There are a couple of reasons I started reading The Maltese Falcon (1929) by Dashiell Hammett. I picked up The Thin Man by Hammett when it was chosen for the "One Book, One Denver" program in 2008. It wasn't my favorite, but I like to read more than one book by authors to get a feel for them, and The Maltese Falcon is certainly famous enough to make it worthwhile. (I haven't seen any of the movies, so the plot was still new to me.) However, the other reason I picked up this book also has a lot to do with my reaction to it, so in the interests of full disclosure, I better explain it. The Maltese Falcon is the favorite book of a man I have something of a past with. I still see him all the time and at least for awhile we might have been something like friends, but now not so much. It's probably obvious that I'm not quite over him, and I was curious why this was his favorite book.
Sam Spade is a tough, no-nonsense detective in San Francisco. He's good at what he does, a loner, and somewhat mysterious. A beautiful woman comes to visit his agency, begging for his help to find her sister who had run away. She plays the part of the naive and helpless woman, but her story doesn't add up, especially when Spade's partner is killed while tailing her. Two other men are killed as the story progresses with Spade quickly becoming a convenient suspect for the police. Spade struggles (but in a cool, detached way) to clear his name, find the killers, and help his clients. At one time or other Spade has promised his services to all the people searching after the mysterious and elusive "black bird" statute, the maltese falcon.
Spade also has a way with women. He had been having an affair with his partner's wife, but he tires of her before the book begins; there's something going on with his secretary, Effie Perine; and he quickly hooks up with his mysterious, new client. In a lot of ways, Spade is like James Bond. I can appreciate James Bond, especially when I'm in the right mood (and especially when Daniel Craig is playing him), but I was constantly bothered by the women, how they were portrayed, and how they were treated in this book. I'm sure this is at least partly because I was projecting my own experiences. I'd bet that my "friend" sees himself as Sam Spade; he certainly acts like him. James Bond is all kinds of sexy and fun, but when you end up being one of the women he's using and throwing away, it's not as entertaining. Spade goes around calling them, "angel," "precious," and "darling" even when he detests them. He lies, doublecrosses, and parades them in front of each other. The women themselves were also annoying, whiny and devious. Effie Perine, the most likable, was still often wrong and pretty weak. I found it all kinds of frustrating.
The Maltese Falcon has some good twists and turns, though, and it's a satisfying, noir detective story. Spoilers ahead?!?! People are getting killed and everyone's running amuck, desperately searching for the maltese falcon and it turns out what they're all looking for is worthless. Spade is given a rather difficult choice at the end, too, even though I still wondered if he would have taken the money if the maltese falcon had turned out to be real. I'm guessing not. There is some talk of love at the end of the book, but I could never believe that. You don't fall in love with someone you don't know and you don't trust, no matter how much you want to sleep with them.