Monday, March 14, 2016

Audiobook Review: Black Mask Featuring The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Book Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Ratings)

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: The quintessential hard-boiled detective story and a must-read for fans of all genres.

The Maltese Falcon is the infamous mystery / detective novel that introduces us to the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade.  The story begins when a young lady comes to the detective agency of Spade and his partner Miles Archer asking them to follow a man who has allegedly run off with her younger sister.  Neither Spade nor Archer completely believe her story but they take the case which pulls them into a more nefarious mystery surrounding a centuries-old artifact known as the Maltese Falcon.

I discovered the Black Mask audio series of audio recordings several months back in my local used bookstore and was particularly fascinated by this edition which has the classic Sam Spade tale.  This audio series adapts stories from the detective / crime pulp magazine, all of which are now in the public domain.  The version of The Maltese Falcon is the original one which was first serialized across four issues of the magazines, and it differs some from the novelized version that would be published later.  It also includes the recap sections that began each segment in the magazine, which I personally found useful because it is a convoluted tale and occasional catch-ups are useful.

The Maltese Falcon has no sci fi or fantasy elements, but it delivers the quintessential hard-boiled private eye story that became the staple of film noir (including the classic movie adaption of this tale starring Humphrey Bogart) and that also worked its way into science fiction tales that would follow (the most famous being Blade Runner).  It is also an interesting and engaging story full of intrigue, deceptions, and plot twists.  It’s a ton of fun and I highly recommend it as it gives us one of the classics of its genre.  Sam Spade is definitely a fascinating character who is anything but the white-knight detective hero.  He displays plenty of moral ambiguities that may just be his means of drawing out the criminals to expose their plans or may show the darker side of his character.

The narrator does a good job of bringing the story to life, avoiding the temptation to imitate the movie adaptation though you can tell he is channeling some of the actors to a degree (particularly Bogart and Peter Lorre) with his takes on the characters.  He does a fantastic job of distinguishing the voices of the characters and making each come alive as a distinct personality.  A minor annoyance with the audio adaptation was that sometimes sections would run together without a sufficient separating pause, especially the recaps, but that is more an issue with the editing than the reading.  This set also includes two other short stales from the magazine which provide decent mystery / crime tales, but they pale in comparison to the main story.  Pick this up for The Maltese Falcon, and you will find yourself quickly pulled into the story which is a true page-turner / non-stop listener.

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