Part of the fun of writing a series about a mystery book club is selecting the books they get to read. For a variety of reasons, I decided that Amy-Faye and her friends would mostly read classic mysteries. Mainly, I wanted an excuse to immerse myself in the best of the genre and call it “work.” I confess that apart from reading an Agatha Christie or two, and the occasional Dorothy Parker or Ngaio Marsh, I was shockingly ignorant about my genre’s forebears, the books that were its foundation.
Why The Maltese Falcon?
I chose The Maltese Falcon as the Readaholics’ first book because it’s iconic (everyone recognizes the name and knows vaguely what it’s about), it’s got a twisty plot with lots of bits that I could work into the mystery the Readaholics are solving, and it’s got a cast of characters guaranteed to spark discussion in any book club. Dashiell Hammett’s focus on gesture and action to reveal emotion is very Hemingwayesque, and it gives the Readaholics another tool for “reading” the suspects they interview; they can divine a lot by paying attention to the smallest gesture.
The Maltese Falcon on Film
Additionally, there’s a great movie version of The Maltese Falcon and the Readaholics have a fun time watching it and comparing it to the book. One of the questions I get asked most frequently is what actors I would cast in a movie version of my books, so it’s fun to see Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaughnessy come to life. Some of the Readaholics agree with that casting, and some don’t, which again makes for a lively discussion, one in which I hope readers will take part (in their heads or by leaving comments on my blog).
The Maltese Falcon Statue as McGuffin
Finally, I wanted to introduce the idea of a “McGuffin,” which is a term Alfred Hitchcock coined to mean a plot device in the form of a goal, desired object, or other motivation that seems to be at the center of a story, but often turns out to be totally incidental. In The Maltese Falcon, the actual statue of the bird never even turns up. I foresee many murder investigations in the Readaholics’ future (hopefully!), and I know that they’ll need to discern between a McGuffin and the real issue on more than one occasion.
The Readaholics aren’t alone in thinking The Maltese Falcon worth reading; the Wall Street Journal book club recently undertook to read and discuss the book. See what the facilitator has to say about it.
Those of you who are more well read in classic mysteries than I am (which is most of you), please let me know what other books the Readaholics should discuss in the future!