“You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.'”
Look at any list of “top noir novels” or “best crime fiction books” and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is invariably near the top. The novel was first published in 1930 and stands as a bastion of the ‘hard-boiled’ vintage crime stories. Although the plot is quite remarkable, I am not interested in providing you with a rote summary of the events that take place in the novel. If you really want one, you can get one here.
Instead I feel my thoughts drawn to the substance between the plot devices and double-crossings, where one decides if The Maltese Falcon truly stands the test of time. If we hold the novel up to the criteria previously discussed concerning noir, it passes with flying colors. The rough side of pre-WWII San Fransisco is our setting, and our anti-hero is the private-eye Sam Spade. Enter “Miss Wonderly” aka. Brigid O’Shaunessy the femme fatale, and the stage is set perfectly for our noir-ish romp with mystery. I admit I was unprepared when our fourth character made an appearance, misogyny.
Mr. Hammett characterizes Sam Spade as a typical ‘man’s man.’ He is cool, confident, and level headed. Sometimes the reader is privy to his thoughts, but more often than not his mind is an impenetrable fortress. As a result, he is not only mysterious to the supporting actors in the plot, but to the reader as well. He is a shark among men, and a lion among women, and he always takes what’s his. I was prepared for a character who exerts masculine dominance, but not nearly to the extent that Mr. Spade does.