California I: The Maltese Falcon

March 7, 2009

Today, my dad and I fly cross-country for the beginning of our big father-son road trip. We’ll fly into San Francisco, spend a few days there, and then follow the coast down to Los Angeles, with various stops on the way. I always like to read a little something that’s set in the place I’m traveling to, and California provides no lack of possibilities — especially in the world of detective fiction. Since I might not be able to post much of substance from the road (assuming that there’s much of substance here any other time), I’m going to share a little of my browsing through California literature. In honor of our first stop, here’s the opening to Dashiell Hammett’s best-known (and, of course, San Francisco-set) novel, The Maltese Falcon:

maltesefalconSamuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down — from high flat temples — in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?”

She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face. She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said: “There’s a girl wants to see you. Her name is Wonderly.”

“A customer?”

“I guess so. You’ll want to see her anyway: she’s a knockout.”

“Shoo her in, darling,” said Spade. “Shoo her in.”

Dad and I are bacheloring it up on this trip, but I don’t expect any knockouts to be shooed our way — and we certainly wouldn’t accept such shooing if it did come to pass. (Hello back home to Tara!)

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  1. If you’re going to be in SF, you might try to check if Don Herron is doing anything Hammett related. See:


    Back when I lived there, Herron’s tours would occasionally drop by the apartment where Hammett (maybe) lived in when he wrote “Falcon.” I wrote a story on the apartment ages ago:


    • Thanks! I’ll check it out!

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