Review: The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett

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This entry is my third contribution to Crimes of the Century a meme at Past Offences. This month the year under review is #1930.

The Murder Room;, 2014. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 1026 KB. Print length: 226 pages. First serialised in Black Mask, between September 1929 and January 1930. The hardback edition became available in February 1930. ASIN: B00N20V112. ISBN: 978 1 4719 1768 4.

isbn9780752865331Synopsis: Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderly to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderly is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

My take: An attractive young lady, who identifies herself as Wonderly arrives at Spade & Archer, a detective agency at San Francisco. She wants to find out the whereabouts of her sister, five years her junior. She fled from New York with a fellow named Floyd Thursby. Now they are in San Francisco. He’s a married man. Miss Wonderly wants to find her and return back home before her parents may realise what happened. It seems a straightforward issue, though Sam Spade doesn’t believe a single word of what she’s telling him. Miss Wonderly has a date tonight with Thursby, what may provide them an opportunity of following him so that he can lead them till her sister. Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner, has volunteered to perform the tracking. But that same night Spade receives a phone call. Archer has been found dead by a point-blank shot. Shortly after, Thursby dies after being shot in front of his hotel. The police suspect that Thursby, killed Archer and that Spade shot Thursby out of revenge. The situation worsens when it is discovered that Spade was having an affair with Iva, Archer’s wife. But, finally, Spade’s doubts are confirmed when Wonderly confides him her true identity. She’s really Brigid O’Shaughnessy. At this point, the action acquires a dizzy pace and Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo –an effeminate Greek, sometimes named the Levantine, and Casper Gutman –a Fat Man often accompanied by a bully youngster called Wilmer Cook, end up trying to trace an ancient statuette extremely valuable, shaped like a falcon that gives its title to the novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Some times I wonder myself why I waited so long to read this book? And I have no answer. Perhaps, it didn’t help me having seen the film so many times. A superb film, incidentally, directed by John Huston in 1941 and starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. In any case, the novel has met or even exceeded, all my expectations. It’s, undoubtedly, a true masterpiece. The story is just great and is very well told. The pace is well chosen and the characterisation is excellent. It’s probably one of the best crime fiction books ever written. It is certainly not the first hard-boiled novel, but it served to lay the rules by which all the subsequent novels will be judged. Hammett’s style is completely innovative, and I would like to suggest reading the following article: Characterization Through Description in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, 1930. Hammett is also singular in using new words and expressions, which  makes it difficult to translate.  In this regard, I would recommend reading Getting away with murder: The Maltese Falcon’s specialized homosexual slang gunned down in translation by Daniel Linder, here.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was born in Maryland and worked in a number of menial jobs until he became an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. His experiences as private detective served him well to develop his writing career. His work includes Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, The Thin Man and some eighty short stories, mostly published in Black Mask magazine. For the film version you may check out here my film notes; The Maltese Falcon entry at the American Film Institute, AFI, is here; and the Wikipedia page here

What others have said: The whole book had the feel of a good play – tight, closed sets with a handful of well-drawn characters in each scene that riff off each other through verbal sparring, violence and seduction, with plenty of melodrama and tension, and the story twisting and turning as it works its way to a satisfying conclusion. (The View from the Blue House).

Wonderful stuff, not as complex as The Glass Key, nor as funny as The Thin Man, but a great book to read.(Past Offences)

You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”

Does he mean it? Who knows. It’s hard to say with Sam Spade as we are not privy to his thoughts. None of the characters thoughts are shared. We are only left with facial expressions and conversations. Despite my complaints about the pacing, I enjoyed the story very much. There weren’t many shocks or surprises. While reading, my mind would conjure up Bogart as Spade and I’ve never seen the movie. With lines like the one above and plenty of others, it definitely makes me want to read more Hammett. (Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog)

…I love The Maltese Falcon, that it induces just as chilling an effect in the reader as doesThe Glass Key, and that I regard it as at least as great a book. (I’d also suggest that The Maltese Falcon‘s greatness is so universally acknowledged that the novel may simply be taken for granted in discussions of the best crime novel ever.) (Detectives Beyond Borders)

The Orion Publishing Group publicity page

Black Lizard publicity page

The Dashiell Hammett website

Dashiell Hammet at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

Let’s talk about the black bird by J. Kingston Pierce

El halcón maltés de Dashiell Hammett

Sinopsis: Sam Spade es contratado por la fragante Miss Wonderly para localizar a su hermana, que se ha fugado con un canalla llamado Floyd Thursby. Pero Miss Wonderly es, de hecho, la hermosa y traicionera Brigid O’Shaughnessy, y cuando el socio de Spade Miles Archer recibe un disparo, mientras sigue el rastro de Thursby, Spade se convierte tanto en cazador como en cazado: ¿Podrá localizar al pájaro incrustado de joyas, un tesoro por el que vale la pena matar, antes de que lo encuentre el hombre gordo?

Mi opinión: Una mujer joven y atractiva, que se identifica como Wonderly llega a Spade & Archer, una agencia de detectives de San Francisco. Quiere averiguar el paradero de su hermana, cinco años menor que ella. Ella huyó de Nueva York con un tipo llamado Floyd Thursby. Ahora están en San Francisco. Él es un hombre casado. La señorita Wonderly quiere encontrarla y volver a casa antes de que sus padres se den cuenta de lo que pasó. Parece un asunto sencillo, aunque Sam Spade no cree una sola palabra de lo que le está diciendo. La señorita Wonderly tiene una cita esta noche con Thursby, lo que les puede ofrecer la oportunidad de seguirlo para que pueda conducirlos hasta su hermana. Miles Archer, el socio de Sam Spade, se ha ofrecido para realizar el seguimiento. Pero esa misma noche Spade recibe una llamada telefónica. Archer ha sido encontrado muerto de un disparo a quemarropa. Poco después, Thursby muere tras recibir un disparo frente a su hotel. La policía sospecha que Thursby, mató a Archer y que Spade disparó a Thursby por venganza. La situación se agrava cuando se descubre que Spade estaba teniendo una aventura con Iva, la esposa de Archer. Pero, finalmente, las dudas de Spade se confirman cuando Wonderly le confía su verdadera identidad. Ella es realmente Brigid O’Shaughnessy. En este punto, la acción adquiere un ritmo vertiginoso y Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo –un afeminado griego, a veces llamado el levantino, y Casper Gutman –una hombre gordo a menudo acompañada de un joven matón llamado Wilmer Cook, terminan tratando de localizar una antigua estatuilla de gran valor, con forma de halcón que da título a la novela, El halcón maltés. 

Algunas veces me pregunto, ¿por qué esperé tanto tiempo a leer este libro? Y no tengo respuesta. Tal vez, no me ayudó  haber visto muchas veces la película. Una película excelente, por cierto, dirigida por John Huston en 1941 y  protagonizada por Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet y Elisha Cook En cualquier caso, la novela ha alcanzado o incluso superado todas mis expectativas. Es, sin duda, una verdadera obra maestra. La historia es simplemente genial y está muy bien contada. El ritmo está bien elegido y la caracterización es excelente. Es, probablemente, uno de los mejores libros que se han escrito de novela negra. Ciertamente, no es la primera novela hard-boiled, pero sirvió para sentar las bases por las que se juzgará a todas las novelas posteriores. El estilo de Hammett es totalmente innovador, y me gustaría sugerir la lectura del siguiente artículo: Characterization Through Description in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, 1930. También Hammett es singular en la utilización de nuevas palabras y expresiones, lo que, indudablemente, hace difícil su traducción. En este sentido, recomiendo la lectura de Getting away with murder: The Maltese Falcon’s specialized homosexual slang gunned down in translation por Daniel Linder aquí.

Mi calificación: A + (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) nació en Maryland y realizó una serie de trabajos de poca monta hasta que se convirtió en un operativo de la Agencia de Detectives Pinkerton. Sus experiencias como detective privado le sirvieron para desarrollar su carrera de escritor. Su trabajo incluye Cosecha roja, El halcón maltés, La llave de cristal, El hombre delgado y unos ochenta cuentos, la mayoría publicados en la revista Black Mask. Sobre la versión de la película puede ver aquí mis notas de cine; La entrada sobe El halcón maltés en el American Film Institute, AFI, está aquí; y la página de Wikipedia aquí.

Serie Negra publicity page

Film Notes: There is a Path to the Right (1953) directed by Francisco Rovira Beleta

ES / 96 minutes / BW / Titán Films (as Titán Films – Producciones Bofarull) Dir: Francisco Rovira Beleta Pro: Antonio Bofarull Scr: Manuel María Saló Vilanova and Francisco Rovira Beleta Cine: Salvador Torres Garriga Mus: Federico Martínez Tudó Cast: Francisco Rabal, Julia Martínez, Carlos Otero, Manuel García, Juan Manuel Soriano, José Ramón Giner, José Luis García, Ramón Hernández, José Manuel Pinillos, Enrique Borrás, Consuelo de Nieva, Isabel de Castro Release Date: 23 September 1953 (I Semana Internacional de Cine de San Sebastian).
V1_Last night Begoña and I had the opportunity to watch on TV2  Hay un camino a la derecha (There is a Path to the Right), a Spanish 1953 film directed by Francisco Rovira Beleta. See my previous posts
Forgotten Films: Spanish Detective Fiction and Spanish Film Noir from 1950 to 1965 and Spanish Detective and Mystery Films (Film Noir) Between 1950 to 1965. The film is stylistically more related to Italian Neorealism than to detective fiction or film noir. It tells the story of Miguel, a quick-tempered sailor, who is fired from his job and hardly finds another one to support his family as a harbour depot watchman. Unsatisfied, he will plan a robbery.

The film premiered at San Sebastian Film Festival, now in its 64th year. Their two main interpreters, Francisco Rabal and Julita Martinez, were awarded with the prize to the best actor and to the best actress, respectively. The film was shot between August 1, 1952 and January 1, 1953. It was mainly shot at outdoor locations in Barcelona, like the port area, Barcelona’s Barrio Chino (the city red-light district), the slum area of Somorrostro and its beach, Angli street and the Hospital Clínico. A famous tenor of the times, Antonio Bofarull, who was also the owner of a renowned restaurant called “Los Caracoles”, was the founder in 1948 of a film production company named Titan, where he became accustomed to performing secondary roles in its films. His influence in this film was felt on the screenplay. According to Rovira Beleta, the pastiche at the end and the early scenes, were not part of his original film idea. The film should have ended with the burial and should have begun with the layoff of Francisco Rabal as a sailor of a merchant ship. Everything else was added by the producer. The film was commercially released in Barcelona on February 22, 1954 and in Madrid on 7 May the same year, with a great reception from the public. (Source:

In my view a highly interesting film that it’s worth to remember. A good example of a film industry that could have been developed, but got frustrated. 

On my way to choose my 10 best Poirot novels

Thanks to Kate Jackson at cross examining crime for reminding me,

Today marks the 126th birthday anniversary of Agatha Christie and it is also 100 years since the writing of the first novel in the series featuring Hercule Poirot. Besides, I’ve just started the challenge to read the complete series of novels in chronological order. So far I have read:

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 1920 (Hercule Poirot #1) by Agatha Christie (B)
  2. The Murder on the Links, 1923 (Hercule Poirot #2) by Agatha Christie (B)
  3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926 (Hercule Poirot #3) by Agatha Christie (A+)
  4. The Big Four, 1927 (Hercule Poirot #4) by Agatha Christie (D)
  5. The Mystery of the Blue Train, 1928 (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie (C)
  6. Peril at End House, 1932 (Hercule Poirot #6) by Agatha Christie (A)
  7. Lord Edgware Dies, 1933 (Hercule Poirot #7) by Agatha Christie (A) also published as Thirteen at Dinner
  8. Murder on the Orient Express, 1934 (Hercule Poirot #8) by Agatha Christie (A+) also published as Murder in the Calais Coach
  9. Three Act Tragedy, 1935 (Hercule Poirot #9) by Agatha Christie (B) also published as Murder in Three Acts
  10. Death in the Clouds, 1935 (Hercule Poirot #10).also published as Death in the Air (currently reading)

It’s interesting to note that, out of the 33 novels, between 1936 and 1946 Christie wrote twelve of them;  without taken into account Curtain (written about 1940 and  published in 1975) . This was her most prolific period with titles like The A.B.C. Murders, Cards on the Table, Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Sad Cypress, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Evil Under the Sun, and Five Little Pigs, which are often ranked among Poirot top ten books. From 1947 to 1975, Christie published the remaining eleven novels with some memorable titles like, the already mentioned, Curtain. So please stay tuned.

You can read more about Poirot here. Also note that it’s possible to read the Poirot books in any order with few exceptions, mainly:

  • Make sure you read Curtain last.
  • Lord Edgware Dies should be read before After the Funeral
  • Five Little Pigs should be read before Elephants Can Remember
  • Cat Among the Pigeons should be read before Hallowe’en Party
  • Mrs McGinty’s Dead should be read before Hallowe’en Party and Elephants Can Remember
  • Murder on the Orient Express should be read before Murder in Mesopotamia
  • Three Act Tragedy should be read before Hercule Poirot’s Christmas:
  • Dumb Witness should be read AFTER all the previous ones in the series.

A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang

hammett_maltesefalconWhile reading The Maltese Falcon, I have come across an invaluable tool for those who, like me, don’t have English as their first language. I do hope it will be of your interest.

For example:  

Baumes rush: Senator Caleb H. Baumes sponsored a New York law (the Baumes Law) which called for automatic life imprisonment of any criminal convicted more than three times. Some criminals would move to a state that didn’t have this law in order to avoid its penalty should they be caught again, and this was known as a “Baumes rush,” because of the similarity to “bum’s rush.”

(Source: Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang (Last modified: 25 May 2016) Compiled by William Denton <>. Copyright © 1993-2009. CC-BY.. Edition 3.9.4. Version 4.0 is planned. Originally published as a pamphlet by Miskatonic University Press, 1993, here)

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