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The paramount of Noir Literature and later film,
This review is from: The Maltese Falcon (Paperback)
Alongside Raymond Chandler's Marlowe, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade is one of the most famous detectives from American literature. These two writers define what we know as the noir literature. Personally speaking, I found it more pleasant to read Hammett than Chandler. Both writers are great, and deliver the best in the prose, character development, settings and all, but I found "The Maltese Falcon" more interesting than "The Big Sleep" and "Farewell, my Lovely".
Hammett's prose is straightforward. He doesn't waste time with digressions and many descriptions -- only the essential. As a consequence, his novel is packed with action and mystery. It is not a surprise that this author writes with so much authority -- he used to be a private detective. Most of the book --if not the whole narrative --feels like getting inside information.
Hammett's style became a paramount in this genre and he has a major influence on many contemporary writers -- e.g. James Ellroy, Jeffery Deaver, and the French Jean-Christophe Grange among others. Hammett's prose is filled with witty observations on the American way of life -- mostly on the violence and corruption that were permeating the American Society.
Contrary to what many contemporary readers may wrongly assume, the older mystery novel is not as prudish and conservative as it may sound. Hammett's prose is more related to the 20s than the 50s. And in that early period society was looser than after the McCarthyism. Therefore, "The Maltese Falcon" can be a grateful surprise to many readers -- who will find drink, drugs, sex and sexual orientation (the Cairo character's sexual orientation has been largely discussed since the book was published).
However we are almost all the time with Spade, the reader has no access to his thought. It is the reader's job to reach conclusions and put the pieces together. And we can learn this from dialogues, events and mostly Spade's reactions and facial expressions. But this is not a hard job for the reader -- on the contrary, this is one of the best features of Hammett's style.
Of course, the movie version of the book is very famous --and almost as good. But it is always an irreplaceable pleasure to read Hammett's words. And to meet Spade before he `had' Bogart's face.