Tuesday, 15 August 2000

Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Edition: Avenel Books, 1980
Review number: 574

The Maltese Falcon is one of those novels which it is difficult to disentangle from an incredibly famous film version, like (for example) The Postman Always Rings Twice. The film in this case conveys the atmosphere of the book extremely well, with the casting in particular being very apt with the exception of Humphrey Bogart, who, while he gives a wonderful performance as Sam Spade, is not like the character depicted in the novel.

In the novel, almost the only things the reader can be sure of are, firstly, that the major characters are looking out for themselves alone and, secondly, that they are not concerned about the immorality or criminality of what they do for their own benefit, whether it is lying or murder. The tale is about the falling out of thieves, and there is certainly no honour among them.

Although one of the classics of crime fiction, The Maltese Falcon is more a thriller in tone rather than a whodunit. The tension as Spade becomes more involved in the shady dealings surrounding the falcon is exceptionally well handled, and even though the reader almost forgets the question of who killed Miles Archer (Spade's partner), Hammett does not and reveals everything at the end in classic whodunit style. This puzzle, which is quite subtle, is only a minor part of the novel, and this nod in the direction of the whodunit is one of the reasons it is a classic.

No comments: