Book Review: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

I normally don’t read fiction but this book was highly recommended by Erik Larson in WSJ’s book club and other reputable authors and professors. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read it, you might want to read it first. You can check out the plot in the wikipedia as well.

So what is special about this highly-charged, fast-paced detective thriller novel?

1. Not very predictable plot as everyone may be the killer(s) of the three people who died.

2. Good dialog written in the same ways people talk with emotion. The audiobook narrator(s) did a great job mimicking the voices of the key characters like the old narrated radio shows.

3. Sam Spade, the main detective character who may be crooked to be in that business (like sleeping with partner’s wife and sleeping with the beautiful client, Brigid, or coming up with a “fall guy” before the cops got to him, but he drew the line where he saw justice must be done for his partner, Miles Archer, despite his “love” toward Brigid, the conniving woman who tried to take advantage of his favoritism toward her.

4. “I won’t play the sap for you” was repeated several times by Sam Spade when he was trying to get a confession out of Brigid, who turned out to have killed Sam’s partner in the dark alley.

5. The woman, Bridgid O’Shaughnessy, turned out to be the ultimate villain in the novel. At the end, she went quietly with the police, still acting like a lady. Nowadays, she would’ve thrown a tantrum and become a monster with violence.

6. The novel went against the woman’s instinct of the secretary, Effie Perine, that Ms. Wonderly AKA Bridgid is NOT a bad person. Obviously, the author didn’t high regard for women. The three women in the novel didn’t come out to be the “modern woman” nowadays.

7. Several stereo types were cast in the novel: the fat man — Casper Gutman, a boy-lover — Joel Cairo, the young punk — Wilmer Cook, and the chain-smoking, street-smart detective — Sam Spades.

8. How the Maltese Falcon came about was based on some historical facts: a gift for the King of Spain from the Knights of Malta as part of the condition of giving them tree islands, Gozo, Tripoli, and Malta, after they were chased out of Rhodes back in 1523. I heard a similar story when I was at Rhodes Island, Greece while on vacation last month.

9. Ironically, at the end, the Maltese Falcon was a fake one and four men died in vain, all because of greed. Sad.

Overall, it’s a good novel and a classic detective 1929 novel. Humphrey Bogart was phenomenal in the 1941 movie, though the dialog in the movie was hard to understand, probably because of the poor audio quality and idioms of that era. I had to read the book to figure out what happened. The plots were somewhat believable with enough twists and turns to be a good detective novel and the San Francisco street venue was mostly true and traceable by some – a real treat for the locals.