“The Maltese Falcon” is Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel, which was originally published in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf. The story was serialized in the Black Mask magazine and had numerous cinema adaptations. The events of the novel take place in San Francisco, USA in 1930s (Hammett, 1989). The main theme of the novel is trust, which defines the relationship that Sam Spade has with other characters in the novel: Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Effie Perine, Iva Archer, Casper Gutman and Joel Cairo etc. Spade is the protagonist of the story. He is a man who fears no one, not even the police, which becomes evident when he says “It’s a long while since I burst out crying because policemen didn't like me” (Hammett, 1989, p. 19). This paper presents a summary of the novel and includes my personal response to it.
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Summary of the Novel
The story begins with Sam Spade and Miles Archer being hired by Miss Wonderly to follow Floyd Thursby, a man whom she accuses of running away with her younger sister. Though the two agree to take the job because of the good pay, Spade suspects that the woman is planning something bad. Later that night Spade receives a call informing him that both Archer and Thursby were murdered and the police suspect that he was involved.
The next day, while visiting her boss at the hotel, Spade finds out that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy and not Miss Wonderly as he previously thought. He also finds out that she does not have a sister. In addition, Thursby was Brigid’s associate who betrayed her, and that is why she wanted him trailed. Spade is later visited by Joel Cairo in his office and offered $5,000 to locate a bird statue that was lost in transit. Suddenly, Cairo points a gun at Spade to keep him still while he searches his office. Nonetheless, Spade manages to knock him out. Spade later realizes that there is a connection between O'Shaughnessy and Cairo when he speaks to O'Shaughnessy. What follows is a series of events that ends in Spade turning O'Shaugnessy to the police upon realizing that she killed Archer. This is evident when he tells O'Shaugnessy, ‘‘I'm going to send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means you'll be out again in twenty years. You're an angel. I’ ll wait for you. . . . If they hang you I'll always remember you’’ (Stone, 2006, p. 45).
“The Maltese Falcon” remains the best detective novel I have ever read. It is even more exciting than the movie. Usually, it is expected that after watching the movie one will visualize characters as they were in a film while he reads the book. However, the author does a fantastic job in describing characters in a manner that makes readers develop an entire new cast in their minds while reading. Through phrases like "a weary grimace" and "limp freshness" the author clearly portrays each scene in the story, thus making the novel even more thrilling and easy to read. It is worth noting that unlike other books I have read before, where I had to re-read a single page several times in order to understand author’s message, I found this novel very easy to read because of its clear sentences and few pages. It took me only half a day to finish it.
Though the novel is not long, it is packed with a lot of information that leaves the reader craving for more. In the plot that revolves around a theft of a jewel-encrusted bird statue, the author provides only necessary and relevant information regarding various scenes. He does not veer off too much to make the story boring. The prose is clean, lean, detailed, and is conveyed in a simple and sharp language. It is amazing how the author creates characters to keep his audience interested in the novel. It is important to note that while the novel centers on a mysterious crime, the crime is not horrifying. The author provides characters’ physical descriptions, but very little information about their personalities or thoughts. This compels the reader to judge characters based on their manners and conversations. This kind of spare writing makes the novel even more mysterious, thus making it leave a long-lasting impact. For instance, as I continued to read the novel, I kept wondering whether the information Hammett left out was important or not, and whether he will give answers to various mysteries in the story. For example, it is not clear from the novel how Gutman and Wilmer relate, and even the relationship between Cairo and Wilmer is unclear. In addition, it is surprising how Spade helps the police in the end to arrest the murderer of Archer: O'Shaughnessy. All this while, the author made readers believe that Spade was part of the criminals, and therefore, his decision to have the seductive O'Shaughnessy arrested, despite his strong feelings for her is surprising.
Unlike other detective novels, this novel is original and the purpose of every character is vividly defined. While it seems that all the characters have an interest in the treasured blackbird, Spade comes out as a man of honor by handing over the supposed treasure to Gutman. By this, the author is trying to stress on the importance of maintaining good morals even in the midst of ill-intentioned people. Despite being originally published in 1930, it is worth noting that this novel makes much sense today just as it did eighty years ago. As I read the novel, I visualized the story occurring in the present, which proves that ‘‘The Maltese Falcon’’ will always remain a timeless classic. To conclude, “The Maltese Falcon” is a very interesting and detailed novel that I would not hesitate to recommend to any person with interest in detective novels or literature in general.
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