Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1354- Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon

The first time I ever saw Casablanca it felt like a parody. Every other line I'd heard before, often in parodies themselves, and it became distracting, hard to take seriously. I had similar trouble getting into Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. The hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale, everything felt like trope. More unfamiliar, but no less distracting, was Hammett's penchant for excruciating detail:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

It works, I suppose, for a detective novel. Readers are forced to pay attention to every little detail, in essence making them feel like armchair private investigators themselves, but until one gets used to it, it makes for a tedious read. Plus, The Maltese Falcon isn't exactly a "whodunnit" and readers don't really have a chance to figure it all out before Spade, so poring over tiny details is kind of a pointless exercise when all is said and done.

Still, despite the book's legacy working against it, despite the minutiae, it was an entertaining read overall. I appreciated the San Francisco setting as well as the twists of the ever-growing complex plot.


Buried In Print said...

I've had a similiar adjustment slipping into the genre. But, as you say, still entertaining!

Sam said...

The thing I think we need to remember is that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett largely provided the blueprint for the kind of detective fiction still being written so successfully today, especially Chandler. So many of today's series detectives are based on variations of Chandler's prototype that it amazes me sometimes.

John Mutford said...

BiP: I haven't read a lot in the genre, but I can imagine the feeling must be common!

Sam: The only Chandler I've read is a short story not in the vein of private investigators, but I must say, when writing this post and looking up info on Hammett, I noticed that their names were very often paired.