather than slanted?), he had thickish eyebrows, he had a hooked nose, and pale brown hair:

"He looked rather pleasantly like a blonde satan."

It's not clear whether Hammett meant to portray Spade as a wayward Aryan in appearance.

Three Queens (or Queers and Dandies)

There are overt hints in the novel that some characters might be homosexual, which wasn't able to be explicitly portrayed in the film version because of the Hays Code.

Gutman's sexuality isn't readily identifiable, although he seems to adore Spade and constantly flatters him: "By gad, sir, you are a character." This is literally true in a metafictional sense.

When Joel Cairo first arrives at Spade's office, his assistant (Effie Perine) confides, "This guy is queer." He is "slightly plump" (this time a sign of effeminacy), though probably too prissy and self-absorbed to let himself go altogether: "The fragrance of chypre came with him."

Joel Cairo...................../Kasper Gutman....../Wilmer Cook......

When Spade confronts the youthful punk gunsel (2) /hitman/ bodyguard, Wilmer (a homophone for Wilma) Cook, he calls Joel Cairo "the fairy", and wonders about the nature of his relationship with Wilmer (later, he calls Wilmer Cairo's "boyfriend"). He wonders whether Cairo is "getting bad habits...a fellow like that alone in a big city".

Hammett describes the desk attendant in a hotel as "a red-haired dandy". Even red hair is symbolic of a femininity that is better left to women.

"Three Women"

There are three women in Spade's life over the course of the novel.

Effie, his trusted assistant, was "a lanky sunburned girl...Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face." She's single, lives at home with her mother, is protective of Spade, almost maternal, and has his best interests at heart.

Spade calls her variously "sweetheart", "darling", "precious", "honey", "sister" and "angel".

Spade is supposed to have been having an affair with his partner's wife, Iva Archer. She's seeking a divorce, so that she can marry Spade. When Miles Archer is murdered, Spade is a natural suspect, because Miles wouldn't consent to the divorce.

Effie despises Iva, but is envious of her looks:

"She was a blonde woman of a few more years than thirty. Her facial prettiness was perhaps five years past its best moment. Her body for all its sturdiness was finely modelled and exquisite."

Effie tells Spade, "You know I think she's a louse, but I'd be a louse too if it would give me a body like hers."

Effie's more supportive of the third woman, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (AKA Miss Wonderly and Miss Leblanc). When she first comes into Spade's office, Effie tells him she's "a knock-out":

"She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow...The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made."

From the first, Effie endeavours to push Spade towards Brigid, her polar opposite.

Ironically, Brigid's self-assessment is:

"Oh, I'm so tired..., so tired of it all, of myself, of lying and thinking up lies, and of not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth..."

"I haven't lived a good life...I've been bad - worse than you could know - but I'm not all bad...You can see that, can't you? Then can't you trust me a little? Oh I'm so alone and afraid, and I've got nobody to help me if you won't help me."

Spade doesn't know whether to believe her, even though there's at least an element of truth in these admissions.

The Flitcraft Parable

About half way through the novel, Spade abruptly tells Brigid a story that is widely known as The Flitcraft Parable. (Paul Auster used it as a plot device in "Oracle Night".)

A successful Tacoma businessman leaves his office to go to lunch one Friday, and never returns to his office, his home, his wife or his two children. Spade met him five years later in Spokane. He had started another successful business, got married and had a child.

When they met, Flitcraft explained that on his way to lunch, a beam had fallen eight or ten stories from a building under construction and narrowly missed killing him on the pavement. "He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them."

He rationalised that "life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away...and getting married...":

"His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad recipes...I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma...He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

The significance of this parable within the context of "The Maltese Falcon" isn't clear. It isn't referred to or explained in subsequent chapters.


"I Won't Play the Sap for You"

I'd like to venture a modest theory about the significance of the parable. (Don't worry. I'll do it behind a spoiler warning.)

All of the main characters are engaged in separate plots to locate a jewel-encrusted statuette called variously "the black bird", "the golden bird" and "the Maltese Falcon". It has an historical and material value, the explanation of which reminded me of "The Da Vinci Code".

Brigid engages Spade to assist her in a project, without honestly disclosing her true purpose (it's a treasure hunt in which her goal is to find, steal and sell the Maltese Falcon).

Spade can't resist Brigid's sexual allure, but when her trustworthiness comes into question during the quest for the Maltese Falcon, he isn't sure how to put their relationship into the context of his future life:

"All we've got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you...All of me...wants to say to hell with the consequences and do it."

My theory is relatively straightforward:

I'll Think Twice, It's All Right

For once, a femme fatale intimidates a protagonist into relative safety. Spade's "wild and unpredictable" nature (driven by his posthumous concern for his dead business partner, Miles) leads him not into, but saves him from, (further) temptation:

"It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
The light I never knowed...
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wonderin', walkin' down the road
I once loved a woman, a child, I am told
I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right..."

[Bob Dylan]

The third person objective perspective ultimately ensures that Spade's resolution comes as a surprise to both the reader and Brigid.


(1) Is the suspicion of Levantines a precursor to anti-Semitism?

(2) "Gunsel" (from the Yiddish word for "little goose" ["gendzel"]) is a synonym for "catamite".




Femme Fatale in a Necklace
[Apologies to Bob Dylan]

Brigid is all curves,
She has no angles.
Her jewell'ry jangles,
While, silent, her cloak
And dagger dangles.

Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
797 reviews586 followers
March 21, 2022

Finally I've read this 20th century detective fiction classic - & overall, it did not disappoint!

Except for the penultimate chapter, which did drag in parts this book moved at a cracking pace & was full of witty lines.

“I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, its possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.”

It goes without saying that in a book of this genre, from the 1930's that there is going to be plenty of casual racism & sexism.

If you can't ignore that this probably isn't the book for you.

I checked out why there didn't seem to be a series for Sam Spade - but this is the only full length novel featuring him. Amazing the impact it had.

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