Dashiell Hammet’s forays into writing were often serialized in pulp magazines. With the likes of stories such as The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key, Hammet appeared to have a pulse on the modern detective story. Hammet had a variety of careers throughout his life: writer, Pinkerton operative, World War I ambulance driver, and member of the American Communist Party. However, his life as a private eye is what inspired his signature detective stories. I am personally curious how much of The Maltese Falcon is inspired by actual events.
The Maltese Falcon is one Hammet’s most enduring works. After all, any story that would include a movie adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart is memorable and sustaining even in the year 2011. It follows a Cat and Mouse game between the private eye detective, Sam Spade, a femme fatal, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a mysterious Fat Man, and the sly Joel Cairo over a priceless, statue of a Falcon. After twists and turns, Spade dances with the devil, but sets up every last one of them in a suspenseful finale.
The most enduring aspect of The Maltese Falcon is the character of Sam Spade. Without him, the brooding face of Humphrey Bogart would not have graced this silver screen in this epic. However, the importance of Spade as a character lies in his callousness. The brooding, womanizing, and gritty Sam Spade solves cases “his way;” way that makes him out as the anti-hero in The Maltese Falcon. I’m sure that the cigarette smoking and boozing Hammet, wrote himself into Spade, but probably did not realize the impact his character would have on the modern Detective story. It’s a glimpse into Noir as literature. Without the likes of Sam Spade, the world might not have had the character of Philip Marlow. Hell, we might not have had the legendary Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight if not for Sam Spade.
The Maltese Falcon is an excellent introduction to the world of Noir literature. It’s a great detective story and a quick read. One can almost smell the amount of cigarette smoke, cheap booze, and grit Hammet used to write this novel. I for one, never minded the amount of dirt one needs to create something beautiful.