So, a dame walks into a private detective’s office…stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Let’s be honest, you probably have. But luckily this is no ordinary dame. And the office belongs to no ordinary detective. They are Miss Wonderly (not her only name, by the way) and Sam Spade, the mold by which all hard-boiled fast-talking slang-laden detective stories are made. The Maltese Falcon chronicles their shared adventures chasing a valuable, bejeweled falcon statuette that’s been stolen and brought to San Francisco. There are fistfights, gunfights, slapping fights, and lots of well-dressed men trading banter while well-dressed women watch. People get murdered, the police blunder around, everybody drinks a lot, and it’s fucking awesome. Along with his talent for writing great dialogue and action scenes, Dashiell Hammett also has a gift for physical description, as seen here:
“She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow. She wore two shades of blue that had been chosen because of her eyes. The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made.”
“The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, were dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a black cutaway coat, black vest, black sating Ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped grey worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes.”
The best part of all of this, really, is that a book that’s full of all the awesome stuff I’ve described above is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. So take that, George Elliot.
Verdict: four out of five stars