When nights are long and there’s a bottle of whisky to hand, a vintage American crime thriller really hits the spot. It doesn’t get much more classic than Dashiell Hammett. Although of its time, his style is half a world away from the arch aristocratic novels of British writers like Agatha Christie. Instead, eyes are hooded, women alluring and men are as likely to reach for a gun as they are to light a cigarette.
The Maltese Falcon opens with a bang. San Francisco private eyes Sam Spade and Miles Archer are given a case, and far too much money, by a beautiful girl. It doesn’t take a genius to suppose it will all go horribly wrong. Sure enough, a mere few pages later, Archer is dead.
Sam Spade’s loyalties are tested as he sets about cracking the case. More corpses swiftly emerge (a wounded man even staggers into his office to expire in front of him). He faces more hindrance than help from the forces of law and order. As always, the San Francisco fog seeps into his bones. Indefatigably, he rolls another cigarette.
With myriad twists and shifting alliances, it’s anyone’s guess who did it right until the final chapter, although Sam probably has a shrewd idea.
Despite being a period piece, the book’s pages just keep turning. Dashiell Hammett’s style is an easy read. You’ll undoubtedly know The Maltese Falcon became an atmospheric film starring Humphrey Bogart. Whether you’ve seen it or not, you’re bound to enjoy the suspense and entertainment offered by the book. Secondhand copies can be picked up for pennies on Amazon, and there’s also an Audible version borrowing heavily from Bogart.
Like crime thrillers? Read my very own 5 minute crime thriller, The Gap, free, here. While it’s distinctly British, like The Maltese Falcon, it hints at darkness beneath the surface…