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Dashiell Hammett, in addition to having way too many double consonants in his name, describes things in literal detail more than any other author I've ever read. And I have read a lot of authors. It's very strange; even things like rolling a cigarette are described in anatomical complexity:
"...sifting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into curved paper, spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper's inner edge down and up under the outer edge as the forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder's ends to hold it even while tongue licked the flap, left forefinger and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam..." (8)I mean, really, do we need a dissection of the cigarette-rolling process? It kind of reminds me of the parts in Laura Ingalls Wilder when she'd describe Pa making a door latch or something, and I was always like, "Carving, planing, wood, curves...blah! We get it; it makes a door latch!" But maybe that was just me. Anyway, despite the whining, I actually don't mind the style, and I think it's just a small part of Hammett's larger attempt to recreate the mindset of a detective. The details he gives extend past just people and crime scenes to the whole world of his main character. I respect that in a detective novel. It's sort of the opposite of Arthur Conan Doyle and his eternally obnoxious refusal to give you all the details that Holmes sees, followed by his tendency to make you feel like an idiot because you couldn't solve the mystery. (Although, after a while, you begin to figure them out anyway.) Where was I, now? Oh, right. At the beginning.
So far, we've met the hard-boiled Sam Spade, and it's all very film noir, just like you'd expect. Some dame, as it were, comes into his office and asks for his help to find her sister, for which she pays far too much to be telling the truth. Spade's partner, Archer, whose wife he's sleeping with, takes the case and tails the guy said sister is supposed to be palling around with. Archer gets shot, as does the guy he's tailing, and so the plot thickens. Later, the girl, whose real name, at least for now, is Bridget, admits that she's actually wrapped up in something to do with a valuable sculpture, namely the Maltese Falcon. At the same time, Joel Cairo, an Egyptian agent of the man who owns the Falcon and desperately desires its return (or so he says), shows up to question Spade and try to get the Falcon back. Spade works it out so that he's on a $5,000 commission to return the statue to Cairo. After nosing around for a bit, Spade finds Mr. Gutman, yet another guy looking for the statue, and quite a shady character (his agents have been searching Bridget's and Cairo's hotel rooms) and has a meeting with him during which they threaten each other and posture a lot. Gutman claims he knows where the statue is, but it doesn't seem likely after the meeting.
That's as far as I got. It's entertaining; I'm interested in watching Spade find the Falcon and discover what's so damn valuable about the thing (even though I already know that part). I predict a great deal of double-crossing, treachery, and possibly mistaken identity, although that last bit might be too Shakespearean.
To answer the question in the previous post's comments, my husband and I did once start to watch the movie, and it was so wretched and poorly written that we only made it twenty minutes in. I guess it doesn't translate to film?