Friday, December 23, 2011

Review - The Maltese Falcon (book)

The Maltese Falcon is a classic. A definitive entry in the "Noir" or "Hard Boiled" detective genre. Probably Hammet's most well known work. I have very vague memories of watching Humphrey Bogart work his way through this mystery but I haven't seen the film in ages and had forgotten enough that the book was still very fresh to me. Granted, I still plan to pull out the video and watch it again…soon. :)

Like Hammet's other works, this is a gritty crime novel with a less than perfect protagonist. Sam Spade is, to me at least, one of the most famous and most copied/satirized of the detective characters. Even before seeing the movie or reading this book, I had a good feel for who Sam Spade was (though I didn't know him by name) through various cartoons, TV shows and other movies with similar characters. I was surprised to find that this is Spade's only complete novel though he was apparently in a couple other short stories.

The mystery of the book starts out fairly straightforward…Spade is hired to tail a man. That simple presence quickly takes turn after turn and pulls in numerous other shady characters and plots finally resulting in a global conspiracy of sorts.

I loved the simple, gritty and straightforward language of the book. It helped set and maintain the tone throughout the novel. I loved Spade's hard and cynical view on life as well as his approach to investigating and solving this mystery. I also found it interesting that the book never let us get into Spade's head (or anyone else's head for that matter). As far as i could tell, we never had a "Spade thought this" moment. Thus we were left having to try and deduce everyone's inner motivations and thoughts based on their actions and interactions. This made for a lot of fun and helped keep the resolution to the mystery at arm's length while at the same time seemingly presenting us with all of the information we might need to solve the mystery.

The only problem I had with the book was that I didn't want it to end. Don't take that wrong…I was fully satisfied with the ending (which gave even more of an edge to Sam Spade). I just wanted more of the same. I'll definitely have to seek out the other Sam Spade stories and keep reading Hammett. Maltese Falcon is one of those classics that I'm glad I finally read. I'll have to go watch the movie now to see how true it is to the book and the tone/feel of the story. Even if you're not a fan of mysteries or detective stories…give this one a try. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

5 out of 5 stars

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