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A worthless bird statuette -- the focus of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Or is it?
As Dashiell Hammett closes his final case as a private eye, the details of which will later inspire his most famous book, he acquires at a police auction the bogus object of that case, an obsidian falcon statuette. He casually sets the memento on his desk, where for a decade it bears witness to his literary rise. Until he gives it away. Now, suffering writer's block, the famous author begins to wonder about rumors of the falcon's "metaphysical qualities," which link it to a powerful, wish-fulfilling black stone cited in legends from around the world. He can't deny that when he possessed the statuette he wrote one acclaimed book after another, and that without it his fortunes have changed.
As his block stretches from months to years, he becomes entangled again with the scam artists from the old case, each still fascinated by the "real" black bird and its alleged talismanic power. A dangerous maze of events takes Hammett from 1930s San Francisco to the glamorous Hollywood of the 1940s, a federal penitentiary at the time of the McCarthy hearings, and finally to a fateful meeting on New Year's Eve, 1959, at a Long Island estate. There the dying Hammett confronts a woman from his past who proves to be his most formidable rival.And his last hope.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
Hammett Unwritten is an interesting take on the author and his creation. It starts with the premise that the events in the Maltese Falcon were autobiographical and that Sam Spade was in fact Hammett himself.
I have to give this book points for uniqueness. I haven’t read a novel quite like this and considering how many books, and specifically mysteries, I read that is saying something. The book takes meta to a whole new place and for that I commend Fitzstephen. If you are knowledgeable about Hammett himself then this book might be tough to read as it completely recreates the author’s life and experiences. However if you only know him from his works then this book is a unique mystery worth checking out.
There is however some reliance on knowing the original works. If you haven’t read any of Hammett’s books then first, shame on you, and second, you will miss a lot of what is happening here. For those uninitiated to his work go out and read the Maltese Falcon before checking out Hammett Unwritten.
As characters Hammett and the people in his life feel more feel more at place in the Maltese Falcon the in the real world, but of course that is wholly the point of the book. As characters in a hard boiled mystery novel they are more fleshed out then you would normally get thanks to the nature of the book. Being able to pull in parts of a real person’s life has given Fitzstephen a leg up on creating complete characters.
The only real problem with this book is the pacing. It isn’t that the book is slow but it comes more in spurts. Action will be moving along at a good clip then slow down for scenes of introspection then kick in gear again. You also spend a lot of time in Hammett’s head which is fine at the beginning but there were moments when I really felt the lack of character interactions.
For fans of the genre of hard boiled fiction or the Maltese Falcon in specific this is a book worth picking up, if only for the novelty of it.