Review 1000 minus 4 – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are approached by “Miss Wonderly” to follow a man who has absconded with her sister to San Francisco. After Archer is shot (along with the man he was following) it transpires that there is no sister at all, and Miss Wonderly aka Bridget O’Shaughnessy had other reasons for wanting protection.

Soon a menagerie of ne’er-do-wells are involved and Spade is up to his neck in trouble, all of which centres around a statue of a bird – a falcon in fact. From Malta, in case you couldn’t guess…

OK, it’s been almost a point of principle on the blog that over the years, I’ve never really dabbled in noir. OK, there was The Chill by Ross MacDonald – that’s 1 out of 1000ish. Indeed, I’ve had so little interest in tackling the genre that I’ve even managed to accuse Raymond Chandler of writing this one, but obviously, I was wrong. But was I wrong about the genre?

Let’s face it, this is supposed to be a cast-iron classic. A benchmark of the genre. Well, I guess this means the genre isn’t for me, because I really didn’t get on with this one.

Basically, a bunch of unpleasant people cause trouble for another unpleasant person – the focus of the tale – which is resolved after a prolonged confrontation with everyone involved. In the process, people are punched, kicked, shot, kissed…

Nope, I really don’t get this. Yes, it’s well-written (although the final section is too long) but without a character to root for – I suppose Spade’s secretary is a good person, but that’s about it – I found it hard to care about anyone and hence about any of the developments concerning the Falcon.

Yes, I suppose there is a whiff of whodunit about one aspect of the tale, but overall, I found in this book exactly what I expected. Well-written but unlikeable characters enmeshed in a plot that seems ultimately a bit pointless. Not for me.


  1. I am not surprised but a little bit heartbroken that you didn’t enjoy this. It is such a great novel, so superior to the thousands of pulpy hardboiled thrillers out there, with such rich, almost Dickensian characters. What a shame but glad you gave it a go at least!

    Liked by 3 people

    • +1
      Hammett is the best writer in crime fiction, and this is one of his best books.

      If I were religious I’d pray for PD’s soul. (But of course as a Rhode fan he doesn’t have one 😉)

      Glad you gave it a try.

      @Cavershamfagu: great blog. I find of all the mystery bloggers my tastes align closest to yours. Your list of best books looks a lot like mine. So much so I got few new leads from it! I hope you’ll return some day.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thanls for the kind words Ken. Steve and I agree on most things I am glad to say and he liked Ross MacDonald quite a bit as you will see from his review of THE CHILL, which tells you what a fair blogger he is.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I’m just glad I didn’t save it until Review 1000 – it was one of the candidates. I know it’s of its time, but I don’t need to read of a “hero” who forces a woman to strip naked for no good reason (amongst Spade’s other misdeeds). But more importantly, who did what just didn’t seem particularly important. All the characters seemed to be on the villainy spectrum. Yes, there’s a sort-of twist, but it just seems to be there to deliver some last chapter melodrama.

      But as you say, you weren’t surprised that I didn’t like it, but I did like MacDonald – must go back to him at some point – as he seemed to create more of a cohesive involving plot.

      Great to hear from you again, mate. Don’t stay away from the comment section for so long next time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I gotta say, I was glad I’d already seen the film when I read this, because a) it is weirdly difficult to follow what’s going on (there’s no detection in the sense that you’re never aware of Spade’s own feelings or thoughts on anything) and, well, b) that ending…man, that would have driven me loopy after struggling through the book. I’m with you, Doc — probably great if one likes this kind of thing, an very interesting from a character-awareness perspective, but I struggle to see the appeal overall.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m a bit puzzled how noir apparently got labeled as a genre different from “classic mystery” and thereby demoted.


  4. Hard-boiled stories tend to be more action-oriented and less mystery or puzzle-oriented for sure, but I think the Maltese Falcon was a better movie than a novel. Better would be The Glass Key, and, of course, The Thin Man.


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