I had read The Maltese Falcon years ago but remembered very little of it aside from it having a complicated plot. Since I read it the same year I started delving hard into crime fiction, it kind of got lost in the shuffle of other classics I read, especially compared to Hammett’s sensational Red Harvest, a pulp masterpiece that would get my vote for best crime novel of all-time.
But as I have never seen the movie, and keep forgetting the thread of what many allege to be one of the great works of contemporary literature written in the English language, I felt like I should revisit this to see if there was something I missed in my initial need to consume fictional works of crime.
The answer is…no. Not really. The plot isn’t as complex as I recall, which is good. But this is a good-but-not-great work written by a writer who has more talent than this. The dialogue is good, sure but the characters are thin and you’re left wondering why even bother injecting Spade into this nefarious affair in the first place as ice from the need for a story. I think what The Maltese Falcon gets love for more than anything is being the OG of the anti-hero in crime fiction. For years, I had considered Sam Spade to be the force of good amidst the people lurking in the bad San Francisco underworld but Hammett introducing him as “Satan’s Angel” and not giving him many redeemable features shows that we’re not supposed to really like this guy. Nowadays, media is oversaturated with the male anti-hero, doing bad things to stop bad people. Again, much of this can likely be traced back to The Maltese Falcon.
It’s good, not great. Another re-read might help me appreciate Spade’s character more when the sun finally sets on that character’s archetype.