Thursday, June 18, 2009

That's nobody's business but the Turks.

Current book: The Maltese Falcon
Pages read: 95-186 (end)

The end was completely different than I was expecting; somehow I was under the impression that there was a jewel of great value inside the statue itself, but that wasn't the case. The statue was supposed to be covered in jewels that had been enameled over so as to be invisible, but it turned out to be a fake, regardless of jewel location. Lame. I'd have been much happier if there'd been a jewel inside, even it would simply have fulfilled my expectations. (Just like Romancing the Stone. Now that had an excellent ending. Alligators, people!) They never even find the real statue in the book. How is that an exciting mystery, I ask you? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, I was right about the double-crossing. Brigid (whose name I misspelled yesterday, sorry) turns out to have been working for Cairo and Gutman all along. (I'm shocked. Are you guys shocked? So, so shocked.) I don't really see the point in describing all the plot events, so let me just sum up. Spade has a series of meetings and encounters with policemen, informants, and Cairo and friends during which he guesses, threatens, and prods them into admitting their various roles in the Maltese Falcon's theft and retrieval. It turns out that Brigid shot Archer, and after Cairo and Gutman discover that the Falcon they've been chasing is a fake, they take off for Constantinople (not Istanbul) to retrieve the real one. On the way they're arrested and shot, respectively. Spade makes it clear to Brigid that he never trusted her and is going to turn her in. She begs and pleads, and even though he has some affection for her, he still gives her up to the cops. Finally, Spade is left alone with his fake Falcon and the various wads of cash he's cadged from the participants of the story along the way.

I have to say, I'm left wondering what the point of the thing was supposed to be. I guess, in the end, it seems as though Hammett was trying to give us a window into a private detective's life - in other words, that he refrained from wrapping things up in a satisfactory manner in order to provide realism. That said, the complete lack of realism in the dialogue and most of the plot effectively undermines that effort. I don't know - maybe the hard-boiled detective cliche is just too prevalent these days for me to see much merit in it, but I was fairly unimpressed. Sam Spade doesn't even figure anything out for himself; he unravels the story entirely through coercion and questioning. Maybe that's more realistic detective work, but it still seems like kind of a letdown to me. I'm unfamiliar with how much of this type of fiction had been written before The Maltese Falcon, or if there are other books with Sam Spade, even, but it smacks of bestseller-caliber prose without the pizazz. It wasn't difficult to read, and I was interested after the first half, but as the plot failed to develop, I lost that interest rapidly. (It was like watching Lost. For a while, it was an interesting, mysterious survival story. And then it was all, "Polar bears! No, invisible jungle monsters! No, a mysterious underground room with a countdown timer! No, psychic weird other people on the island!" After a while, you need some logical development, or there's really no point.)

Also, Spade reminded me a little of James Bond in his tendency to sleep with an untrustworthy woman (Oh. He slept with Brigid. I forgot to mention. But then, you probably assumed, because come on. Who didn't see that coming?), get betrayed, express sexist, manly contempt that he was betrayed, and then turn in the treacherous lover while still expressing some kind of fucked-up affection for the woman. I hate that bullshit. In what world do you get to take sexual advantage of someone and then use it as a reason that her treachery is more despicable than it would otherwise be? Or, alternatively, why isn't the woman's use of sex as betrayal clever and strong like it would be if it were Sam Spade or James Bond's? Blech. Spade even has the Moneypenny-esque secretary who's in love with him but sort of hates him for how he treats the other women in his life. I don't know if Spade or Bond came first as a literary character, but the two seem almost interchangeable. (Aside from the gadgets. Which obviously make James Bond superior. Just like Batman is superior to Superman. Don't even try to argue with that.)

People keep asking if I'm going to write my own list of the best 100 novels. I suppose I'd better, if I'm going to keep whining about all of these other books. I'll probably wait to do that until I'm done with this list, just to see if there's any overlap. I'm sure there will be, actually, since To Kill a Mockingbird is on this list, and it will certainly be on mine, too. Dune and The Sparrow and The Namesake and things like that are going to be pretty different, though. The Maltese Falcon - not gonna make it.


  1. The best word I can use to describe Claire's views of THE MALTESE FALCON is shallow. The ending featuring the fake falcon has a word that describes it fairly well. That word is irony. Ever heard of it?

  2. Well, I'd argue that the treatment of the entire novel is fairly shallow. A fake falcon is hardly ironic, unless you're using the incorrect definition of irony as a surprise. Because they thought to check that it was fake, they obviously suspected it as a possibility all along, which hardly qualifies it as irony. Also, if you're going to cast aspersions, perhaps you'd care to explain what it is about The Maltese Falcon you'd describe as deep. Aside from the nonexistent irony, that is.



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