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Hammett Unwrittenby Owen Fitzstephen
Synopses & Reviews
A worthless bird statuette — the focus of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. And much more.
As Dashiell Hammett closes his final case as a private eye, the details of which will later inspire his most famous book, he acquires at a police auction the bogus object of that case, an obsidian falcon statuette. He casually sets the memento on his desk, where for a decade it bears witness to his literary rise. Until he gives it away.
Now, suffering writer’s block, the famous author begins to wonder about rumors of the falcon’s “metaphysical qualities,” which link it to a powerful, wish-fulfilling black stone cited in legends from around the world. He can’t deny that when he possessed the statuette he wrote one acclaimed book after another, and that without it his fortunes have changed. As his block stretches from months to years, he becomes entangled again with the scam artists from the old case, each still fascinated by the “real” black bird and its alleged talismanic power.
A dangerous maze of events takes Hammett from 1930s San Francisco to the glamorous Hollywood of the 1940s, a federal penitentiary at the time of the McCarthy hearings, and finally to a fateful meeting on New Year’s Eve, 1959, at a Long Island estate. There the dying Hammett confronts a woman from his past who proves to be his most formidable rival.
And his last hope.
"This imaginative mashup of meta-mystery with meta-biography, ostensibly written by Fitzstephen (a character from Hammett's The Dain Curse), with notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine (the real author), asks a simple question: why did Dashiell Hammett stop writing? After a brilliant 12-year run that included The Maltese Falcon and ended with The Thin Man, the master of hard-boiled detection turned from the typewriter. Did he do so because he lost the falcon statue he picked up in a 1922 caper? Was that dingus the mystical Holy Grail? Cutting back and forth through Hammett's life, McAlpine (Joy in Mudville) gets many details wrong, but the overall portrait feels accurate — certainly more so than that in Joe Gores's 1975 novel, Hammett. The story shines in scenes with real people such as Lillian Hellman, though encounters with people who supposedly inspired characters in The Maltese Falcon are less successful. Fans of Hammett and noir ought to enjoy requisite shocks of recognition. Agent: Philip Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Gordon McAlpine is the author of three previous novels, a nonfiction work (with Shawn Green) called The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH, and the forthcoming middle-grade adventure-mystery trilogy the Adventures of Edgar and Allan Poe. Now writing full-time, McAlpine was for many years a professor of creative writing at Chapman University in Orange, California.
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