Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 23-24


Hammett, Dashiell.  The Maltese Falcon.  New York: Knopf, 1930.

Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon was not the first hardboiled detective novel.  That distinction is commonly accorded to John Daly’s first Race Williams novel, Knights of the Open Palm (1923).  But The Maltese Falcon and its film adaptation gave the sub-genre international exposure and transformed it into an equal competitor to the “cozy” and the “scientific” traditions in the detective genre. In fact, Hammett’s novel has influenced not only subsequent generations of detective novelists, stretching from Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Mickey Spillane to James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, and Michael Connelly, but also “mainstream” and “literary” novelists from Nelson Algren and James M. Cain to Richard Condon, John Gregory Dunne, and Mark Costello.

The novel introduces Sam Spade, a quick-witted, thick-skinned private detective not overly concerned with lawfulness or even with justice.  He adheres to an idiosyncratic code that…

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