Readers who have never picked up Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 detective novel The Maltese Falcon nor viewed the classic 1941 film adaptation, which follows the novel practically word-for-word, might feel a strong sense of familiarity when they first encounter the story. In this book, Hammett invented the hardboiled private eye genre, introducing many of the elements that readers have come to expect from detective stories: the mysterious, alluring woman whose love may be a trap; the search for an exotic icon that people are willing to kill for; the detective who plays on both sides of the law to find the truth, but who ultimately is driven by a strong moral code; and enough gunplay and beatings to make readers share the detective’s sense of danger. Throughout the decades, countless writers have copied Hammett’s themes and motifs, seldom able to come anywhere near his near-perfect blend of cynicism and excitement.
Hammett is considered one of those rare writers whose critical esteem has exceeded the small genre in which he wrote. A former detective himself, he wrote about the business with a sharp eye for procedural details, but he also showed a knack for engaging dialogue and understanding of the depths of the human soul. In his lifetime Hammett was considered an excellent detective writer, producing five novels, over eighty short stories, and numerous scripts for Hollywood and radio. Today he is respected as one of America’s most important and original authors.