My Favourite Crime Novels – No. 15a

The Maltese Falcon – How does one come back from a novel that, in terms on quality, was a bit of a flop. Well, in Dashiell Hammett’s case you turn round and write one of the greatest crime novels ever. Hammett followed up the only duffer in his back catalogue, The Dain Curse (which isn’t a bad novel, not by any means, it just isn’t a patch on Red Harvest), with The Maltese Falcon. Written in highly cinematic prose, which gives no indication of what the characters are thinking other than via facial expressions, it tells of… Well, you probably know the story by now, so there’s no need for me to recount it here, and if you haven’t I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. It also introduces in Sam Spade the archetype for every detective who followed in his wake. However, unlike many of the detectives who followed in his wake, Spade isn’t a good guy. In fact, if he wasn’t a detective he’d probably be a bad guy. He manipulates, happily sleeps with his business partner’s wife and has a very flexible approach to the law. The one thing that keeps him relatively straight is his code of ethics, which he reveals at the very end. It’s brilliant stuff. And on level par with the next book in my list, another Hammett, The Glass Key.

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