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Dashiell Hammett

It is an accepted fact that Dashiell Hammett helped invent what is referred to as hardboiled mystery fiction (Pierpont 66f). In laconic and knowing prose, hardboiled fiction presents a cynical worldview, a picture of human behavior that resonates with sordidly plausible violence, and a pattern of events that--in the tradition of adventure stories--encourages reader interest in outcomes. In significant part what holds readers in suspense is the figure of the detective who is at the center of the mystery. In The Maltese Falcon, that hero is Sam Spade, partner with Miles Archer in their detective firm, Spade & Archer. When Archer goes out on a case for one Miss Wonderly, never to return because he and the man he was following are both shot, Spade gets into the case to get to the bottom of what Miss Wonderly really wanted and who she really is (not Miss Wonderly, for a start; she quickly reveals that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy). Whatever else is true about MF, it is also true that its hero engages in something like a noble quest of vengeance and expiation as he gets deeper into BO's case. How that feature of Spade's character is spun out, as well as other salient features of character, is the subject of this research.

MF offers no extensive early biography of Sam Spade; the reader is free to infer how and why he became a private detective in San Francisco. Even so, by way of telling details and the character's mode of expression, the reader begins to suspect that Spade's persona not only is the product of a richly eventful and morally ambiguous life but also has been carefully crafted so as to make a considered presentation to the world. When Lieut. Dundy and Tom interrogate him the first time about Archer's murder and indirectly accuse him of being responsible, he strikes a pose. Yet he also musters the anger of innocence, which tells the reader that he has a definite moral compass:

"I've warned you your foot was going to...

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Dashiell Hammett. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:33, May 19, 2019, from