I struggled with how to rate this because 1. I don't want to cast shade on an undisputed classic detective novel that many consider to be one of the best books of the 20th century, especially since 2. The "hard boiled" detective novel isn't a genre that appeals to me. In fact, I only read this because Erik Larson, an author I admire, told the New York Times it's his favorite book.
With that said, however, I feel that any great book is simply a great book, regardless of the genre, and I didn't think this one was great. Here's why:
1. Stilted, awkward prose: I initially chalked it up to the fact that sentence structure and word usage were different in 1929 than they are today, but why can I read Tolstoy from 1877 and feel like he's a close personal friend whose train of thought is just like mine?
2. Insulting sexism: Today, Sam Spade would never have gotten mixed up in the whole Maltese falcon debacle because he would have lost his business years earlier as a result of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Apparently, any woman will sleep with him; he's completely irresistible; and they are very easy to manipulate, so they all do his bidding regardless of how he treats them.
3. Lack of character development: The characters all seemed one-dimensional, not fully formed. I would have liked little glimpses into how they ended up in the situations/lives they were in. They seem to have dropped onto the earth as full grown amoral adults with no families or home bases. They just travel around looking for the falcon and killing anyone who gets in the way with no remorse.
4. Disappointing ending: The ending fizzled for me. It was all for nothing. The falcon was fake. Lots of people died and no one even remotely seemed to care. No one, least of all Sam Spade, seemed to have learned or grown from the experience.
I don't think you need me to tell you that Dashiell Hammett could write! What I loved about the book is that the movie follows it very faithfully, yet, somehow, I never DID understand the plot from the movie. Yet the dialog, and each "scene", you can see in your mind's eye as you read, because you've seen the movie so often. The plot is very clear in the book, however, so something must have gotten left behind in making the movie...
I enjoyed this book very much!
Classic noir thriller and a good read.