The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading pulpy noir is so fun and seductive and delicious that you can whip right past how appallingly sexist and retrograde it can feel. Or you can not care about all of that and then I’d wonder if you hate women as much as Sam Spade clearly does.
Mr. Hammett spent the better part of his life romantically involved with Lillian Hellman, a mid-century force of nature, author of many of the greatest plays of the American theater and a survivor of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. I doubt Ms. Hellman would have put up with the kind of misogyny we see here in her lover’s protagonist: Sam Spade only sees women as objects to be kissed, banged, lectured to or slapped.
Ok, so know that gong in. Since this is perhaps the most famous noir novel of all time, you probably know the rest already: A murder, a femme fatale, men in black raincoats and shadowy glances across darkened streets. But its famous because it perfected most of those cliches and made them so tangible you feel as though you could visit the Stockton Tunnel in San Francisco and, at its base, find the body of the first victim of “Maltese Falcon” still lying on the pavement below.
If noir and its tics are your thing, this is the only place to start. And if you love San Francisco, that’s even better. The mystery and seduction of perhaps America’s most photographed city laid down in “The Maltese Falcon” holds on to us, nearly 100 years after Bridget O’Shaunessy walked into Sam Spade’s office that morning.
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