The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is a noir crime story featuring hard-boiled detective Sam Spade. It was written as a 5 part magazine serial published from September 1929 to January 1930. In the prologue, we learn of an extremely rare gold sculpture of a falcon that was given to the King of Spain as a gift from wealthy crusaders who lived on Malta. It has been missing for hundreds of years. The rumor is that it was painted black to hide its value.
San Francisco detective Sam Spade and his partner are hired by a beautiful woman, Miss Wonderly, who claims she is searching for her missing sister who ran away with Floyd Thursby. Sam’s partner agrees to trail Thursby but ends up dead as does Thursby. It turns out Miss Wonderly’s real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She admits she lied about having a sister and is very vague in telling Sam why she needed protection from Thursby. Even though he knows she is a liar, Sam has a fling with Brigid.
Next Sam is accosted by Joel Cairo, who says he will pay him $5,000.00 if he can retrieve a black statue of a bird. Sam realizes there is a connection between Cairo and Brigid O’Shaughnessy. He has them meet together in his office. Their conversation is vague, leaving the reader a bit confused. A fight breaks out between Cairo and Brigid and ends with a crazy story being told to the police. The police had unexpectedly shown up at the office after learning Sam was having an affair with his late partner’s wife. This makes Sam a suspect in the partner’s death and perhaps in Thursby’s death.
After being trailed by a young thug, Sam is contacted by Casper Gutman. Gutman is the one who hired Brigid, Thursby, Cairo, and the young thug to find the Maltese Falcon. Gutman has been on a quest to find the statue for approximately 18 years. He explains its history and value then agrees to pay Sam a hefty finder’s fee. Soon thereafter, Brigid disappears. A sea captain who has been shot multiple times manages to show up at Sam’s door and deliver the package containing the Maltese Falcon. Through sometimes unethical means, Sam is able to solve the murders and have the bad actors arrested.
My late husband was a big Humphrey Bogart fan, so I have seen the 1941 movie several times. Instead of reading a print copy of the novel, I listened to the Hollywood Theater of The Ear audio book/ audio drama on the Libby app. It is not an exact reading of the novel, but follows it much more closely than the movie. Sam’s integrity is much more questionable in the audio book than it is in the movie. The production is reminiscent of an old radio show. It is wonderfully acted by Michael Madsen, Sandra Oh, Edward Herrmann and several others. Even so, I couldn’t help but picturing Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet as the characters.
4-stars. I am not usually a fan of noir, but I did enjoy this one. The audio was 3.25 hours long and made for a good afternoon listen.