Welcome to Part 2 of June Classic Crime Read-Along, where we open the floor for discussion. You can find Part 1, a little background on Dashiell Hammett and the concept of “noir” in American crime fiction, here. Please feel very invited to join in the conversation at any point along the way!
Without further ado, some discussion questions!
- Generally, did you like it? Would you read more Hammett?
- Let’s re-open the conversation about American noir/hardboiled fiction. Now that we’ve read The Maltese Falcon, has your opinion about the meaning of “noir” solidified or changed at all?
- If you needed a private investigator, would you retain Sam Spade? Did you find his rough-and-tumble, suffer-no-idiots approach to be confidence-inspiring or pathological? What do you think is required of a good private investigator?
- Would you ever become a private investigator?
- What did you think of Hammett’s writing style? He is known for being terse and not at all flowery like some crime writers (like, for example, Raymond Chandler, his fellow early American hardboiled private investigator fiction writer). While I admit I found Hammett a little bit difficult to engage with at times because of the prose style, I did really appreciate his subtlety. He builds the reader into the scene without overblown language; he also manages to convey Spade’s feelings without ever giving us any insight into Spade’s thought process. Very tricky.
- One thing that surprised me about this novel is how angry Sam Spade made me. Some hero! Among other personality problems, he exhibits unapologetic misogyny. Bruising his secretary because he was in a bad mood (and then following up without much of an apology); allowing a beautiful but troubled (and maybe criminal, but hey, we don’t know that) young woman to barter sex for his help; etc. Did you find Spade unlikable? Did you root for him anyway, like I did? If you did, do you think that means Hammett did a good job creating a troubled hero?
- Per the above topic, I was surprised by how plain-spoken Hammett was about some of the seedier sides of Sam Spade’s life. I guess I had a false idea that readers in the 1920s wanted more sanitized popular fiction. Were you surprised by any of the book’s content?
- How did your feelings about The Maltese Falcon compare to your feelings about previous read-along titles? Is it interesting to watch genre patterns develop for you as we read, or are you surprised by the paths they take?
- Have you seen the 1941 movie of The Maltese Falcon? Any thoughts on how the cinematic realization of the novel? (I’m going home to rewatch it tonight; I’ll weigh in on this one again tomorrow!)
Thanks for reading along, all! Hope you enjoyed this month’s read and discussion.
Next we’ll be reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Please join us in July for a discussion of the “locked room” murder mystery–and of some scandalous mystery publishing shenanigans.