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I am not a huge fan of detective novels, I tend to find them pretty much the same and tend to feel that only the title really changes. This one is different. BACKGROUND - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Dashiell Hammett was an American novelist who also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Prior to entering the crazy world of crime fiction, Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Baltimore, where he got many of his ideas and technical crime knowledge from. He was like his comtempories, such as Raymond Chandler, one of the first 'realistic' crime novelists. He left the Pinkerton Agency after being asked to assist in a murder (of IWWW labour representative Frank Little) and from this time on held very radical polital views. His first short story was published in Black Mask in 1923. He went on to write a number of novels which were adopted by Hollywood due to their accessability and were turned into films - the most notable being The Maltese Falcon starring Humprey Bogart. PLOT - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A detective, Sam Spade, is hired by a young woman, Miss Wonderley to track down her sister. When Spade's partner, Miles Archer is shot and killed whilst following Miss Wonderley, we begin to see that all is not what it seems. An intricate plot follows during which Sam finds himself both the hunter and the hunted all in the name of trying to track down a priceless jewel encrusted statue of a Falcon. There are twists and turns at every angle whilst people double cross each other and are double crossed. There is never a dull moment!! WHATS GOOD? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The book is a very good read from cover to cover. Well written and concise, I read it in the space of an afternoon! There is enough happening at all time to keep you entertained and the pace is fast enough to keep you interested. The violence is not excessive but there is enough action to keep you believing the storyline. The prose in the text is broken up by dialogue between the characters which is a welcome relief from some novels written in the third person. WHATS NOT SO GOOD? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - I am not sure if it was just me but I didn't find any of the characters particularly likeable. Each has their own individual flaws and although this does add to the human aspect of the novel, I did feel that I wanted to be rooting for someone. There are no innocent characters in the text, everyone has at some stage done something that we could view as questionable. Like I say, this could be just me but you'll have to read it and let me know what you think! MY VIEW - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - All in all, this kept me entertained for hours so that character thing can't have been that big a deal! I loved the pace of the book and the twists and turns kept me feeling like I was interested - not something that always happens with me and crime thrillers!! This was voted the number 1 mystery novel in American history and I would say that from the books I have read, this accolade is deserved. OTHER STUFF - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The book is more widely available now than it used to be, I bought mine from Borders for £6.99, but Amazon has copies for £3.99. I have also noticed that Waterstones have a good stock of it too! The novel is 212 pages in length and would be a good read for anyone planning to sunbathe this summer with an afternoon to kill! If you are struggling to get hold of it - its ISBN number is 0-75284-764-3. Thanks for reading, Sarah x *Also published on Ciao*
By setting his masterpiece against a moody San Franciscan backdrop, Dashiell Hammett ensured The Maltese Falcon was destined for celluloid long before its publication. The people, the atmosphere and the places all have a dark romance of their own, but they only represent a fraction of the riveting adventure within. It all begins innocently enough when the radiant Miss Wonderley hires private eye Sam Spade to track down her sister. This deceptive precursor unexpectedly ignites a fast moving tale of murder, greed and brutality, culminating in a relentless race to track down a jewel encrusted bird, before visiting godfather - the Fat Man - locates it himself. INTRODUCING MR SPADE Sam Spade, in his grey suit, snap-brim hat and overcoat, is the archetypal private detective upon which so many others are based. "By Gad, sir, you're a character, that you are! Yes, sir, there's never any telling what you'll do or say next, except that it's bound to be something astonishing." In two short sentences, Gutman (the Fat Man) couldn't have pigeon-holed Spade any better. Initially, the private eye is nothing but professionalism and charm; but then chapter two unfolds and a dark volatility emerges. Upon the brutal murder of his partner, Spade's lack of emotion seems the response of a cold-hearted stoic; his sordid relations with a couple of women (at least), however, indicate a passionate, hardly stoical figure at all. By the third chapter, this figure of furtive facets is already an extreme puzzle, alluring you into the game, imploring you to decipher him; which of course you never will. THE ANTHILL MOB It is with an ominous air that the Levantine, Joel Cairo, sweeps into Spade's office during the fourth chapter. His high-pitched voice, mincing steps and immaculate - if not too tightly fitting - attire, seem to represent the amalgamation of sinister and camp. Following initial come dy and violence, Cairo's trail leads Spade directly into the murky paths of a couple of gangland figures: the boy Wilma and the Fat Man. It emerges that, along with Cairo, all three have an interest in the black bird; none of whom will stop at anything to get their hands on it. And thus, the importance of the ornament is established and the wacky race to recover it begins. THE LOVE THAT DARE SPEAK ITS NAME Perhaps most surprising for a 1920's novel is the blatant sexuality to be found meandering its way through the pages. At first, it's Spade's infidelity that takes you by surprise, but that's later rendered innocuous when he brutally strip searches a lover in his bathroom. Even that becomes an innocent side-show when the reader is faced with an ever-growing presence of homosexuality. For those oblivious to Cairo's sexuality, Spade later makes it obvious while interrogating Wonderley: "I can understand your being afraid of Cairo. He's out of your reach." Wonderley would require a penis, at least, to stand a hope in hell of seducing Cairo. But the issue of homosexuality doesn't end there. When Spade brutally incapacitates the Boy Wilma, Cairo rushes to his side, whispering and reassuring him as though his mother or lover; but the diad become a triad when Gutman refers to Wilma as his "gunsel" before declaring his dispensability: "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." SINISTER SYMBOLISM "Gunsel" is early twentieth century street slang derived from the German: "ganzel". It has a double-meaning indicative of either the "bottom" of a male-male sexual relationship or a shifty character. Even without such crypticism, it's so difficult to comprehend the loss of a blood son that Gutman's father/son s peech further consolidates the homosexual theme. When homosexuality screams at you from a novel of this period, it's difficult not to question the significance. Cairo's camp mannerisms and attire are clearly used to alienate him as a sinister figure. The relationship between Wilma and Gutman, a family man, must surely have put pederasty in the minds of readers when first published. As it's only the crooks with homosexual tendencies, the inference is one of a disease that only affects bad people. At best, the depiction seems homophobic and designed to emanate perversion on many levels. A PARALLEL DOUBLE ACT Whether Hammett is a bigoted writer or not is difficult to fathom. His masterpiece is such a concentrated noir that nothing escapes the darkness; not even himself. Was this negative stereotyping of homosexuality (amongst other dark subplots) the work of a genius? Quite probably; but his brilliance doesn't end there. His thought provoking subplots are complimented by an astonishingly perceptive writing style. "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." With such acute observations, Hammett battles as fervently with Spade as any of the crooks in the book. He ensures that his central character is by no means the unilateral force fighting for the readers attention. His ability to portray Spade's face with little more than the letter 'v' is an exciting antecedent of things to come. It transforms the book into a classic before the first page has even been turned, and he quickly establishes himself and Spade as a fictional-factual alliance to be reckoned with. SUMMARISING The Maltese Falcon not only inspired Hollywood's first film noir, but also masterminded many of the situations, stereotypes and clichés which dominated crime films, nov els - and even children's cartoons - for years to come. Aside from the sheer captivation of a drama that doesn't slow down for a second, there aren't many authors who can so adequately transport you to the scene of the action. San Francisco is painted so vividly that only a travel agent could take you closer; but no journey will put you on the street, as the book does, making you as much a macabre witness as casual passers-by. So, book yourself into hotel noir. As far as escapism goes, this literary milestone is one of the cheapest, most captivating journeys available; just don't forget to pack your gun (or your condoms). Copyright ©2003 Lee J. Moore. All rights reserved. Paperback - 213 pages (21 March, 2002) Cassell Illustrated; ISBN: 0752847643
Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby.