(Incidentally, a real Saturnalia miracle would involve me finishing two books between now and 11:59 on New Year’s Eve, I’ll have actually increased the amount of books I’ve read year over year for the first time since I’ve started this blog. Everybody cross your fingers!)
I picked up The Maltese Falcon for two reasons: 1) I needed a ‘lunch break book,’ because (as I said in the entry for Retail Hell) there was no way in hell I was going to be caught reading Breaking Dawn by Brad and John and everyone else I work with. And 2), I was/am trying to write a novel with a distinct pulp fiction tone, and hey, why not one of the classics?
Now, at the risk of gaining more hell from friends and coworkers, I’m going to begin by saying that I’ve never seen the Bogart film of the same name. Although, knowing Brad and John, they could care less about me not seeing a classic film starring one of the best on-screen detectives of all time. But mention that I’ve never watched Pulp Fiction and let the skies fall down upon me in shame. So anyway, I cannot compare the book to the movie. I can, however, compare Sam Spade to that other embodiment of 1940s-era detectivery, Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep.
The trouble begins when a Miss Wonderly walks into the office of Spade & Archer in San Francisco, and asks them to tail a man that she’s hanging around. Before the night is over, Archer’s dead, as is the man he was supposed to tail. Another 12 hours passes, and he learns that Miss Wonderly is actually a Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and she’s wrapped up in something more sinister than just being scared for her life.
Turns out, she’s a player in a gang of people playing one against the other, looking for something called the Maltese Falcon. It’s this extremely rare statuette that was originally used as payment to some king or something (look, it’s taken me about 24 lunch breaks and twenty minutes, a nap, and then another four minutes to read this damn thing, I’m not going back and looking shit up, okay?), and it’s gold-plated and practically bedazzled in jewels. So O’Shaughnessy, a “Leviathan” named Joe Cairo, and a man with overtones of Jabba the Hut(*) are all looking for this thing. And they rope Sam Spade into looking for it too.
(* — I’d like to remind the readers that I’ve never seen Star Wars in one sitting, or in chronological order. But I know who Jabba the Hut is. In short [hee!], shut up, Brad.)
Here’s the difference between Spade and Marlowe: Marlowe wears his moral code on his sleeve, and doesn’t compromise his morals for a job. Spade plays everyone against each other and just tries to stay ahead of the game and end up on top. Even after finishing the book today, I’m not sure if he would sacrifice his morals for his “relationship” with O’Shaughnessy, or if he would run away with her and the falcon. But I know that, if Marlowe were in the same situation, he’d remain aloof of Brigid and maintain his code of honor throughout the case.
In the end, I enjoyed this title, and I will look for The Maltese Falcon on TCM (I have too many movies on my Netflix queue — including the entire Star Wars series, coming as soon as True Blood is over, I promise!), and I may pick up more Hammett titles. But I know for a fact I will read a Philip Marlowe novel first.
Grade for The Maltese Falcon: 2.5 stars