Re: RARA-AVIS: Hammett: How he made it new?

From: Nathan Cain (
Date: 28 Jan 2009

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    I think Sam Spade pretty much perfectly embodies all the traits of a hard boiled character (he's tough, sometimes cruel and indifferent, but he still has a "code" if you will) and Hammett's style epitomizes the blunt, colloquial hard boiled prose style. Hammett wasn't the first, but he was the best. The Maltese Falcon is also, let's say, less pulpy than his Continental Op work. You can see the seams in Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, but they are less evident in Falcon, even though it started out life as a serial. It's a fully realized, mature work.

    That's my two cents, anyway. I'm sure someone will say it better soon.

     If you haven't read it already, let me reccomend Leonard Cassuto's Hard Boiled Sentimentality as a scholarly work about crime fiction you might want to read, or introduce into class. His section on The Falcon is very good, and quite relevant because he analyzes the story in light of Hammett's business background and the Great Depression. The book came out right before the 1929 stock market crash, and Cassuto makes the argument that Hammett was wary of the boom that came before the fall and his book full of characters obsessed with imaginary wealth reflects that skepticism. Given our current economic outlook, I would find that particular theory irresistable if I were trying to make The Maltese Falcon come alive for a group of students.

    On Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 8:43 AM, Seth Harwood <> wrote:
    > Gentle Rara-Avians,
    > Please indulge a question that might be less obvious to many than it
    > may seem to you. I'm teaching a Detective Fiction class right now in
    > San Francisco and we've started with The Maltese Falcon. I know this
    > is the book to start with, but I'm curious what you all have to say on
    > why? A question I'm posing here is: What did Hammett bring to the fold
    > that was new and started things fresh for our genre?
    > We've read "The Simple Art of Murder" and Hillerman's intro to the
    > Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, as well as a number of
    > other things I've been able to find and I'm definitely coming up with
    > some answers. BUT I keep thinking that it'd be interesting to see what
    > you have to say about this.
    > Please have at it.
    > Seth Harwood
    > author of the JACK WAKES UP
    > Coming May 5, 2009 from Three Rivers Press
    > Join the nation at, become a Palms Daddy/Momma!
    > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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