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The Maltese Falcon
By Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon
By Dashiell Hammett
Gale Cengage Learning, Large Print Edition (2009)
ISBN 10: 1-59722-898-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-59722-898-5
Genre: Detective Fiction

Reviewed by Herbert White - January 4, 2010

Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's no nonsense, tough, and gritty private eye is hard on the case in the perennial favorite, The Maltese Falcon. As the story opens, Spade's partner, Miles Archer, has been murdered, and the cops blame Spade. Perhaps Spade blames himself as well, but if he does, he'll never admit it. That doesn't stop him from putting his heart into solving Archer's murder. To complicate his task, earlier a gorgeous red head showed up begging for Spade's help, and it was while trying to help that Archer appears to have been murdered. When she disappears, Spade learns that she lied about her identity, and maybe concocted her story just to get Archer out of the way. Like many of the characters in this book, this young woman, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, will keep coming back into Spade's orbit, asking for help and putting the bold detective into danger. Then there is a gold, jewel-encrusted statuette, in the shape of a bird, that might not even exist. Nonetheless it still manages to leave a a trail of bodies in its wake. Spade soon finds that to get to the truth behind the myriad of mysteries that have been dropped into his lap, he'll need to discover if the statue really exists, and if it does, he'll need to get his hands on the statue - and its owner - to close the varied cases that seem to be connected to mysterious bird.

The Maltese Falcon is written in crisp, sparse prose that takes the reader on a rapid journey through Spade's world. The mystery is complicated, yet unfolds quickly, and if you let your eye drift from the page for even a moment, you can miss a large chunk of the story. While the mystery, itself, is engaging, it is the eclectic parade of characters that Hammett has spiced the story with that really makes this a memorable book to read. These characters include the fore mentioned O'Shaughnessy, as well as the grafter Joel Cairo and the villainous Kasper Gutman a.k.a. the fat man.

If you've seen the film version The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, and Peter Lorre, and think that you already know the story - you're wrong. In making the movie, some of the characters and scenes from the novel where deleted. As well, to really appreciate this story you need to read it. Hammett's eye for detail and concise prose give the story an entirely different feel from that presented in the movie.


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