Book Review · reading

Book Review: The Maltese Falcon

The movie is famous. I watched it years ago when it was on TV, but truthfully, I don’t remember it very well. Just the basic plot. So when I decided to read the book version, a few things surprised me.

The Maltese Falcon is classic noir. It came out in 1930 as a novel and before that it was a serialized novel in some magazine (I think). The story is so famous, I am thinking it invented the lying femme fatal come to hire the PI cliché.

I think I was expecting something faster paced and with more fights. Not sure why I expected that. It was just in my mind there would be lots of chases and beautiful women and guns. Sam Spade himself doesn’t carry a gun, which I don’t remember from the movie. Well, there are beautiful women (a surprising number of them are red-heads) and guns and a few fights. It doesn’t move as fast as I expected, but it picks up in the second half of the book.

One of the things that surprised me was the gay guy. I didn’t think anyone admitted the existence of gay people in the 1930’s; I figured it was one of those things you figured out as you got older but that nobody ever talked about back then. I don’t remember it from the movie. And he was portrayed as the stereotype as far appearance goes.  (His lover was not! But the lover also carried more guns.)

So . . . either my impression of the 1930’s is wrong or something else is going on. (My impression is probably wrong.

But I really liked it. I liked the way Sam Spade gives the impression of knowing everything and gets people to tell him what he knows. He clearly knows the cops well and knows the criminal element, too. Makes you wonder if he is a good guy or not. I am not sure.

He turned the girl (and all the other bad guys) in at the end. But if he had gotten the money, would he have let her go? She got his partner killed, sure, but he never really cared for his partner. I mean, he slept with the man’s wife and got rid of his name from the door before the body was barely cold. He only investigated because he felt he had to.

So I don’t know if Sam Spade is a good guy. The book is written in a fairly close 3ed person POV, but despite that, I come away from this book knowing nothing about him. He’s good at his job, he’s a womanizer. He was planning on pushing his partner out before the guy got killed, but felt unable to let his murderer go.

But nothing about him, nothing personal. Sam Spade is an enigma.