Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 6, 2019

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, and a bit of a rant…

Some of the choices in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die baffle me. The book, the Introduction by Peter Boxall tells us, is supposed to be a guide to books that are landmarks in the story of the novel, a long and rambling affair, full of surprising turns, and unlikely subplots.  So yes, you get a bit of everything and fair enough too.

But…

Jennifer Byrne in the Preface to the Australian edition warns us against being book snobs, and I try not to be, in the case of genre fiction, but why are there four titles by Dashiell Hammett? I mean, once you’ve grasped that this author is more or less synonymous with the change in the detective story from the master detective versus impenetrable crime novel to a more ‘everyday’ approach, what else do this author’s four titles represent in the way of a landmark? I’ve read the yada-yada for the other three titles (The Glass Key, The Thin Man and Red Harvest, and all I can glean is that Red Harvest (1929) was the first hard-boiled detective novel; The Glass Key (1931) helps to establish the genre; and The Thin Man (1932) is different because it features a married couple with a vibrant social life instead of the mythical solitaries of conventional noir investigation thus suggesting that corruption is everywhere in America.

Well, too bad, it’s going to be only 998 books that I’m going to read before I die, because I am not going to read another one of these Hammetts. One is quite enough.  (And it’s very annoying when you consider that those three surplus books could have been replaced by any number of beaut books that they couldn’t find room for,  broadening the scope to include more novels from outside the US and UK, gosh, maybe even something from Australia, eh?) (I still find it surprising that Jennifer Byrne didn’t stick her hand up and say, ‘Hey, there are a couple of other Australian authors besides Patrick White that you might want to include?’)

Anyway…

The Spouse has seen the film starring Humphrey Bogart, and I bet everyone else has too, but I haven’t.  I only hope they did a better job of the twists and turns in the plot than the book, because I knew before I was half way through that—

SPOILER ALERT

—the item worth killing people for wasn’t going to be the real thing.

And I am really bad at working out whodunnit in Midsumma Murders, Death in Paradise, Vera, and the Father Brown Mysteries which I watch sometimes when I’m doing the ironing. So anyone even moderately competent at identifying whodunnits will work it out long before I did.

So why did I read it?  #SheepishExpression: Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. are hosting the 1930s book club, and I didn’t have anything published in 1930 on the TBR, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and reserve a 1930s library book that was also in 1001 Books. Cakes and Ale came in immediately, and I loved it, (see here) and then The Maltese Falcon and I hate to waste my library’s time so I felt I had to read it too.

I should stop whinging.  It only took a few hours to read.  And now I have only 640 637 books to go.

Author: Dashiell Hammett
Title: The Maltese Falcon
Publisher: Gale Greengage Publishing, 2009, first published 1929
ISBN: 9781597228985, large print edition so it’s 346 pages
Source: Kingston Library


Responses

  1. When I saw your subject heading, I was wondering why you read The Maltese Falcon of all things. Now I know. I’m hopeless at who-dun-its too. I might guess who did it, but never for the reasons they did. And so often I sit at the end and say “So…who DID do it?”

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    • It’s a good thing we didn’t make a career in the police force!

      Like

  2. I’ve listened to the Maltese Falcon recently, and remember bits of it, but really one hard boiled 1930s detective is the same as another. As for four Hammetts in the top 1000 what did you expect? Americans (ie. people from the USA) are so ignorant about the rest of the world.

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    • Actually, Peter Boxall the editor of 1001 Books is English….

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  3. Oh dear…. So sorry you didn’t like this one! I love Hammett but it would be a boring world if we all liked the same books. I do think it’s silly that so many of his books are in the top 1000 – I imagine it’s a very USA-centric list!

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    • I’ve never counted them up. There’s an awful lot of British C19th (Dickens, Trollope, Austen et al) in my 2006 edition. I do know that there was the predictable outrage about not being representative and later editions were different.
      But from my PoV, I have discovered a lot of really interesting books that I’d never heard of before, so most it’s only now and again that I get cranky about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I read the title of your post I wondered how on earth you ended up reading this as Hammett didn’t seem to be your kind of author.

    Well, now I know :-)

    I agree with you, the 1001 book thing shouldn’t have more than one book by writer, to make room for more writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bonjour Emma, existe-t-il une édition française de 1001 livres?

      Aussi, pour mon groupe de livres français en novembre, nous faisons M Ibrahim et et les fleurs du Coran, de Eric Emmanuel Schmidt, le savez-vous?

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  5. I enjoyed the film when I saw it years ago, but it was the quality cast that carried it off. The plot and characterisation are preposterous, and I’ve never got on with that ‘hard boiled detective’ genre

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    • I borrowed it from the library, and just watched it tonight.
      Well, anything with Humphrey Bogart:)
      And thankfully they hadn’t tampered with the original B&W. I hate it when they colourise films.

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  6. Loved your review, Lisa :) Couldn’t stop laughing 😁 I think I have read four books by Hammett, and I agree with you. They can be better. I think the film version of ‘The Maltese Falcon’ is acclaimed more because Humphrey Bogart is there in it. I haven’t read ‘The Thin Man’ though. Hope to read it sometime and see whether that is better. What to say, I am just a glutton for punishment 😁 I think Raymond Chandler was better than Dashiell Hammett – atleast he wrote stylish prose. I remember this ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list. It came at around the time John Banville won the Booker prize, and so the list had atleast four John Banville books in it ☺️

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    • SO that’swhy there are all those Banvilles! One of those was awful!

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      • Yes, they just included all the books by the most recent Booker Prize winner :) Which John Banville book didn’t you like?

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        • I loved The Sea and The Infinities, I really liked The Blue Guitar and thought Ancient Light was ok, but I did not like Shroud at all. I loathed the narrator. Which may have been the point, but still…
          I have Mrs Osmond on the TBR:)

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          • Very interesting to know that, Lisa! I was hoping to read The Shroud sometime. Now I am wondering whether I should. I liked The Sea and The Infinities too. I also liked The Newton Letter. I will add The Blue Guitar to my TBR. You have read lots of John Banville :)

            Liked by 1 person


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