I kept coming across the description ‘hard-boiled’ applied to a certain type of detective/crime novel, but although I sort of understood the description, I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that would fit the category. And then I saw The Maltese Falcon in a secondhand book shop and as I’m happy to try just about any book that looks interesting if it only costs a dollar, I bought it. It didn’t take me long at all to realise that this was definitely hard-boiled.
The hard-boiled detective in this book is the solitary and unsentimental Sam Spade. Spade is a man you don’t want to get off-side and while he might appreciate a beautiful woman, he isn’t a man to succumb to her charms.
Dashiell Hammett wrote economically in sharp, clean prose with a style that would transfer well to film. I admired his blunt but descriptive ability with words:
‘The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown…
His voice was a throaty purr. “Ah, Mr Spade,” he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand like a fat pink star.’
I think my unfamiliarity with this style of crime writing was due to the fact that, as far as I can tell, the hard-boiled detective is an American invention of which Hammett’s Sam Spade was the archetype.
The Maltese Falcon is gritty and realistic and oozes the atmosphere of the Depression years in which it was written.
The Maltese Falcon is available free online in Canada at Gutenberg.
Linking to the 2022 Cloak & Dagger Challenge.
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