The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett
This is the book that got me hooked on hardboiled fiction.
Perhaps few of today's film fans have seen it, but the picture based on this novel-- starring Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade-- has made a lasting impact on American culture. More of you might remember the Steve Martin parody, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which just proves how deeply this story resonates in our memory. And though Sam Spade only appeared in this one book (to my knowledge), in the heart of mystery lovers he stands beside such long-running hardboiled heroes as Philip Marlowe and Perry Mason. That is a testimony, I think, to what a great book this is.
My personal testimony is that I gasped, I literally gasped, at the power of this book. It hit me like a series of body-blows. I had to go back and read the whole climactic chapter aloud, blowing my nose like a foghorn. Not that it's sentimental. As far from it as can be. Yet somehow, that makes it so powerful!
A mystery is the kind of book most easily spoiled by a detailed synopsis, so I'll keep it to this: Sam Spade is a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, tough customer whose partner in a two-man P.I. agency gets murdered... and Spade, who was fooling around with his partner's wife, becomes Suspect #1. What with eluding cops, all of whom are various shades of dirty, and trying to find out what's so important about a bird-shaped statue before the bad guys get hold of it, Spade has a lot on his hands. But until he finds out who really dunit, his neck is on the line.
And for those of you who already know this masterpiece, I have only these words: "If they hang you, I'll always remember you."
Parental advisory: this book contains heavy alcohol use.
Recommended Age: 16+
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