The Black Mask
The Thin Man was Hammett’s last book, and rather different from his others – it’s both thriller and sly sexual farce, the dialogue full of the slick one-liners which instantly became the markers for smart Hollywood dialogue right up to and including All about Eve. It’s a fine book – but it doesn’t compare with The Maltese Falcon. This is a detective story, but not about a particular murder – though it starts with one, the result of a treasure hunt. The eponymous falcon is an immeasurably precious relic originally given by the Knights of Malta to the King of Spain. Covered in black paint, it has knocked about for a century and more, unrecognized for what it is. But now Casper Gutman, the ‘fat man’, is on its trail, and Hammett’s detective, Sam Spade, is drawn into a violent tussle between thieves determined to get their hands on it.