The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1894 - 1961)

The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett (1894
- 1961)

Type of Work:

Detective mystery novel

Setting

San Francisco; 1920s

Principal Characters

Sam Spade, a young hard-boiled detective

Miles Archer, Spade's older partner Brigid

O'Shaughnessy, a beautiful young woman (alias Miss Wonderly)

Joel Cairo, an effeminate gangster-type

Casper Gutman, a rotund, older man

Iva Archer, Archer's wife and Spade's
mistress

Story Overveiw

Effie Perine, secretary to private detective

Sam Spade, opened his door to announce that a client, Miss Wonderly, was
there to see him. A stunning young woman entered and shyly took a seat.

She stammered and bit her lip as she tried to relate her story. Finally
the detective assured her it would be best to begin at the beginning. Miss

Wonderly said that she was concerned for her seventeen-year-old sister,
who had run off with an older man named Thursby. She had arranged a meeting
with Thursby for that evening, and now wanted to hire a detective to follow
him from the meeting - straight to her sister, she hoped.

Spade gave his partner, Miles Archer, the
details of Miss Wonderly's case. She paid them two hundred dollars, and
left with the agreement that Archer would tail Thursby that evening.

That night Spade was awakened by a phone
call: Archer had been murdered. Spaae rushed to the scene. According to
the police ' Archer was shot with a British-made Webley revolver. Spade
phoned his secretary and asked her to call Iva, his partner's wife, to
break the bad news. Then he returned to his apartment.

Sam had just "drunk his third glass Of

Bicardi and was lighting his fifth cigarette" when the doorbell rang. It
was the police; Lieutenants Dundy and Polhaus wanted to question Sam about
the death of yet another man. Thursby, it turned out, had been shot outside
his hotel shortly after Spade left the Archer murder scene. Considering
the circumstances of Archer's death, the police reasoned Spade must have
shot Thursby out of revenge. However, Spade refused to give the cops any
information about the case.

The next morning the detective had a visitor
waiting for him at his office. Effie had tried to keep Iva Archer away,
but she had come anyway. Sam was unhappy to see Iva, but still he kissed
her. Then Iva asked him point-blank if he had shot her husband so he could
marry her. Spade laughed and shook his head.

After Iva had left, Spade took a taxi to
the hotel where Miss Wonderly was staying, only to find that she had mysteriously
checked out, leaving no forwarding address. Back at the office, Effie informed
her boss that Miss Wonderly had called to ask him to meet her at a new
hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, "Miss Wonderly"
confessed that her real name was Brigid O'Shaughnessy and that her story
the day before was just that - "all a story." Spade also admitted that
neither he nor Archer had bought her tale, but had indeed "believed the
two hundred dollars." Brigid explained that she could not reveal the complete
story of why Spade had been hired, but did say that she had earlier met

Thursby in Hong Kong and feared that he would betray her. Then she announced
that Tliursby had been Archer's killer; he had shot Archer with the Webley
he kept in his overcoat. Sam agreed to continue working on the case.

When Spade returned to his office, a gangster,

Joel Cairo, was waiting to ask about the connection between the two murders.

He confessed his interest was more than mere curiosity; it seemed that

Cairo was searching for a missing black metallic bird - a falcon - and
that, in some way, Thursby had been connected with the falcon's disappearance.

Cairo was prepared to pav five thousand dollars for the statuette's return.

Spade told him that when lie could get his hands on the bird, Cairo would
be contacted.

That evening, as Spade left his apartment
to meet Brigid, he noticed a young punk following him. Spade quickly lost
the tail and went to Brigid's hotel. Brigid became visibly upset on hearing
of Cairo and the money he had offered for the "bird"; she believed that

Spade intended to double-cross her, and before she would tell him anything
more than what lie already knew, she would have to speak with Cairo herself.

They decided to meet with the two-bit thug later that night at Sam's apartment.

There, Brigid admitted that though she
had no idea why the falcon was so important, she did know where it was
hidden. But they would have to wait a week before she could get hold of
it. Cairo and