Places: The Maltese Falcon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1930

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1928

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*San Francisco

*San Maltese Falcon, TheFrancisco. California port city in which the novel is set. San Francisco is depicted as a dark and corrupt place, one in which protagonist and unsentimental private detective Sam Spade says that most things in San Francisco “can be bought or taken.” To emphasize the connection between the characters, particularly Spade, and the corrupt city setting, Spade refers to San Francisco as his “burg.” The fact that most of the story’s action occurs at night further emphasizes the dark side of society and human nature.

Spade’s apartment

Spade’s apartment. Home of Sam Spade on San Francisco’s Post Street, a well-appointed bachelor’s apartment with a sitting room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a separate entry foyer. Many significant scenes are set in the apartment. For example, Spade is there when he learns of his partner’s death through a late-night phone call and is later visited there by the police.

Spade appears to be comfortable and at ease when he is in his apartment, but it cannot be considered a completely safe haven. The police repeatedly appear there to harass him, and in one scene, a fight breaks out there between Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Joel Cairo. It is also the apartment in which Spade turns in Brigid, the woman he says he loves, to the police.

Spade’s office

Spade’s office. Private detective office on San Francisco’s Sutter Street in which many of the novel’s daytime scenes take place. Setting daylight scenes in the office suggests that Spade’s professional headquarters may be more above board, perhaps more moral, than his apartment or the hotel rooms of other characters. Effie Perine, Spade’s secretary and the most consistently upright character in the story, is also always seen at the office. The office contains an outer room, in which Effie’s desk is located, and an inner room that Spade shared with his partner, Miles Archer, until the latter is killed at the beginning of the novel.

Coronet Hotel

Coronet Hotel. Hotel on San Francisco’s California Street at which Brigid O’Shaughnessy stays after she leaves the St. Mark’s Hotel, where someone has searched her room. Later, her room at the Coronet is searched–another indication of the difficulty of finding safety in Hammett’s San Francisco.

Archer’s murder spot

Archer’s murder spot. Bush Street location at which Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, is gunned down. The murder occurs at night while Archer is tailing Floyd Thursby while working for Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Dark and lonely, the murder scene borders Chinatown, which Hammett often depicts as a frightening, duplicitous place. The nighttime setting intensifies the dread and danger of this spot.

Alexandria Hotel

Alexandria Hotel. San Francisco hotel in which Casper Gutman, the leader of those seeking the falcon statue that gives the novel its title, is staying. Spade visits the Alexandria twice. On his first visit, Gutman drugs him. The Alexandria is another location filled with both danger and lies.

BibliographyChandler, Raymond. The Simple Art of Murder. New York: Ballantine, 1972. This interesting essay by another famous American hard-boiled mystery writer discusses the shortcomings of the traditional British mystery novel and the advances in the genre inspired by Hammett. Chandler and Hammett are credited with being the fathers of the modern American mystery novel.Layman, Richard. Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. The best available biography of Dashiell Hammett, who led a colorful life and resembled Sam Spade in his moral code and unsentimental view of human nature. Discusses the genesis of The Maltese Falcon, Hammett’s most acclaimed novel, in detail.Marling, William. Dashiell Hammett. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Contains a thorough discussion of Hammett’s life and art, with considerable attention to The Maltese Falcon. Excellent reference notes and selected bibliography.Nolan, William F. Dashiell Hammett: A Casebook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McNally & Loftin, 1969. A book about Hammett’s life and writing by an author who has established a reputation as an authority on American crime fiction in general and on Dashiell Hammett in particular. Discusses The Maltese Falcon thoroughly.Wolfe, Peter. Beams Falling: The Art of Dashiell Hammett. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1980. An author who has specialized in the study of hard-boiled crime writers presents full-length analyses of Hammett’s stories and novels. “Beams Falling” alludes to the much-debated “Flitcraft Episode” in The Maltese Falcon.
Categories: Places