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The Maltese Falcon is the definitive masterpiece of the hard-boiled detective genre. It introduces legendary PI Sam Spade, a loner who follows his own code and the rules of the street as he zeros in on his partner’s killer and the famous jewel-encrusted bird. Humphrey Bogart immortalized the tough-guy detective in the classic 1941 film.Learn More
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Winner of the 2010 Audie Award for Best Audiobook Adaptation
A 2009 Audie Award Finalist
A 2009 Grammy Award for Adults
Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
A 2009 AudioFile Best Audiobook of the Year for Mystery
A Booklist Top 10 Crime Fiction Audiobook
A Booklist Editors’ Choice, March 2009
The Maltese Falcon is the definitive masterpiece of the hard-boiled detective genre. It introduces legendary PI Sam Spade, a loner who follows his own code and the rules of the street as he zeros in on his partner’s killer and the famous jewel-encrusted bird. Humphrey Bogart immortalized the tough-guy detective in the classic 1941 film.
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Hard Boiled Well Done
Oddly enough, I’ve recently listened to one history and read another dealing with Malta, Charles V and the Hospitallers or Knights of Malta. Ernle Bradford’s The Great Siege tells the story of the failed Muslim attempt to take the main base of the Knights in 1565. Roger Crowley’s more recent book, Empires of the Sea, covers the wider conflict of which the Malta siege was a dramatic part. Strange preparation for listening to what is generally accepted as the Ur-text of hard-boiled detective fiction, but there it is.
That background isn’t essential, of course, but it made the tale Hammett tells even more engaging. Everyone who wants what Sam Spade offhandedly refers to as, “the black bird” is attracted by its immense value; a nodding acquaintance with the history and personalities originally connected with the bird add a whole other dimension to its allure.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Maltese Falcon 56th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Therefore I feel absolved from the task of making any sort of case for why you should listen. You just should. This is an iconographic chunk of American and even world culture. It spawned an entire genre of fiction and film. And most importantly, like reading Tom Jones or Don Quixote or listening to Ben Webster, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Instead, I’ll limit myself to the production itself, which is nearly perfect. If I had been the narrator, I’d have had a hard time not falling into a pseudo-Bogart-esque speak, delivering every line from the corner of my mouth and calling everyone I know, “sweetheart”. Being a professional, of course, William Dufris avoids this howling error. Indeed, what I at first took to be his overly flat, un-emphatic delivery soon settled down into what I now think of as the only possible way to read the book. Yes, his Gutman sounds a little too much like Sydney Greenstreet, but given Gutman’s character, I don’t know what else Dufris could have done. And now that I think about it, his Joel Cairo sounds an awful lot like Peter Lorre. But again, I don’t know what else Dufris could have done with Cairo’s character. A lisp would have been repellant. The important thing is, he didn’t do Spade like Bogart. Somehow, according to my odd sense of what is fitting, that would have been over the line.
But Dufris brings more to the party than just deft reading. He adds little touches that make this a true performance. For me, audiobooks deliver the best of both worlds: they’re as accessible as a movie but far deeper. A movie is a necessarily pared-down retelling; you’re at the mercy of the whims and agendas of the producers, screenwriters and even the actors (the latest Mr. D’Arcy proudly admitted to not reading Austen’s novel because he didn’t want that to get in the way of his conception of the character). But a well-done audio book gives you a faithful performance of every word the author wrote without you having to do all the heavy lifting. And Dufris really performs this book, going so far as to replicate the sound of a character’s voice as they are swallowing coffee or speaking with the cup held up to their mouth.
One odd downside: whoever produced this chopped it into 103 4- and 5-minute segments. Though unnoticeable—your ear just skims over them—these breaks don’t coincide with chapters or seem to have any other logic behind them. Hammett didn’t number his chapters, giving each just a title, and I thought at first that this was the reason for the weird scheme. But, like Sam Spade in the middle of this story, I still can’t make heads or tails of it all. The result is a feeling on the listener’s part (or at least on this listener’s part) of being at sea. I had no sense of how long chapters were or what chapter we were in, and I was always forgetting what the current chapter was named (in the absence of numbers and accurate chapter divisions, that information on my iPod screen would have been very helpful).
A final note: in section 90 some words are missing. According to an online text of the novel, it’s only the “—ly done” from one of Gutman’s lines, “By Gad, sir, it was neatly done”. Nevertheless, it is a glitch that sends you on errands like looking up the text online.
If you want to be one of those people who can carelessly nod and say, “Maltese Falcon? Yeah, I’ve read that”, this is your chance. Not all the classics are this much fun (think of Ibsen or James) and this fine performance makes it even easier. It’s a book that deserves some shelf space in the cluttered cultural closet of your mind.
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|Available Formats :||Digital Download, Digital Rental, CD|
|Category:||Fiction/Mystery & Detective|
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