Book Summary: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Are you looking for a book summary of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett? You have come to the right place.

I jotted down a few key points from Dashiell Hammett’s book after reading it.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this The Maltese Falcon book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Who is the Author of The Maltese Falcon?

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, the Continental Op, and the comic book character Secret Agent X-9.

The Maltese Falcon Book Summary

Effie Perine, secretary to private detective Sam Spade, opened his door to announce that a client, Miss Wonderly, was there to see him. A stunning young woman entered and shyly took a seat.

She stammered and bit her lip as she tried to relate her story. Finally the detective assured her it would be best to begin at the beginning. Miss Wonderly said that she was concerned for her 17-year-old sister, who had run off with an older man named Thursby.

She had arranged a meeting with Thursby for that evening, and now wanted to hire a detective to follow him from the meeting – straight to her sister, she hoped. Spade gave his partner, Miles Archer, the details of Miss Wonderly’s case. She paid them 200 dollars, and left with the agreement that Archer would tail Thursby that evening.

That night Spade was awakened by a phone call: Archer had been murdered. Spade rushed to the scene. According to the police, Archer was shot with a British-made Webley revolver. Spade phoned his secretary and asked her to call Iva, his partner’s wife, to break the bad news.

Then he returned to his apartment. Sam had just “drunk his third glass of Bicardi and was lighting his fifth cigarette” when the doorbell rang. It was the police; Lieutenants Dundy and Polhaus wanted to question Sam about the death of yet another man. Thursby, it turned out, had been shot outside his hotel shortly after Spade left the Archer murder scene.

Considering the circumstances of Archer’s death, the police reasoned Spade must have shot Thursby out of revenge. However, Spade refused to give the cops any information about the case.

The next morning the detective had a visitor waiting for him at his office. Effie had tried to keep Iva Archer away, but she had come anyway. Sam was unhappy to see Iva, but still he kissed her. Then Iva asked him point-blank if he had shot her husband so he could marry her. Spade laughed and shook his head.

After Iva had left, Spade took a taxi to the hotel where Miss Wonderly was staying, only to find that she had mysteriously checked out, leaving no forwarding address. Back at the office, Effie informed her boss that Miss Wonderly had called to ask him to meet her at a new hotel. Arriving at the hotel, “Miss Wonderly” confessed that her real name was Brigid O’Shaughnessy and that her story the day before was just that – “all a story.”

Spade also admitted that neither he nor Archer had bought her tale, but had indeed “believed the two hundred dollars.” Brigid explained that she could not reveal the complete story of why Spade had been hired, but did say that she had earlier met Thursby in Hong Kong and feared that he would betray her.

Then she announced that Thursby had been Archer’s killer; he had shot Archer with the Webley he kept in his overcoat. Sam agreed to continue working on the case. When Spade returned to his office, a gangster, Joel Cairo, was waiting to ask about the connection between the two murders.

He confessed his interest was more than mere curiosity; it seemed that Cairo was searching for a missing black metallic bird – a falcon – and that, in some way, Thursby had been connected with the falcon’s disappearance. Cairo was prepared to pay five thousand dollars for the statuette’s return.

Spade told him that when he could get his hands on the bird, Cairo would be contacted. That evening, as Spade left his apartment to meet Brigid, he noticed a young punk following him. Spade quickly lost the tail and went to Brigid’s hotel. Brigid became visibly upset on hearing of Cairo and the money he had offered for the “bird”; she believed that Spade intended to double-cross her, and before she would tell him anything more than what he already knew, she would have to speak with Cairo herself.

They decided to meet with the two-bit thug later that night at Sam’s apartment. There, Brigid admitted that though she had no idea why the falcon was so important, she did know where it was hidden. But they would have to wait a week before she could get hold of it. Cairo and Brigid had become acquainted in Constantinople, where she and Thursby had stolen the bird. … At this point, the doorbell rang.

It was Dundy and Polhaus again, this time to inform Spade that they knew he had been having an affair with Iva Archer and that this was his probable motive for killing his partner. As they were about to leave, they suddenly heard Cairo yell for help from Spade’s apartment.

When the cops rushed in and found Cairo holding a gun on Brigid, they naturally demanded to know what was going on. Spade offered them a contrived story about this all being a put-on to make them look foolish. The cops reluctantly left, obviously not falling for Spade’s explanation.

Early the next morning, Spade received a visit from a Mr Gutman. Gutman explained his position: He had hired Thursby and Brigid to procure the falcon’s image for him, but instead they had fled with it to Hong Kong. The ornament, known as the “Maltese Falcon,” had been fashioned by the Knights of Rhodes on Malta and sent as a tribute to King Charles of Spain.

The “glorious golden falcon encrusted …with the finest jewels” had shifted hands for centuries and then disappeared – not to resurface until 1921, when a Greek dealer discovered it in an obscure shop. He had covered the falcon with black enamel to keep its value hidden.

Unfortunately, the dealer was later murdered and the bird taken; but Gutman had traced the falcon to Constantinople and was on the verge of actually possessing it when Thursby and Brigid turned greedy. To retrieve the treasure, he now offered Spade fifty thousand dollars. The “bird” was obviously worth an enormous fortune. Though Spade did not know where the falcon was, he did know that Brigid knew.

But now Brigid turned up missing. Spade entered and searched her apartment for clues leading to the bird and found a newspaper, folded along the page announcing incoming ships. The falcon, he deduced, must be on the La Paloma, the one vessel sailing in from Hong Kong that day.

Racing to the ship, Spade saw neither Brigid nor the ship’s captain. They had departed – along with Cairo, Gutman, and Gutman’s hired-gun, the one who had been tailing Sam for some time. Later, as Detective Spade related these facts to Effie, a huge man barged into his office, held a package out to Sam, and keeled over, dead.

Sam opened the package. The Maltese Falcon was inside. He guessed that the dead man was the La Paloma’s captain; he also guessed that he would have some visitors soon. He quickly hid the statue away. That night as Spade strolled up to his apartment, Brigid was there by the door to meet him.

Inside waited Gutman, Cairo and the hired-gun. They demanded the falcon. Spade claimed, lying through his teeth, that they would have to wait until morning before he could get to the bird – and that the ever more valuable item would now cost them ten thousand dollars. As the night wore on, Spade suggested that Gutman turn over the punk hired-gun to the cops: “Somebody had to take the fall for those murders.”

Gutman hesitated at first, but Spade warned he would not turn over the falcon unless they could produce a “fall guy.” Gutman finally consented to make his sidekick the scapegoat, and before the lightweight could retaliate, Sam disarmed him and knocked him cold. Morning came, and Spade, after a brief absence, finally brought out the prized falcon, collecting from Gutman ten one-thousand dollar bills.

To make sure the falcon was genuine, Gutman scratched away some of the enamel; it proved to be a lead fake. He had been tricked! Gutman hurriedly reclaimed the money he had brought and, followed by the other men, scurried out of the apartment. Spade picked up the phone and called the police, informing them that he had nabbed his partner’s killer.

This done, he turned to Brigid, who had stayed behind, and, breaking into a grin, told her that she was the one he was going to turn in for Archer’s murder, not the punk still spread-eagle on the floor. Sam had figured out that Brigid, in a plan to frame Thursby, had drawn Archer into the alleyway and murdered him using Thursby’s weapon. What had tipped him off?

Archer’s trench coat was still buttoned when he was killed. It was clear to Sam that he had sensed no danger before he was shot; he trusted the sensual woman and had taken no thought to ready his gun. Brigid pleaded with Sam to let her go. She even tried to seduce him.

But Sam sneered, “I won’t play the sap for you.” He had to clear himself from guilt, and no woman would stand in his way. His smile widened as he gazed at the ravishing woman. “If they hang you,” he snarled, “I’ll always remember you.”

The Maltese Falcon Characters

Sam Spade, a young hard-boiled detective

Miles Archer, Spade’s older partner

Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful young woman (alias Miss Wonderly)

Joel Cairo, an effeminate gangster-type

Casper Gutman, a rotund, older man

Iva Archer, Archer’s wife and Spade’s mistress

The Maltese Falcon Review

The Maltese Falcon was written from experience – Dashiell Hammett spent several years as a Pinkerton detective. He was a superlative mystery writer. With this book, he ushered in a whole new genre of classical crime fiction. Colored with keen observations of the corruptions and violence permeating American life, Hammett’s economical, suspenseful, hard-boiled style is still a model for today’s typical detective novel.

André Gide summarizes The Maltese Falcon’s plot as one “in which every character is trying to deceive all the others and in which the truth slowly becomes visible through the haze of deception.” Filled with slang, violence, sex, and misogyny, the novel is also touched with incredible pathos and with stark glimpses into the street’s sleazier – and lonelier – side.

Further Reading

If you like the book The Maltese Falcon, you may also like reading the following book summaries:

Buy The Book: The Maltese Falcon

If you want to buy the book The Maltese Falcon, you can get it from the following links:

Related Lists

Or, browse all book summaries.

Leave a Comment