The Maltese Falcon is a 1930 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue. The story has been adapted several times for the cinema. The main character, Sam Spade, appears in this novel and in three lesser-known short stories and is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre. Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade. Spade was a departure from Hammett's nameless detective, The Continental Op. Spade combined several features of previous detectives, notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, unflinching, sometimes ruthless, determination to achieve his own form of justice, and a complete lack of sentimentality.
The novel contains a considerable amount of homosexual subtext concerning Wilmer Cook and Joel Cairo (Cairo is also referred to as the "Levantine"), all of which was excised, because of Production Code restraints, from the 1941 film version starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, the best known of three films between 1931 and 1941 adapted from Hammett's novel. The briefly seen character Rhea Gutman, who has no back story, does not appear in any of the film versions. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Maltese Falcon 56th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
The story is told entirely in external third-person narrative; there is no description whatever of any character's internal thoughts or feelings, only what they say and do, and how they look.