Re: RARA-AVIS: Maltese Falcon

Date: 22 Sep 2004


Re your comments below:
> Another question: Would it have been a better
> book told third-person single POV or first
> person?

No. It's only by maintaining the "camera/tape recorder" mode and staying out of the minds of the characters that Hammett is able to keep Spade's motives a surprise.

We're all so familiar with the book now, that the surprises are vitiated, but there are, in fact, two major surprises at the end. One is that Brigid turns out to be the killer. The other is that Spade's motivation throughout turns out to have been FINDING the killer. And, since, on the surface, Spade looks as crooked any of the other characters, that WOULD be a major surprise were we not, in the first place, already so familiar with the story, and, in the second place, so influenced by the conventions of the private eye sub-genre (conventions that were not nearly so calcified by 1929) to automatically regard the PI character as a good guy.

In effect, were it not for those outside influences, we, as readers, might be as prone as any other character to make the mistake Spade chides Brigid for making, assuming that he's as crooked as his reputation makes him out to be.

And for us to make that mistake, or at least to be kept in doubt, Hammett has to maintain that extremely objective style.

> Or have we all been influenced by
> Chandler into thinking that the PI story is best
> told from the single point of view?

Well, I think that's a no-brainer. Of course he has. That's why, conservatively, 90% of all post-Chandler PI stories have been 1st person.
> I just read the book again last week, and I don't
> want to take the time to look it up, but maybe
> someone else might remember--isn't the only time
> Spade is "off camera" during the scenes that show
> Gutman's daughter?

My recollection is that Spade's on camera with Miss Gutman. Doesn't he take a cab out to one of the suburbs, Burlingame, to meet her?


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 22 Sep 2004 EDT