On the twelfth day of Bookgiving, my true love gave to me:
The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett.
“Well, now, the Emperor Charles has given them Malta, and all the rent he asks is one insignificant bird per annum, just as a matter of form. What could be more natural than for these immeasurably wealthy Knights to look around for some way of expressing their gratitude? Well, sir, that’s exactly what they did, and they hit on the happy thought of sending Charles for the first year’s tribute, not an insignificant live bird, but a glorious golden falcon encrusted from head to foot with the finest jewels in their coffers.”
That’s the description of the black bird – The Maltese Falcon – a classic American mystery by Dashiell Hammett. Regular visitors to this site will know that I don't really write very often about hardboiled (or even medium-boiled) detectives or the American "P.I." tradition. One notable exception to that is The Maltese Falcon, first published in 1930, which is one of the books which really defines that tradition. Hammett's detective in this book (and in a few other short stories - that's all!) is Sam Spade. He is tough, cynical, operating on his own obscure and very personal moral code. The setting is San Francisco. The streets are mean, and most of the characters even meaner.
The plot revolves around that fabulous “black bird,” the Maltese falcon. There are four murders in the course of the book, all tied in with the search for the falcon. It’s not really a “puzzle” mystery – the reader is generally left to sort it out, along with Sam Spade, as he tries to figure out what has happened and what to do next. But the story comes alive through its characters and its dialogue. Maybe that's one reason why the movie version still bears repeated viewing; that crackling dialogue on the screen is lifted pretty much verbatim from the book. But I do urge you, if you're familiar with the movie but not the book, to go back to the original source and savor it.
The latest printed version of the book is in the form of a paperback from Vintage. There are e-book versions, including this version for the Amazon Kindle. If you'd rather have it read to you, there's a recording via Audible. And, if you're one of those unfortunates who has never had a chance to see that classic movie version written and directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor (and a whole wonderful cast of leading character actors), I'm happy to say that you can still get this film on DVD.
(If you came in late, here's what we're doing for bookgiving - I hope you'll join in!)