by Dashiell Hammett
“At one time or another I’ve had to tell everybody from the Supreme Court down to go to hell, and I’ve got away with it. I got away with it because I never let myself forget that a day of reckoning was coming.”
In his debut, hard-boiled detective Sam Spade’s partner is murdered at the novel’s onset. Police begin by hassling Spade, which continues through the book, while the P.I. starts running down any clues he can get his hands on. Eventually he’s led to a party searching for a mysterious statue of a bird once owned by the Templars, a potentially priceless artifact.
Everyone tries to enlist the help of Spade, who’s investigative skills and dogged determination would make him a formidable ally, but Sam’s loyalty is difficult to buy when he trusts no one.
This is one helluva book! With its first installment originally published in serialized form in 1929, Hammett’s Sam Spade would go on to become a blueprint for the hard-boiled detective and soon after become the basis for the film The Maltese Falcon, one of the greatest of all the films noir. It deserves mention an aspect of the film which would be beloved by so many is its matchless complexity—the convoluted plot has actually become one of the most fascinating attractions.
That plot is even more involved here, though you’re led with such skill that you’re never alone in the dark while reading, story twists and nuances washing over and past you like they do in the film. The book is complicated but manages to remain clear.
Hammett’s first two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, are both fabulous efforts in bringing forth a new form of (anti) hero in the Continental Op, but it’s here that the author drives it home and builds his fortress. The Maltese Falcon is an indisputable masterpiece of crime fiction, and Sam Spade’s cynical character is here to stay.
“You don’t cash many checks for strangers, do you, Sammy?”