The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

This is a hard one to review: when it first came out, was it more shocking than now? I’ve not read it before, but I’ve seen enough of the hard boiled school to know that the farm girl’s mask may fall away and the gay guy is likely to be a villain.  There are twists, but many of them are now obvious because the conventions of the subgenre which has grown up around Hammett’s books. Even if you don’t know the books, the way the story is heading will be obvious if you know similar writers.  This may not matter.

Hammett’s writing style, like a lot hard-boiled authors, is dependent on scenes of action. Stuff happens. There’s enough plot to get you to the next scene, and then stuff happens. In the Platonic form of the hard-boiled mystery, these scenes are so interesting, of themselves, that you wouldn’t care if the plot were resolved.  This gives his writing a chunky, gobbetty feel which makes it great for listening to in snatches. It’s not like a Christie mystery, where you are meant to be looking for clues and odd turns of phrase. If you miss a bit, it doesn’t matter, because someone will be shot in a minute, and then you’ll be up to speed again.

So, a thriller, but written in surges. Recommended for people who like an unsentimental, violent hero, doing what needs to be done in a heartless world. People who liked the DC superhero films, for example…

The Library has this book in various physical and electronic formats.