While reading The Maltese Falcon, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu, as if I'd seen/read all of the novel's elements before: the chain-smoking private eye; the mysterious, sexy lady client asking the detective for help; the motley group of criminals ultimately caught in the detective's net, etc. etc. Of course, that's because I had: The Maltese Falcon has seeped into our cultural consciousness, until the Private Investigator/Detective is a well-recognized figure in the crime/noir genre. Much riffing has been done on these elements, and the films and books that developed from and around it are too numerous to discuss here (although Chandler took Hammett's formula and brought it to new heights). I kept thinking about tv shows of the 1960s like Dragnet and Get Smart (specifically, the hilarious episode "Tequila Mockingbird"). There's even a recent Sesame Street spoof on the "Private I."
So it was quite a trip to read the original. Besides all the lady-pawing that goes on, especially by Sam Spade, the story is as clipped and speedy as the detective's own action plan, which changes every few minutes to fit his developing understanding of the criminal mess he's investigating. I must admit here that I was pretty lost about a third of the way through, though, trying to keep straight when Brigid was in Hong Kong and when she was with Thursby and who killed that dude after he killed Spade's partner...I'm just not that good a juggler, I suppose.
I knew, though, that Spade would lay it all out by the end, which he did. And what struck me was how he (mostly) kept his cool in the midst of that maelstrom of lies, deceit, double-double-crossing, and the fate of a mysterious bird statue. Although he did get pretty pissed off here and there.
And I know it's anachronistic, but I also couldn't help thinking what effect a cell phone might have had on the story. For one thing, they could have avoided all that coming and going and missing one another (Spade and Brigid and Effie, specifically). But that's beside the point.
I'm moving on to Chandler's The Big Sleep now, and I'm excited to see what he does with the genre. Almost a decade separates this from The Maltese Falcon, and a lot can happen in that time, and we're talking the 1930s here: i.e. gangsters, Prohibition, the rise of the FBI, economic depression. Man, those were some crazy times.