Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Shop now Learn more

TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 December 2016
Private detective Sam Spade’s assignment to track a man on behalf of an alluring female client becomes a murder case in which the police regard Spade as a possible suspect. It soon becomes clear that the underlying driving force is the struggle to possess a priceless antique – the Maltese falcon of the title.

Although the name Sam Spade inevitably summons up an image of Humphrey Bogart, the opening paragraph gives a very different picture of a man with yellow-grey eyes (Dashiell Hammett was very keen on striking eye colour) whose features follow a "v-shaped motif", giving the impression of "a blond satan". It is also misleading that he reminds one of Philip Marlowe, since the latter was in fact a later creation, inspired by Raymond Chandler’s admiration for Dashiell Hammett.

Spade lacks Marlowe’s wry humour, and his coldness is emphasised by the fact we cannot know what he is really thinking, since he is described in the third person, always viewed externally. He comes across as an unappealing character: his sexism and homophobia may be accepted as the widely held attitudes of 1920s America, but he is also cynical, callous, and casually brutal. Spade displays no grief when his business partner Archer is gunned down, one of his first acts being to get his business nameplate altered. He strings Archer’s widow along when, having conducted an adulterous affair with Spade, she expects him to marry her. His loyal assistant Effie is shamelessly exploited, rewarded with affection he seems able to turn on like a tap. If a criminal gets up his nose, he is liable to beat him up with over-zealous sadism. Admittedly, he on more than one occasion gets his come-uppance. To achieve his ends, he is prepared to lie, bully, blackmail and bargain. He is prepared to fraternise with crooks to such a degree that the reader is uncertain as to his honesty, although his persistence, shrewdness and powers of deduction are not in doubt.

Perhaps I have read too many American crime novels to appreciate fully what is clearly a groundbreaking work, since its publication in 1930. Born in 1894, Hammett displays a literary style with elements of classical fiction but he also foreshadows the spate of novels about real ordinary people, some "low-life", criminals on the make, others simply struggling to survive in a seedy urban underworld. Chandler describes the author himself as “spare, frugal and hardboiled” and Hammett clearly drew on his own experience as a Pinkerton detective, one of a group of men infamous as strike breakers and union busters.

I like the vivid sense of place with the precise descriptions of the San Francisco streets, and fatty food bolted down at all times of day in cheap diners. After a long, somewhat implausible scene in which farce trumps suspense, the short novel ends fairly abruptly on an unexpected, surprisingly subtle (in view of some previous ham), suitably ambiguous but also rather sad note.
22 Comments| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 19 June 2014
Sam Spade and Miles Archer listen to the story of a beautiful and persuasively distressed client. Her sister has run away with... a certain kind of man. She must find her sister and persuade her to return home before their parents return from abroad. Spade and Archer don't believe her story, Sam later explains, but they find her cash convincing and take the case. By the next day Archer is dead, Sam is suspected of his murder, and a sinister swarm of new characters has materialized. They are all searching for the same mysterious "object."

Having enjoyed numerous viewings of Bogart and company in the classic black-and-white film version of The Maltese Falcon, I decided to finally read the book. I was surprised to find relatively few differences. Scenes and narrative were nearly identical, with only a few minor scenes deleted and minor characters demoted to nonspeaking roles. In the good old days, it seems, book authors were shown greater respect by Hollywood.

One detail is worthy of note. Hammett clearly did not have Humphrey Bogart in his mind's eye while penning the manuscript. The book opens with this description: "Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-- from high flat temples --in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan."

I guess Bogey was worth resetting the author's expectations a bit. Hammett displays his writing skill by returning occasionally to the angles on Spade's face and the transformations they undergo as he puzzles and prods his way through the case. There are some pleasures in the reading the movie, great as it is, could not capture. Do read the book. It's worth your time.
11 Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
When luscious Miss Wonderly hires the detective firm of Spade and Archer to find her sister, who has run off with a man named Floyd Thursby, Sam Spade might not believe her story but he's happy to accept the $200 dollars she pays them upfront. So is Miles Archer, though his interest is more in the lady's lovely legs. The job turns out to be more than either partner bargains for though, when both Miles and then Floyd are shot dead. With Miss Wonderly begging for his help to protect her and find the Maltese Falcon of the title, Miles' wife hoping his death means she and Sam can finally be together, and the police accusing him of murdering Floyd in revenge for Miles' death, Spade is in trouble up to his neck. But nothing he can't handle...

Did Dashiell Hammett invent noir? I don't know, but Sam Spade is the earliest iconic noir detective, and the one that has spawned a zillion clones down the years. The book reads like a film, making it understandable why the film of the book works so well. Heavy on dialogue, the camera stays focused on Sam Spade at all times and yet we are never allowed inside his head. As he twists and lies and manoeuvres his way through the plot, the reader has no more idea than anyone else what his true intentions might be. Has he fallen for Miss Wonderly, aka Brigid O'Shaughnessy, or is he using her? Will he double-cross her and take the money offered by the mismatched baddies Casper Gutman and Joel Cairo? Or will he trick them all, and take the fabled golden bird for himself? It's only as the end plays out that we discover whether Spade does have some kind of moral code hidden beneath his smooth chain-smoking exterior.

It's a while since I watched the film, but it seems to me that the script stuck very closely to the book, and the casting was pretty much perfect. As a result, I could see the movie characters in my head while reading. It's not just the dialogue that makes the book feel so filmic. Hammett describes every movement that Spade makes in minute detail, from the fight scenes to the rolling of his endless cigarettes, and it gave me the impression of an obsessive director's notes on how he wanted his actors to play each scene. It also feels like a studio film - there's very little description of the world outside and the San Francisco setting could really have been any city in America. It's rare to have quite so little sense of place in a novel, and yet it works. Like a classy film-star, Spade is so compelling that the reader doesn't need to have the background filled out, and the great supporting cast of eccentric characters provides all the necessary contrast to highlight Spade's starring role.

I've seen lots of reviews comparing this book adversely to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. My preference is for this one. I found The Big Sleep messy plotwise, and the atmospheric writing didn't fully compensate for that. The plot of this one is tight and controlled, with each twist revealed at the perfect moment, and while the language may not be poetic, it sets a distinctive tone. The device of keeping the reader outside the thoughts of the characters works very effectively - ultimately the real mystery is nothing to do with the falcon, or even who killed Miles. It's about what will Spade do - who is he? He's neither likeable nor particularly admirable, but the enigma that surrounds his moral code makes him intriguing and fascinating. The book is, of course, horribly misogynistic and homophobic, but it was written nearly a century ago (1929) so I graciously forgive it, especially since Hammett manages to tell his gritty, twisted, violent tale without the need for any offensive language.

Orion have reissued this as part of a series they call 'Read a Great Movie' and I have to say that this, for me, was a perfect example of doing just that. I'll be checking to see what else is in the series...

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion Publishing Group.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 4 February 2014
The opening sentence of this classic work of detective fiction morphs gloriously into arguably the greatest opening paragraph in the history of western literature. Of course, that sounds like an utter nonsense but read the excerpt below from page one of this glorious tome and you will see what I mean:

"... Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down - from high flat temples - in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan..."

I have never considered anything looking remotely like Satan to be even close to resembling pleasantness, but I digress. If anything is going to set the mood of a book with a wonder-inducing gasp of bewildered joy, this paragraph is it. I defy anyone to read the above quote and finish without a smirk on their face, and fail to emit snort of utter disbelief.

And of course, from page four we have the somewhat poetic description of the life and death of a cigarette:

"... on Spade's desk a limp cigarette smoldered in a brass tray filled with the remains of limp cigarettes. Ragged grey flakes of cigarette-ash dotted the yellow top of the desk and the green blotter and the papers that were there. A buff-curtained window, eight or ten inches open, let in from the court a current of air faintly scented with ammonia. The ashes on the desk twitched and crawled in the current."

Art in printed form. Anyway, on with my book review...

The book is a delight. For classic noir fans, you have found your printed nirvana. For everyone else, you have found an entry point into the noir universe. In chapter one, we meet the cast of the show. Sam Spade, PI. Partnered in business by Miles Archer. Spade's first client of the book is the delightfully petite but apparently wealthy Miss Wonderly, who is evidently worried sick for her sister, who ran off from England with a Mr Floyd Thursby. Spade and Archer agree to follow Thursby to a rendezvous to retrieve the sister and track Thursby back to his base of operations. Of courses its lies, lies and more darn lies! But who cares? It's all serious fun.

The first major shock of the book comes halfway through chapter two. The first major plot twist occurs barely eight pages later. This stellar and legendary tale is rife with drama and suspense. Nobody trusts anybody and threats come thick and fast as the players of the game sort each other out. Or die trying.

Hammett's writing will soothe your soul with its attention to detail and damn near stop your heart with the atmosphere of the suspenseful moments. An example of the former lies with the writer's depiction of the art of enjoying a cigarette (please see quote above). An example of the latter can be found on just about any page picked at random. But chapter two's early interaction between Spade and two desperate cops is classic. Characterisation is first class. So is emotional attachment. Fans of the movie (and who isn't?) will find interesting parallels to muse over as their finish each chapter of the book. The book turns mean close to its finale and you almost feel sorry for one of the lost souls. But the baddies each get what's coming to them anyway and one in particular gets a reprieve and possibly a chance at redemption.

Reading this book is a no brainer. Buy it, borrow it, live it, saviour it. Keep it. Pass it on to your kids. But don't ignore it.

Some books will change your life.

This one will rule it.

BFN Greggorio!!!!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 1 November 2011
I have no doubt that this was an important trendsetter in its day and I can understand its appeal in that context. But reading it today it just does not seem to be either a good story or well-written. The plot is extremely far-fetched but most importantly, I found the dialogue to be childish. I guess it was intended to be witty but I felt it was more like a pantomime or stage farce. To be frank, I found the banter between Spade and the police officers just plain silly and the long discussions he had with all the plotters throughout the story almost equally so.

Overall, I found it interesting as a study of a classic rather than as a book to enjoy in its own right.
22 Comments| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 November 2012
The Maltese Falcon was the first book I imagined in black and white. I must have seen the movie half a dozen times before reading it, read it a couple of times since, and find it impossible to imagine with anyone but Bogart as Sam Spade. Yet despite being famous as a black and white film, the novel is actually rich with colourful descriptions of clothes and hair and eyes. I picture each scene with red hair and eyes of yellow-grey or cobalt-blue distinct from the b/w backdrop.

The plot is simple. There's this object called the Maltese falcon, an object so valuable that men will kill to acquire it. The Maltese falcon is a fine example of what Alfred Hitchcock called the McGuffin, an object which the entire plot hinges upon possessing. Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, is killed while trailing a man and the man also winds up dead a few hours later. Spade stands accused of the second death and he must find the real killer to clear his name and avenge his partner.

With Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett reinvented the hard-boiled detective. Holmes had Watson to chronicle his adventures and create a wall between the reader and the detective's inner monologue, keeping you guessing until the end. The Maltese Falcon is devoid of mental process, but rather a physical landscape of hard eyes and pensive stares and casual murder done in dark alleyways. Spade is surly, sarcastic and mischievous, ahead of the game for the most part, but the reader is never privy to his inner thoughts.

Spade drinks and smokes, he withholds information from the police and tells the DA to go to hell. He also beds his client and takes guns from thugs and gets knocked out and beaten, but emerges pure at the end of it all. There is barely a TV or film detective in the last eighty years that hasn't been in some way inspired by Sam Spade. The Maltese Falcon is a check list for how detective drama has be done ever since.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 July 2009
Sam Spade arrived on the scene in 1930 with a vitality and directness that remains fresh and convincing today. An ex-cop, Spade brought with him all the essential traits that came to characterise the genre of American private detectives for the next fifty years; bull-headed, independent, tough, knows his way around town, is on first-name terms with bell-hops and hotel security managers, has friends and enemies in the force, he's a wise-cracking, fast-thinking ladies-man who never gives up on a lost cause.

The story begins at the office of Spade and Archer, private investigators; Sam is there with Effie Perrine, secretary, PA and one of the three women in the story. Effie enters Spade's inner sanctum and announces there is a girl by the name of Wonderly asking to see him.

`A customer?'
`I guess so. You'll want to see her anyway; she's a knockout'.
`Shoo her in, darling,' said Spade, `Shoo her in'.

Thus begins the escapade of the search for the black bird, involving murder and intrigue, double-cross and romance and no-one being quite who they claim to be.

Hammett has a fun time with names. He gives Spade his own first name, which he dropped early on in his career, Joel Cairo is the Levantine and Casper Gutman, most appropriately, is the fat man.

But it is in building the character and nature of Sam Spade that Hammett first shows his true skill in capturing the reader. Long before we begin to understand the tale that has led the cast to this point, we are completely on board with Spade, as he nonchalantly rolls another cigarette and we await whatever may happen or he may do next. And it is Spade that carries the story throughout, as he moves from one relationship to another, whether it is his partner's wife or ex-colleagues in the force, or someone he meets for the first time. Spade is always one thought or one step ahead.

Los Angeles of 1930 is there in the background; Hammett probably took that for granted, as would his contemporary readership, where everyone carried a gun, it seems, and quite a few people got shot with them. But here for the first time is a rebel on the side of the law who is always one step ahead of the regular cops and who also seems to have a higher moral code than they do. People matter to Spade, not just results; that, and his one vulnerability, namely women, ensure that Sam Spade is a character we want to meet again.

Great writing, fast-moving plot and characterisation of the highest quality. Enjoy.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 11 January 2013
When the stunning redhead Miss Wonderly walks into Sam Spade's detective agency to request his help, offering to pay him handsomely for the job, he thinks it's going to be a good day. But a few short hours later we find his partner shot dead and the police sniffing at Spade's door asking questions about a second man's murder. He is plunged headlong into a search for an artefact so precious that there are a cast of colourful characters out there who would kill to take its possession.

Despite the grim setting of prohibition-era San Francisco, there is a strange kind of grubby glamour that makes this book quite captivating. The dialogue is clipped and sharp in contrast to Hammett's wonderfully vivid descriptive passages:

"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 each 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, were dark and sleek."

For me, though, Sam Spade himself is what makes this book so compelling. It's rare that I encounter so enigmatic a lead character. Spade is one tough cookie and doesn't think twice about double-crossing people or manipulating situations to get his own way. He is sometimes cruel, he is disrespectful to women, but despite all this he remains very much the hero of the story and you can't help admiring his cunning ways. Hammett has quite cleverly avoided sharing any of his internal dialogue or thoughts at all, which shrounds him in intrigue and leaves the reader guessing at what exactly is on his mind.

I enjoyed my introduction to hard-boiled detective fiction very much, and would like to watch the classic film based on this book soon.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 4 February 2018
This is a review for the 1984 audio drama, recently replayed on BBC Radio 4. I don’t enjoy being negative about any sincere effort but I’m afraid I was really disappointed by this production. The main problem is the miscasting of actor Tom Wilkinson as Sam Spade, Wilkinson is a British actor with a decent reputation, but he has a rather distinctive voice and his accent and delivery here were just, well, wrong. I’m not comparing him to Bogart - there are many ways to play this role. Sounding like Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter isn’t one of them (yes, I’m aware this predates Silence of the Lambs), Then there’s the music There were good jazz renditions of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust and Cole Porter’s Love For Sale, both originally published in 1930. Maltese Falcon was written in 1929. And, as the introduction tells us, it is set in 1928 - before the songs were even written. I know it’s a bit piniickity but the producers has so much good music of that era to choose from, without getting it wrong. On the plus side, other roles are played well, and it is pretty faithful to the book.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 5 December 2016
Never before read this novel, nor saw the famous black-and-white movie starring Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade. Other reviewers who did, argue the two productions cannot be compared for reasons of plot and of charisma, which Bogart had and the book character had not. He is actually as nasty a package as the con men and the treacherous woman he tries to outwit. The start with two murders, first Spade’s partner Archer, hours later, the man Archer was supposed to shadow. It is also the book’s high point. And Spade is a suspect in at least one of killings. From then on the novel splutters on in a long holding pattern with some interesting background on the falcon, otherwise full of angry or pleading dialogue and occasional violence. Found the closing chapters, despite more killings boring, a small ordeal.
Think the book’s enduring success owes very much to the film. Book-Spade touches females constantly, sleeps with his woman client and his partner’s wife, which was perhaps ok in the late 1920s. Stylistically, other comparing reviewers have noted how much attention DH himself paid to colours. This reader was struck by the frequency (1.000x ?) of DH using ‘his/her eyes’ as modes of expression of all sorts of emotions. My next project: re-reading Raymond Chandler.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse