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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett


Welcome to the New York Public Library's Reader's Den, a monthly online book discussion. For August, we will be reading Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon as part of Mystery Summer.

You can borrow a print copy from the library or listen to the downloadable audiobook.

Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon was published in 1930 and is considered to be the classic hard-boiled detective story. At least two film adaptations exist, including the 1941 version starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.

In chapters 1-5, 'Miss Wonderly' hires Sam Spade's agency to find her sister who's supposedly run off with a bad man, Floyd Thursby. Spade agrees to stick with the case even when it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Eventually Spade learns that Miss Wonderly is really Brigid O'Shaugnessy and that her reasons for trying to track down Thursby have nothing to do with her sister. In the meantime Spade is paid a visit by Joel Cairo, who offers Sam $5,000 for the recovery of an ornament. "The ornament is a statuette," Cairo went on, selecting and mouthing his words carefully, "the black figure of a bird." It's not until the end of Chapter 5 that we finally get a glimpse of the Maltese Falcon. A mystery indeed.

Besides the missing bird, there are other mysteries that come to mind during week one:

  1. Why does Sam take the case even though he knows Miss Wonderly is lying?
  2. Sam is a liar too but I think the reader is expected to root for him. Why?
  3. What style is the novel written in? How does the style contribute to the mood of the story?

Please comment below to join the discussion. Meanwhile, we'll be reading chapters 6-10 and uncovering more clues about the whereabouts of the Maltese Falcon.



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I love Humphrey Bogart's

I love Humphrey Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade in various movies. Maybe it's time for me to finally read one of Hammett's novels!

I just put a hold on the

I just put a hold on the movie. It'll be my first time watching it!

Recommendations for books?

Hi - I've set the goal to read books written before my lifetime, which for me means written before 1970. Any recommendations for books about or taking place in New York City that were written before then?

What a great goal! I'll see

What a great goal! I'll see what I can come up with. If anyone else reading has suggestions, please chime in.

New York novels

So many to read....Edith Wharton's New York novels - The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, & The Custom of the Country, immediately come to mind. Other classics like James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye also have a palpable New York setting. A fun novel published in 1970, so I don't know if it qualifies for your plan, is Jack Finney's Time and Again, which features the Dakota on Central Park West and time travel back to the New York of 1882. One of my favorite books when I was a child was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, published in 1967. I always wanted to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum like the kids in the story. A 2009 Huffington Post poll offers some more suggestions for the best New York novels, many of which were published before 1970: Happy reading!

The Maltese Falcon

Most of Humphrey Bogart's films were wonderful, "Treasure of Sierra Madre," "Mutiny on the Bounty," and "The Maltese Falcon." These films were so very fascinating. Although Humphrey Bogart seldom changed the expression on his face, he was still one of the most talented actor of his day. He spoke with great clarity, and in a way that it seemed everything he said was true! That is the epitome of a real actor.

I've not seen many Humphrey

I've not seen many Humphrey Bogart films. I only saw "Casablanca" for the first time last year! I started watching "The Maltese Falcon" last night. So far so good. The screenplay follows the novel pretty closely. Bogart does have a very compelling screen presence.

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