The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett

Reading the book for the first time after seeing the 1941 film (unbelievably the third big screen adaptation in ten years) a couple of times many years ago I was struck by how much the dialogue seemed familiar and re-watching the film this week has shown I was right. Hammett’s words have, in the main, been lifted and dropped into the mouths of the actors and the whole thing zings along both on page and screen.

An initial surprise though in the book is that Sam Spade is described as looking “rather pleasantly like a blond satan” which is at odds with Humphrey Bogart’s dark, ratty appearance. 

As for the story itself, Miss Wonderly visits the San Francisco office of a pair of private detectives with a problem which Spade summarises for his partner, Miles Archer, as:

“Miss Wonderly’s sister ran away from New York with a fellow named Floyd Thursby. They’re here. Miss Wonderly has seen Thursby and has a date with him tonight. Maybe he’ll bring the sister with him. The chances are he won’t. Miss Wonderly wants us to find the sister and get her away from him and back home.”

The stuff that dreams are                  made of

Archer volunteers to be the one to follow Thursby from the rendezvous to locate the missing sister but what should have been a simple case turns sour when he is shot dead and Spade finds himself mixed up with various criminals all trying to get their hands on the immensely valuable black Maltese Falcon statuette and he has to deal with them and keep on the right side of the law who aren’t convinced that he hasn’t committed at least one murder himself.

 

 

Spade is included within the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives although it his secretary who does the best piece of deduction in the book and I think he only gets in because of the iconic film. It would make more sense to include Hammett’s nameless Continental Op who appeared in many short stories and two novels and does more detecting: “Red Harvest” contains a fantastic verbal clue and “The Dain Curse” has more of a puzzle plot.

The book poses a few questions from the start which are never answered: why is Archer the junior partner though he is the older man (Spade quite ruthlessly has the “Spade and Archer” immediately removed from the door and replaced with “Samuel Spade”)? What led to the affair between Spade and Archer’s wife? These may (I’ve not read it) be answered by Joe Gores’ licensed 2009 prequel “Spade and Archer”. 

 

It’s the End…But the Moment has Been Prepared For

No, I haven’t fallen off a radio telescope after saving the world but the observant among you will have noticed that I have now completed the original purpose of this blog which was to review all eighty of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels and short story collections. So next month will feel a little strange as it will be the first in four and half years where I have no plans to read anything by the Queen of Crime.

But I will be continuing to work on my other projects. I have forty more Sherlock Holmes adventures to re-read, eighty-one more of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives to get (re-)acquainted with and more Japanese mystery fiction to enjoy as soon as someone can translate it.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise those who inspired me to blog.

My journey back to crime fiction began when I picked up two of the British Library Crime Classics short story collections in some sort of offer alongside “And Then There Were None” which I wanted to re-read following the 2015 BBC TV adaptation. In searching for a complete list of BLCC titles I found Martin Edwards’ excellent blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name? where he covers a wide range of books from early to modern, easily obtainable to rare. Although he is now destined to be remembered more for his non-fiction work on the genre he continues to write a number of series of novels. Of the few that I have read I would most recommend “Yesterday’s Papers” which features his first series character, Harry Devlin.

From Martin’s blog I found my way to many others starting with, if I remember correctly, In Search of the Classic Mystery by the Puzzle Doctor. As well as being a prolific reviewer he has had great success in resurrecting lost author Brian Flynn. My favourite of the five I’ve tried so far is The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye.

 

 

The best thing about following other bloggers is that you find out about books and authors that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. Were it not for Kate at Cross-Examining Crime I would have been very unlikely to try the work of Celia Fremlin nor ever have sought out a copy of the amazing The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardem. 

 

 

Similarly, associating the name Ira Levin primarily with “Rosemary’s Baby”, I would have missed out on the excellent A Kiss Before Dying if I hadn’t read Aidan’s review at Mysteries Ahoy!

 

 

 

Then there’s Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery! who has forgotten more about the works of Agatha Christie than the rest of us will ever know. His pieces which cover her works thematically are thought-provoking but it is his book report on The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa which has stuck most in my mind.

 

 

And if you’ve followed the previous link then that ties us nicely to JJ at The Invisible Event. A keen student of the impossible crime, it’s down to him that I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the complete works of Rupert Penny, starting with The Talkative Policeman. He has recently taken his vast knowledge of the genre and used it to create the brilliant The Red Death Murders – if you have’t read it yet get yourself a copy and then buy more copies to give to all your family for Christmas.

Thanks for reading and here’s to the next five years’ of blogging!

 

 

#80 – While the Light Lasts

Published in 1997 in the UK only (eight of the stories having been published earlier in the year in the USA as “The Harlequin Tea Set”) this collection was the final Agatha Christie anthology of previously uncollected short stories. The contents are:

The House of Dreams – a man’s dreams have an uncanny predictive quality.

The Actress – a blackmailer gets put in his place.

The Edge – a moral dilemma with a personal element.

Christmas Adventure – this was expanded into “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”. There Poirot rewards a maid is with the vanity box that she asks for but here decides to give her “an excellent book upon le ménage, also the Lives of the Saints, and a work upon the economic position of women”!

The Lonely God – an unexpected meeting between two lonely people and what results from it. Christie later recycled the main theme from this 1926 tale into one of “The Labours of Hercules”.

Within a Wall – this is why couples really should have a joint bank account.

The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest – this was expanded into “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest” collected in “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”.

While the Light Lasts – a post-war tragedy in Africa.

Manx Gold – to boost tourism to the Isle of Man, Christie was commissioned to write a story serialised in the Manchester Daily Dispatch which contained clues to enable holidaymakers to search for real treasure. If you get out a map of the island, you may be able to get some idea for yourself where the four chests were hidden. One was never found and had to be recovered by the mayor.

I’m fairly sure that I hadn’t read this collection before – The Actress is good fun and The Edge is quite edgy.