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Reader's Den: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett - Week 4

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Welcome back to the Reader's Den. We've just finished reading The Maltese Falcon. This is the final post and finally — spoiler alert — the identities of the murderers will be revealed!

In these last five chapters there's another murder and the black bird gets delivered to Sam's office by the dying Captain Jacobi of the ship La Paloma. Gutman's daughter sends Sam on a wild goose chase, giving the thieves a chance to set up an ambush of sorts at Sam's apartment. When he returns they're all waiting for him — Gutman, Cairo, Brigid O'Shaughnessy and the gunman, Wilmer.

Gutman gives Sam the $10,000 and Sam sends Effie Perine to retrieve the falcon (he's cleverly locked it at the bus terminal and left the claim check in his post office box). It turns out the bird in the package from Hong Kong is made of lead (It's a great scene when Gutman's greedy little hands are chipping away at the black enamel hoping to find gold and jewels!) The consensus is that the Russian general from whom they acquired it realized its worth and gave them a fake. This does not deter Gutman; he and Cairo immediately make plans to continue to their quest. "Yes, that is the Russian's hand, there's no doubt of it. Well, sir, what do you suggest? Shall we stand here and shed tears and call each other names? Or shall we" — he paused and his smile was a cherub's — "go to Constantinople?" (p. 202).

But there is still the matter of the police needing to close the murder cases so Sam convinces Gutman to let Wilmer take the fall for the murders. Once Gutman and Cairo leave, Sam calls Detective Polhaus to tell him that Wilmer killed Thursby and Jacobi. Sam then confronts Brigid O'Shaughnessy and asks her why she killed Miles. Eventually she admits she did it to set up Thursby and get him out of the way so she could have the falcon for herself. When Thursby ended up dead she knew Gutman would be coming for her and turned to Sam for protection. By the time the police get there Sam has dashed all Brigid's hopes of his "playing the sap for her." "You angel! Well, if you get a good break you'll be out of San Quentin in twenty years and you can come back to me then." (p. 210). Ouch.

Questions:

  1. What are some messages of morality that Hammett might be trying to send?
  2. What motivates Sam?
  3. Hammett was a detective before he was an author. How is that experience reflected in his writing?

Thanks for reading with me as part of Mystery Summer. If you'd like to review any posts you can read week 1, week 2, and week 3.

If you enjoyed The Maltese Falcon, you might like some titles on this list of mysteries, noir and detective fiction as well as books by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane.

Stay tuned for an online discussion of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair during September's Reader's Den.

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