Genre: Fiction, Detective
Copyright – 1929
You know the phrase, “Oldie but Goodie?” Or “golden oldies?” Both of those apply to The Maltese Falcon.
Originally published in 1929, this piece is timeless. This book has been around for 87 years (I used a calculator) and it still popular. Sure, it has characters and plot devices that by today’s standards are considered tropes and stereotypes, but at the time that type of “noir” didn’t have those tropes and stereotypes. Thanks to the Maltese Falcon, they became tropes.
But, that’s not what makes the book great in my view. This story is the best example of showing character that I’ve ever read. We do not enter the mind of any of the characters, not even the main character, Spade. We are outside his thoughts and emotions – “Spade thought” isn’t mentioned. His thoughts, his emotion, and inter dialog are not provided. We are given his actions only, and on his actions we assume this thoughts.
Such as the scene after he and the leading lady, at the time ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ have just shared his bed for the night, Spade goes to her apartment and searches it. It is clear that he doesn’t trust a thing she says, but those words, this thoughts, are never given. Then, as she leaves and returns to his place, she tells him that someone has been in her hotel room – he doesn’t admit that it was him, he goes along with it and asks if anything had been taken.
This entire scene was amazing. Both characters show their personality and their motives in their actions. For any writer on the fence about the ‘show/tell’ things, read The Maltese Falcon. See how Dashiell Hammett presented Spade without revealing what Spade thought or felt. His actions show his thoughts. Study how; learn how to do it in your works, too.
I gave The Maltese Falcon a 4/5. While I enjoyed it and the telling/showing was great and the plot kept moving, it lacked the body that stories today have to have in order to survive in the market. I didn’t feel as connected to the characters. It sort of felt, at times, like reading a screenplay, or a script. The lack of emotional input felt like a wall between the characters and me. Because I didn’t know Spade agenda, some scenes felt strange and out of place at first, until his motives within the scene came later as the story unfolded. He did use the passive voice when introducing characters or places, and listed off characteristics.
Overall, The Maltese Falcon is worth your time. Check it out. Read or watch, but if you’re a writer, I highly recommend reading the book.