Hardboiled detective fiction is one of those fantastic fleeting genres that’s had its peak, put still manages to enthrall generations later, much like rockabilly, or swing jazz. Even when I was a child I knew the grit-lined face of the private investigator, as he chased clues across a dark, dirty city, a place where morality doesn’t apply. Hammett, with his Maltese Falcon surely is the godfather of the genre.
With its incredible stylishness, the novel manages yet to retain grit and substance. Sam Spade rolls a smoke, lights it, pulls down his hat, and gets to work. Slapping and smart-mouthing his way through the fog of San Francisco, he finds himself caught up in a vortex of greed and deceit, with the mysterious artifact, the coveted Maltese falcon. It all starts when that Wonderly broad walks into his office. From then on, as they say it’s all history.
The larger-than-life characters and what would seem like clichés to the modern reader (Hammett invented those clichés) don’t take any of the edge off the novel. The greed and murder, the darkest parts of the soul still come through. Spade, the protagonist, is no white night either. It’s only appropriate that whenever we think of the 1930s detective, it’s always in black and grey. The Maltese Falcon is about the hardest you can get without burning your eggs.
“‘Shoo her in, darling,’ Spade said. ‘Shoo her in.'”