Monday, November 28, 2005

Book No. 38: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Book No. 39: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Book No. 40: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I had a hankering to read some Hammett. Years ago, I went through several weeks of reading nothing but the man, including the novels I'll discuss today, but memory had erased many of the all-too-enjoyable particulars of his writing. Anyway, The Maltese Falcon is a ton of fun, even when it doesn't add up, and, given the way Sam Spade talks, almost impossible to visualize without Humphrey Bogart in the lead. One of the things time had left a bit murky for me was the story Spade tells of the man named Flitcraft, the subject of the overwhelmingly great Mekons song.

The spiritual basis for countless movies, including the truly wonderful Yojimbo (and, by extension, A Fistful of Dollars) and Miller's Crossing, Red Harvest is the Continental Op at his cynical best, destroying a criminal syndicate's hold on a mining town for the sheer amoral thrill of it. If I remember correctly, Red Harvest was Hammett's first novel, and it is interesting how differently Red Harvest is written than The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man. All three share first-person narrators who don't share their thought process or realizations with the reader, but Red Harvest's Continental Op is a more blunt thinker than Sam Spade or Nick Charles (by a large margin there), as if Hammett were channelling the the less refined business of being an unwanted gun-for-hire. If Spade is the dispassionate and jaded heart of detective fiction (not to mention the archetype for Chandler's Philip Marlowe), the Continental Op is the tough-guy mold.

From Hammett's first novel to his last! The Thin Man (obviously influenced by or co-written with Lillian Hellman) is witty as hell, but in a different way than the movie, which is one of my favorites. Nora Charles isn't as much a participant in the case as she is in the movie, and the dramatic conclusion is quite different, albeit more satisfying as literature. Everything about this book is practically perfect, from the goofy pop-Freudian psychology to the oh-so-sophisticated drunken sexual shenanigans. Hammett was at the top of his game with this one.


Pacze Moj 2:41 PM, November 29, 2005  

You're right about The Maltese Falcon and Bogart. I read the book after I saw the film, and the film was all I saw while reading. There will never be a The Maltese Falcon without Bogey.

Alyssa 10:10 PM, December 01, 2005  

Yay! The Thin Man - I loved the book and the movies (even if they petered off after the third installment). I should re-read it next week. Of course, I'd have to dig it up. I know it's around here somewhere.

And for what it is worth - if you love the movies, I bought the box set and the DVD transfer is pretty good.

Hayden Childs 3:36 PM, December 02, 2005  

Thanks, Pacze and Alyssa!

Hey, Alyssa, are you close to meeting the 50 books in 2005 goal?

Alyssa 6:03 PM, December 17, 2005  

Yep - I think I hit it in October. My biggest problem is that I stopped keeping good track sometime in May... so I've built my "approximate" list based on the piles of books in my "take to the used bookstore pile."

I'm ashamed to say most of what I read this year was crap - you went more high-brow and you've got a peanut at home! Well done, sir!

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