So, 2013 is upon us and my Literary Exploration Challenge has started in earnest...I'll be honest and say that I am feeling a teeny bit apprehensive, have I bitten off more than I can chew? To kick things off I picked a classic detective novel off the TBR that I have been meaning to get around to for ages, Dashiell Hammett's famous work, The Maltese Falcon. After scratching my head for a short time trying to decide whether this would satisfy the Noir or Hard-Boiled category, I consulted Michael's handy guide to pulp fiction (a must-read for any beginners interested in dabbling in this genre) over at the Literary Exploration blog and have decided to put a tick on my challenge list next to...
When the stunning redhead Miss Wonderly walks into Sam Spade's detective agency to request his help, offering to pay him handsomely for the job, he thinks it's going to be a good day. But a few short hours later we find his partner shot dead and the police sniffing at Spade's door asking questions about a second man's murder. He is plunged headlong into a search for an artefact so precious that there are a cast of colourful characters out there who would kill to take its possession.
Despite the grim setting of prohibition-era San Francisco, there is a strange kind of grubby glamour that makes this book quite captivating. The dialogue is clipped and sharp in contrast to Hammett's wonderfully vivid descriptive passages:
"The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around, were dark and sleek."
For me, though, Sam Spade himself is what makes this book so compelling. It's rare that I encounter so enigmatic a lead character. Spade is one tough cookie and doesn't think twice about double-crossing people or manipulating situations to get his own way. He is sometimes cruel, he is disrespectful to women, but despite all this he remains very much the hero of the story and you can't help admiring his cunning ways. Hammett has quite cleverly avoided sharing any of his internal dialogue or thoughts at all, which shrouds him in intrigue and leaves the reader guessing at what exactly is on his mind.
I enjoyed my introduction to hard-boiled detective fiction very much, and would like to watch the classic film based on this book soon. It will be interesting to see if I notice any difference between hard-boiled and noir when I get to that point in my challenge, and whether I enjoy noir as much. I would love to hear any recommendations you have of good hard-boiled novels to try in the future!