Almost some ninety years on, the name still conjures images. One can see Bogart, fedora atop his head, overcoat hanging on his frame, cigarette dangling from his lips while he has a heater in one hand, and a dame on the other.
No matter your experience with Spade, brought to life incredibly in The Maltese Falcon, the character remains memorable. So much so that I was a little curious to see how the version on the page stood up to the cinematic interpretation.
So for the first time, I dug into Hammett’s original text. And was immediately at home. All the characters I’ve encountered before are here, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Gutman, Cairo, Wilmer, and Effie Perine.
I have loved the film since I was first introduced to it in the early 90s, but had never read the source material. It was definitely time, and I was quickly taken in by Hammett’s conservative punchy style, his descriptors bringing the characters and moments to life that I knew, as well as a slew of them that I didn’t.
The story revolves around the McGuffin of a Maltese Falcon, an item that Gutman, Cairo and O’Shaughnessy have pursued across the globe. In the case of Gutman he’s been after it for seventeen years.
Spade gets drawn into via Brigid, when she comes to hire him and his partner, Miles Archer. When Archer, and another man end up murdered, Spade is up to his collar in trouble, with Gutman on one side, and the law on the other.
Spade sticks his neck out for nobody, and even if he didn’t care for his partner, he’d been having an affair with Miles’ wife for a while, he’s going to get to the bottom of things, and if he can walk away with a healthy paycheck because of it, so much the better.
Spade is the prototype for the hard boiled detective, and he looks after himself, and no one else. He lives by a very strict code of ethics that he alone knows, and while he may do some dubious things, it is always in the name of an ultimate justice.
I was completely captivated by Hammett’s style. It suited Spade, and the world perfectly, I could hear the dialogue in my head, see Sam deal with the villains, the women, and the law, all while keeping his eyes on the prize.
It was a great read, and while I’m sorry that I wait until now to read it, I loved every minute of it. It brings the San Francisco of yesteryear to gritty life, and the characters and situations fairly leapt off the page.
It’s a classic detective story, and perhaps one of the best ever written.