Dashiell Hammett was the leading writer of what came to be called the hard-boiled school of American mystery writers. Hard-boiled crime fiction began with the pulp magazines, which were exceedingly popular before the then-new entertainment medium of television began to undermine them in the late 1940’s. The magazines, printed on cheap paper, sold for ten or fifteen cents a piece. There were many different kinds of pulp magazines, including true crime, mysteries, romances, Westerns, and science fiction. Being directed to a mass audience, they were written in simple English and emphasized action and dialogue. Many of the writers were hacks who were paid a penny a word and did not have the talent or motivation to produce quality literature. From the beginning of his career, Hammett distinguished himself as an exception.
One reason for Hammett’s distinction as a mystery writer was that he had actually been a private detective himself for many years. He knew what he was talking and writing about. His early writing career was linked with the legendary Black Mask, a pulp magazine featuring male-oriented action and adventure. Hammett also was a gifted writer, although he did not have a great deal of formal education. His practical knowledge, his care and concern about his craft, and his sheer talent made him the leader in his field. The Maltese Falcon was originally published as a serial in Black Mask and then published in hard cover. It is Hammett’s best novel.
One outstanding stylistic feature of the novel is that is was written in a totally objective manner. The author describes a setting and then tells only what the characters say and do. He never attempts to go into any character’s mind and explain what he or she is thinking. The story is told entirely from Spade’s point of view. The author does not indicate that Spade actually observes everything, but Spade is always present. Nothing happens that he could not have observed.
Hammett deliberately maintains a very fast pace. This was something he learned to do as a Black Mask writer. One of the ways he maintains this pace is by crowding several different events into the same chapter. A scene that...
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