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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Thin Man & The Maltese Falcon (audiobook) by Dashiell Hammett

Two Classics in One Package

Published in 2011 by AudioGO.
Narrated by William Dufris
Duration: approximately 13 hours.

I am reluctant to admit this but although I was very aware of these classic detective tales, I had never read either of these two books nor seen any of their many movie adaptations (however, I have seen many clips from the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon over the years). So, when I found the unabridged audio versions of both of them I just had to get them - if for no other reason than to just end my ignorance.

The Thin Man was originally written in 1934 (although it is set in the late 1920s) and is Dashiell Hammett's fifth and last novel. It features a wealthy husband and wife crime-fighting duo. They are in New York City to renew some friendships, paint the town red and have an all around good time. Nick Charles is a former private detective who has quit the business to help his wife manage her extensive business holdings.  A mystery involving a former client and former acquaintances comes up and Nick and Nora are drug into the affair and are soon on the case.  To be fair, Nora is enthused about solving a mystery. Nick tries to back out of it at every turn, loudly denying that he has any interest in the case but ignored by the police, his wife, his would be client and everyone else.

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
"And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it." - Sam Spade

The Maltese Falcon, first published in 1930, is the classic hardboiled detective story that will forever be linked with Humphrey Bogart and the 1941 movie. Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are two San Francisco detectives hired by a young lady to follow a man that is supposed to have run off with her sister.  Later that same night Miles Archer and the man he was following are found dead and Sam Spade is the number one suspect. Spade sniffs around the case and soon enough finds out that the young lady that hired Miles Archer has not been telling the truth and her secrets may lead to untold riches, if he can survive.

The mystery in The Thin Man is the better of the two, but the mood and the story in The Maltese Falcon is so much more powerful that it ends up being the better of the two stories by far. So many of the characters in The Thin Man are rich, vapid drunken twits (Including Nick and Nora Charles throughout most of the story) that for the first half of the book, I just had a hard time really caring who killed one of the them and sometimes wished that the criminal would come back and knock off a few more. I suppose that was by design, given Hammett's fraternization with communism in the 1930s. But, by the end of the book, the mystery itself turns out to be a pretty good one. The clues were all laid out to the reader, I just missed them as they passed by.

William Dufris really shines as the narrator in The Maltese Falcon. His voice characterizations of Joel Cairo (the Peter Lorre character in the Bogart movie) and appropriately named fat thug named Casper Gutman are so strong that they made the story leap out of the speakers and drag me in. Dufris avoided the obvious temptation to read his Sam Spade like Bogart, but his characterization of Joel Cairo sounds almost exactly like Peter Lorre (I know I said I had not seen the movies, but those clips are everywhere). In the final scenes, Dufris' skills as an actor shine as he seamlessly moves from one strong character to another as they scream at, fight with and ultimately betray one another.

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Thin Man & The Maltese Falcon (audiobook) by Dashiell Hammett.

Reviewed on February 3, 2012.

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