A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 7:10 am
The Power of Libraries Booth at Book Expo
Posted by: Rebecca
Lucky enough to be attending Book Expo America conference in NYC this week? Be sure to stop by the Power of Libraries, in booth #1242 (naturally, come say hello to us at the Booklist booth, as well, booth #1043!).
There are five library consortia from across the country that are collaborating on this theme.
The groups are: Amigos (TX), Califa (CA), LYRASIS (GA), MLS (MA), and RAILS (IL)
Collectively they represent over 6,000 libraries of all types across the United States.
Each of these groups have statewide e-book platforms, and they seek to strengthen the library-publisher relationship, especially in this time of great flux in the e-book marketplace. Some of their goals with this Power of Libraries campaign are to:
Engage in dialogue with authors and publishers on the importance of e-books in libraries, and voice current concerns held by librarians and patrons while respecting the views and interests of authors and publishers.
Demonstrate the collective buying power of libraries in the e-book market.
Keep letting publishers know that readers use libraries AND buy books.
Reinforce the fact that librarians have the expertise to bring readers to new books that they may eventually buy.
Take some time away from the galley grab of BEA and spend a moment talking to Veronda Pitchford and the Power of Libraries team. They’ll be distributing a fun comic strip showcasing librarians as superheroes. (Preview panel below, click for best image.) Let them know Booklist sent you!
Tuesday, May 27, 2014 12:24 pm
Gay Romance Comes Out at the Romantic Times Convention
Posted by: Pat Henshaw
GLBT romance came out of the erotica closet at the Romantic Times convention in New Orleans in May 2014 to stand as its own entity, a legitimate romance subgenre.
Canadian GLBTQ romance author Heidi Belleau explained, “Until recently, queer characters in books were either serial killers or dead people.” Having them now be the heroes of the story, gay authors agreed, is refreshing and long overdue.
Both publishers and authors at the RT convention said that two events have caused the upsurge in gay romance readership: the emergence of e-readers and the social climate in the U. S. E-readers have made it possible for people who read books in public to read whatever they want without comment from people around them. Also the growing acceptance of gay marriage and of gays in general has made readers curious and willing to explore the subgenre.
With over a half dozen sessions at the RT convention about GLBT romance, including panels on what a gay hero is like and why GLBTQ might be readers’ next favorite subgenre, both editors and authors were excited about the enthusiastic response of reader attendees. In fact, author Suzanne Brockmann, the mother of a gay son, exhorted authors and readers to become crusaders for gay romance because the time is ripe for the subgenre to branch out and claim as many new readers as possible. Dreamspinner Press added to reader excitement at the conference by passing out cards entitling readers to one free e-book at their website.
Authors Damon Suede, Heidi Cullinan, and K.A. Mitchell.
Authors of gay romances spoke about the overwhelming response to their work, giving poignant examples of emails and reactions at book signings and readings. Author Damon Suede talked about how touchy-feely his fans are. He recounted a woman at one of his readings who stood beside him with her elbow gently touching him. The bookstore owner asked Damon if he wanted the woman to be removed, but Damon is used to his fans’ visceral response to him and assured the owner that the woman’s touch didn’t bother him.
Amy Lane, another GLBT romance author, said that often her fans will cry when they meet her because something she wrote moved them. In fact, she added, “People tell me that some of my most injured characters are their friends or their brothers or the lover they had to leave before they fell into a pit of despair, and then they thank me for the happy ending.” All the authors had stories of how their novels had helped readers because for the first time they saw gay characters enjoy happiness and fulfillment, something that other plotless, sex-riddled erotica is missing.
Fans, waiting outside the Marriott ballroom for an autograph session.
Who is buying gay romances? Both publishers and authors agree that the audience is 60 percent female and 40 percent male readers. The larger picture of GLBT buyers break down into three large groups. Anne Regan of Dreamspinner press says that by far the biggest sales come from their online site where they have 26,000 regular users. Editors and publishers from Riptide, Loose ID, and Samhain agree. The next biggest segment of buyers come from the online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Riptide publisher Rachel Haimowitz says the third big buyer is libraries that are starting to shore up their gay fiction sections. Anne Regan, who heads the YA and NA Harmony imprint of Dreamspinner agrees.
The editors and publishers also discussed what they would like to see for their GLBT romance fiction lines in the future. Kierstin Cherry of Loose ID says they are looking for more f/f (female/female) fiction including full-figured heroines as well as more interracial gay romances. Cris Brashear says Samhain is also looking for more f/f fiction and multicultural gay stories.
From authors and publishers to fans, everyone agreed that GLBT romance fiction is the wave of the future.
Friday, May 23, 2014 8:47 am
Hostile Questions: Rainbow Rowell
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
We at Hostile Questions HQ have been tapping the phones of thousands of authors since we founded our operation in 2012 and it’s time to go public with yet another bombshell. In March 2013, General Rowell (Codename: “Rainbow”) launched a frontal assault against the young-adult world with the Printz Honor-winning (and also Everything-Else-winning) Eleanor & Park. Then, in September–a mere six months later–she hit our flank with the celebrated Fangirl. We crumpled before this two-pronged blitzkrieg.
What we have uncovered is shocking. Even as we struggle to reassemble our shattered YA universe, Rowell is plotting to release a relentless six books in the latter half of 2014: Eleanor & Fangirl, Fangirl & Park, Fanpark, Parkgirl, The Fault in our Parks, and Eleanor and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Do you not have a shred of decency, Rowell? Not a single shred?!?
Not seen: hands, furiously typing.
Just who do you think you are?
Is that a mean way of asking if “Rainbow” is my real name? Because it is.
My mother said I could change it when I turned 18, and I was like, “I’m totally going to change it to Sarah with an ‘h.’ I’ll show you, you misguided hippy.”
And then I turned 18 and realized that my friends would mock me if I asked them to start calling me “Sarah.” I’ve been stuck with Rainbow ever since.
I think that 90 percent of the people who read my books assume that “Rainbow” is a pen name, which makes me think about what sort of person would choose to be called “Rainbow”… It’s not the pen name you’d choose if you wanted people to take you seriously, you know? (I always think of that woman in Harold and Maude, who introduces herself as “Sunshine Doré.”)
I suppose I’ve mostly made peace with it now. It’s hard to imagine having a name I’d have to share with other people.
Where do you get off?
I was born here, and I mostly grew up here, and I’ve never seriously thought about leaving.
When I started writing books, I decided to set them in Omaha because Omaha almost never shows up in popular culture. And when Omaha or Nebraska does show up, it’s usually as a punchline. (Maybe these are just funny-sounding words, and I don’t get the joke because I’m from here.)
I’ve always liked the way John Waters keeps telling stories about Baltimore. I’d like to keep telling stories about Omaha.
Though, as I typed that, I realized that my next book, Landline, mostly takes place in Los Angeles.
What’s the big idea?
Do you mean with my next book?
I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.
Landline is about a woman whose marriage is in a rough place. Her husband just took the kids to Omaha for Christmas while she stays in Los Angeles to work. As soon as she leaves, she discovers a magic phone (that’s right, I said MAGIC PHONE) that lets her communicate with him in the past.
But then she has to decide what she’s supposed to do with the phone. Is she supposed to fix her marriage from the past? Is that even possible? Or is she supposed to make sure she and her husband never get married at all?
Besides a magic phone and marital strife, this book also has lots of jokes and references to ‘70s TV shows. Also, there’s snow.
What is your problem, man?
The Sherlock hiatus.
Haven’t you done enough?
For real. I’ve had three books come out in 15 months, and I am tired.
I’m working on a novel right now, but then I’m going to take a break. I’m going to try writing the Eleanor & Park screenplay instead. (Wish me luck. I’ve never written a screenplay before.)
And then I’m going to collaborate on a graphic novel with Faith Erin Hicks – which I am SUPER excited about, because I’m a big fan of her work, and I’ve always wanted to work in comics.
Thursday, May 22, 2014 4:00 pm
2013 Nebula Awards Winners
Posted by: Sarah Grant
Congratulations to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s 2013 Nebula Awards winners—the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy last year. Below are the winning titles.
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
“The Weight of the Sunrise,” by Vylar Kaftan
“The Waiting Stars,” by Aliette de Bodard
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Rachel Swirsky
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Andrew Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson
Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award
Samuel R. Delany, author of Babel 17 and The Einstein Intersection (winners of the Nebula Award for 1966 and 1967 respectively)
2013 Damon Knight Grand Master Award
Samuel R. Delany
2013 Special Honoree
Frank M. Robinson
Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:57 am
Book Trailer Thursday: The Three
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
Booklist reviewer David Pitt calls horror thriller The Three (Little, Brown) a “very creepy, very effective novel,” displaying the author’s stroke-of-genius use of an oral-history format to tell the story of The Three: the mysterious, only survivors of four simultaneous worldwide plane crashes.
Tune in next week for the last remaining #mysterymonth BTT!
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:36 pm
Share Your #MysteryMonth Reading, Win a Year of Booklist!
Posted by: Keir Graff
Mystery Month is rolling right along, and now it’s time for you to get into the act! From now until midnight on Thursday, May 22, share a picture of the mystery you’re currently reading (or listening to), and you will have a chance to win a free year of Booklist, Booklist Online, and Book Links. Just tweet a picture of the cover using the hashtag #mysterymonth, or share it on our Facebook page (use the hashtag there, too). One winner will be chosen at random on Friday and announced—how else?—with the #mysterymonth hashtag.
Haven’t had a chance to catch the Mystery Month coverage? Just head over to the home page of Booklist Online, where you’ll see some of the great online-exclusive material we’ve been publishing, such as “Mystery Mom: Growing up with a Crime Novelist” and “Nothing but Gray Skies: 6 Reasons Minnesota Is the Best Place for Scandinavian Noir.” You’ll find something new every weekday for the rest of the month, and even more on our Twitter feeds and Facebook page. Just follow #mysterymonth to keep up on all of it.
And now I’ll start off the sharing with the book I finished reading this morning, before work, on a Chicago park bench . . . Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake!
Friday, May 16, 2014 2:11 pm
Mystery Mom: Growing up with a Crime Novelist
Posted by: Biz Hyzy
Editor’s note: Biz Hyzy recently completed an internship for Booklist.
Do mystery writers become hyper-aware of danger because they constantly write about it, or do people with danger-prone imaginations become mystery writers? I’m not sure one precedes another. Instead, I believe both are manifestations of a person’s personality. And, as the daughter of mystery author Julie Hyzy (Home of the Braised, 2014), I can tell you that—at least in my mother’s case—this dark imagination is not limited to writing.
I could describe the wonderful ways my mother, author of the White House Chef series and Manor House series, raised me and my sisters. She was and is supportive, encouraging, and loving. Or I could expose the bizarre—but true!—ways she took care of us, which reflects the mentality of someone constantly plotting fictional crimes.
For example, Mom occasionally administered “Run away from the bad guy” drills. When we strolled from the grocery store to our Honda Odyssey (named Homer, in case that wasn’t indication enough of her career plan), Mom would shout, “Someone is chasing us!” Robyn, Sara, and I would take that as a cue to run to the van, check to make sure no one was hiding in back or underneath—never forget to look underneath!—and lock ourselves in. We saw it both as a game and a routine similar to our school’s fire drills. The plan was to hide in a safe, enclosed space while Mom fought off the attacker, which we had full confidence she could do. We were not allowed to wait for her; she prioritized our safety over her own. This behavior might sound paranoid to some of you, and maybe it is. Okay . . . let’s be honest, it definitely is. But, for us, these moments were fun and—dare I say?—normal.
Mom learning how to shoot at Firearms and Fiction, 2005.
But Mom wasn’t only worried about planning for public emergencies. She also implemented precautionary habits for the times we were home alone. Our house is set up so that you can see the back wall from the front window, specifically the hallway between the family room and the kitchen. (Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “I shouldn’t describe my house to strangers! They’ll break in!”) As you might suspect, when home alone, these were the two rooms my sisters I spent the most time in—one for games, movies, and books, the other for snacks. Mom worried that someone evil might look through the window, and—seeing unsupervised children—break in and kidnap us. The solution? Crawling. We had to crawl from one room to the next, not even on our hands and knees, but military-style on our bellies and elbows (which is no easy task when carrying a bowl of Lucky Charms). Whenever Mom left, she made us promise to crawl and explained why we should. Again, this seemed totally rational to us, so we did as she asked.
Because of this upbringing, I suspect more often than I should that villains are lurking around street corners. This fancy isn’t enough to scare me from living fully, but because of Mom’s lessons, I nestle my keys between my knuckles when walking alone. That way, if someone attacks, I can punch-stab him or her in the eye. Just in case.
From our East coast vacation in 2011, during which we visited Washington D. C. for Mom’s White House Chef research. (L to R: Mom, Sara, me, Robyn)
As strange as my childhood was, most of it was fun. Our family can always count on Mom eavesdropping in public; she enjoys hearing strangers’ stories almost as much as she loves writing her own. If she is not in hearing range, she’ll comment on others’ appearances and body language, trying to deduce their story through visual means.
Recently, Mom asked me to tie her to a chair, wrists knotted behind its back and ankles strapped to its legs, because she wanted to know how to free herself for a scene she was writing. I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good assistant as my hands were shaking from laughing so hard. We tried multiple times, testing an assortment of restraints, until she decided on duct tape. Other materials did not work because they were either too flimsy or, like masking tape, became tighter and stronger the more Mom fought them. She needed a sufficient constraint that was still possible to sever. Duct tape, though difficult to rip in such conditions, will eventually stretch until it breaks. (Be sure to look for this scene in her upcoming Grace Against the Clock!)
Just a few weeks ago, I took Donald J. Sobol’s Two-Minute Mysteries off the shelf. My Mom, Dad, and I took turns reading the short whodunits aloud, guessing how Dr. Haledjian caught the culprit. However, the game quickly changed from “Solve the mystery” to “Who can remember the answer first?” Mom and I read the stories so much as children—during different eras, of course—that we had most of the solutions memorized. After only a sentence or two, one of us would say, “The car was parked on the hose!” “A flag can’t wave on a windless day!” or “The candle wax dripped on the wrong side!” My poor Dad was the only one left genuinely guessing. For the record, his sleuthing skills were spot on.
Mom always wanted to write mysteries. Even before she did, she’d envisage criminal scenarios that would eventually make it into her books. With all that action and danger slashing through her imagination, she became extra—but not overly—protective of us. It added a layer of play time to my childhood, and silly as it is, I feel more prepared now. You may call it eccentric, but I call it love.
Dressing as flappers for Sara’s golden birthday! (L to R: Robyn, Dad, Mom, Sara, me)
Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:30 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Midnight Crossroad
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
The May 15th Spotlight on SF/Fantasy issue of Booklist went live on Booklist Online yesterday, and there are still 15 days of #MysteryMonth to go. Thankfully Charlaine Harris delivers all of the above, with a side of paranormal romance, in the first book of a planned trilogy. Rebecca Vnuk says Midnight Crossroad (Ace) is sure to appeal to readers who miss Sookie Stackhouse, now that Harris’ wildly popular series has ended.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 11:51 am
Twitching Teens and Status Symptoms: Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe Explore the Mysteries of Girls
Posted by: Keir Graff
Are Cheerleaders More Susceptible to Mass Psychogenic Illness?
Imagine my surprise when my colleague Sarah Hunter, after reading my review of Megan Abbott’s magnificent The Fever, told me that its story was almost identical to a YA book she reviewed, Katherine Howe’s Conversion. Consider these two passages from our reviews, both published in the May 1 Mystery Showcase.
From The Fever:
In an isolated northeastern town known for its miserable weather, Deenie and her best friends, Lise and Gabby, find themselves at the center of a mysterious epidemic that causes girls to—do what, exactly? The symptoms are puzzling. Lise seizes in class, and Gabby collapses onstage during an orchestra recital, leaving Deenie to wonder if she’s next. . . . Is the cause HPV vaccinations? Or the water of the town’s dead lake? Is it—a thought that lurks darkly in Deenie’s mind—her recent loss of virginity?
St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts, a well-to-do private girl’s school for the best and brightest, is usually only home to hysteria of the college-admissions kind. But when Clara starts convulsing in class, a media frenzy fixates on the St. Joan’s mystery disease. Is it a reaction to the HPV vaccine? Or are students under so much pressure they’re beginning to crack? As more and more girls fall ill . . .
Wow! Coincidence? A case of industrial publishing espionage? The likenesses run deep, including echoes (stronger in Conversion) of the Salem Witch Trials. But, after a little research, I’m guessing it’s merely a case of similar source material. If you’re not familiar with the terms “conversion disorder” and “mass psychogenic illness” you’re going to want to read, as I did, “What Happened to the Girls in Le Roy,” a long but fascinating article by Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine. One tidbit:
Cheerleaders frequently come up in case histories of mass psychogenic illness at schools, partly because psychogenic outbreaks often start with someone of high social status. But it might also be that their enviable unity is what makes them more susceptible. In 2002, 10 students, 5 of them cheerleaders, in a rural town in North Carolina suffered from nonepileptic seizures and fainting spells. In 1952, the Associated Press reported that 165 members of the Tigerettes cheerleading squad from Monroe, La., fainted before halftime at a high-school football game in nearby Natchez, Miss. There were no unusual circumstances, other than a little bit of heat and an embarrassing incident in which the girls had come onto the field after the first quarter, by accident. So many girls were fainting in quick succession that five ambulances raced across the field at once. “It looked like the racetrack at Indianapolis,” a spectator said.
Following that, you might find yourself, as I did, trolling for video.
At some point, like me, you’ll have to get back to work, but you won’t be able to shake the haunting images from the books and real life, and wonder what it’s like to be one of those girls.
Friday, May 9, 2014 12:00 pm
The Maltese Legacy: Spade, the Bird, and Beyond
Posted by: Ben Segedin
Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade
Born in 1894, Samuel Dashiell Hammett lived until 1961. As a young man he worked as an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, an experience that provided him with plenty of material for his future work as a writer of detective fiction. He served briefly in the U.S. Army during WWI, suffered the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic, contracted TB, and tried his hand at advertising before, in 1922, he began writing full time. He stopped writing fiction in 1934. However, in that short, productive time he wrote more than 80 short stories and 5 novels, including several that are now considered classics of the genre as well as among the great American novels.
After his short, but prolific writing career, Hammett was active in leftist causes and became an avowed Communist. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Aleutian Islands as a newspaper editor. Later, in the 1950s, he was subpoenaed to testify about the activities of some members of an organization he was active in that had been designated a communist front; rather than testify, he was found guilty of contempt and served time in a federal penitentiary. He was later blacklisted. His drinking got worse, as did his health. He was hounded by the IRS and ended his days as a virtual hermit, dying penniless in 1961. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery despite the objections of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.
During his short career, Hammett created many memorable characters including the Continental Op, a private detective who appeared in 36 short stories, including several that made up the novels Red Harvest and The Dain Curse; and Nick and Nora Charles, the often inebriated, high society, crime-solving duo from The Thin Man (and the highly successful series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy).
But Hammett’s most memorable creation, Sam Spade, the private detective from The Maltese Falcon, set the template for the entire archetype of the hard-boiled private dick: tough, cold, independent, cynical, capable and self-sufficient, determined, of questionable morality, a quick study with a wry and acerbic wit, brutal, brutish, even sadistic, yet irresistible to women.
Without Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe would never have been realized. Ross MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, and many other writers of crime fiction have openly acknowledged their considerable debt to Hammett and his creation.
As a character, Spade is always one or more steps ahead of everyone else, including the reader. Does he have a master plan or is he winging it? He always seems to know what he is doing and has enough confidence and conviction to convince us that he does. At times it doesn’t even seem like a fair fight. While Spade’s enemies are many, they ultimately are no match for him.
And his motivations are not always apparent. Is he working for his clients or looking out for himself? When his client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, offers him $200 to find her (nonexistent) sister, he later tells her that “we didn’t exactly believe your story . . . we believed your two hundred dollars.” And when the criminal Gutman questions Spade regarding whose interests he’s looking out for if it isn’t O’Shaughnessy or Cairo, Spade points his cigar at his own chest. “There’s me.” Spade’s amorality is certainly part of the appeal.
But Spade also has a code and he feels obligated to live up to it, even if it means turning in O’Shaughnessy to the authorities:
“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. It’s bad all around—bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere.”
Originally serialized in five parts in the popular pulp magazine Black Mask, The Maltese Falcon first appeared in the September 1929 issue and was an instant success. On Valentine’s Day, 1930, Knopf collected the parts and published them together as a novel for the first time. It has since been adapted for the silver screen, for radio, and for comics. There have been sequels, spinoffs, and parodies. Hammett wrote three more Sam Spade stories which were originally published in The American Magazine and Colliers and later published as A Man Called Spade and Other Stories in 1944 (and later included in the Hammett collection of short stories, Nightmare Town, published in 2000), and Spade was featured in several long-running radio series.
The Maltese Falcon, Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, are hired by a mysterious woman to follow a man named Thursby. When Archer is killed on the job, Spade, a suspect in his partner’s death and in Thursby’s, gets mixed up in a convoluted plot to find the elusive, eponymous bird, a jewel-encrusted statue reportedly worth a fortune. We are carried along by the rapid pace and the various wheelings and dealings as Spade plays the players against each other in his efforts to get a hold of the falcon.
However it is more than plot that makes The Maltese Falcon great. Hammett created many vivid, memorable characters. In addition to our courageous hero, colorful villains abound, including the leader of the gang, the gregarious and substantial Casper Gutman; the effeminate, sinister, and perfumed Joel Cairo; the inept and unpolished gunsel, Wilmer Cook; and the beautiful, but deadly femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Not to mention his secretary Effie Perine; his partner, Miles Archer; Archer’s widow, Iva; and the police detectives, Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy. These characters are now much copied and have spawned an entire industry of femme fatales and cheap gunsels.
In addition to the great characters in The Maltese Falcon, Hammett also had a way with words and littered the novel with abundant colorful descriptions and witty, street-smart dialogue. Spade is described as a “blond satan.” He refers to women as “sweetheart,” “angel,” “precious,” and “my own true love.” Today it comes off as dated and sexist, but more than a little cool.
When Joel Cairo says to Spade: “You always have a very smooth explanation ready,” Spade replies, “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?”
Referring to Wilmer Cook: “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.”
And Gutman’s line: “I couldn’t be any fonder of you if you were my own son; but—well, by Gad!—if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another—and there’s only one Maltese falcon.”
And when he’s going to turn Brigid over to the police for murder:
“I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means you’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”
Also, “I hope to Christ they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.”
And, of course, “I won’t play the sap for you.”
While The Maltese Falcon was not the first Hammett story to be turned into a motion picture (that honor, uncredited, goes to the Ben Hecht-scripted 1930 musical comedy/gangster melodrama, Roadhouse Nights, based on his first novel, the 1929 Red Harvest), John Huston’s first film as director, released in 1941 and starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, stands as the definitive and most famous film based on his writing. Some even consider it to be one of the greatest films of all times as well as the first film noir.
Interestingly, Huston’s 1941 classic was not the first time The Maltese Falcon had been filmed. It was, in fact, the third time that Warner Brothers had tackled the property, although it was the first time they had any success with it.
Roy Del Ruth was the first to film The Maltese Falcon in 1931. Starring Ricardo Cortez (a New Yorker of Austrian parents who changed his name to cash in on the Valentino craze) as Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly (not Brigid O’Shaughnessy), it is, on the whole, pretty loyal to the book and contains a lot of the dialogue from the novel (as does the 1941 version). As a pre-Code film, it had none of the restrictions of the later versions, and is, at times, rather racy. The film opens with an unidentified lover leaving Spade’s office, hiking up her stockings. Spade’s adulterous affair with his partner’s wife could be depicted and the homosexual relationship between Gutman and the gunsel is strongly implied. Wonderly (not O’Shaughnessy) is nearly naked in a scene where she takes a bath. And when Gutman accuses Wonderly of stealing $1,000, Spade has her strip down so that he can search her.
Cortez’s Spade is a toothy, smiling, cold-hearted gumshoe. He is a lady’s man and more than a bit sleazy. In one scene he inexplicably speaks Chinese to a Chinese witness to a murder. The only time he shows any emotion is when he turns in Miss Wonderly and, in a scene not in the book, when he visits her in prison. When Warner attempted to re-release the film in 1936, they were unable to do so due to the imposition of the restrictive Hays Code. Later it was renamed Dangerous Female for television to avoid anyone confusing it for the far superior version from 1941. Not a great film, though somewhat enjoyable, it fails to capture the magic of the book.
Played for laughs: Satan Met a Lady
This prompted Warner to hire William Dieterle to try it again under the title Satan Met a Lady in 1936, starring Warren William (as Ted Shane instead of Sam Spade) and Bette Davis (as Valerie Purvis). Lots of liberties were taken with the original story. Not only did Spade become Shane and O’Shaughnessy, Purvis, but Gutman’s gender was changed to female, becoming Madame Barabas, and the falcon became the horn of Roland from 9th century France. Played for laughs, the film was met with jeers by the critics and Bette Davis, riding on the accolades from the success of her previous film, The Petrified Forest, initially refused to report to the set, feeling insultingly demeaned by the assignment.
In 1941, John Huston, the son of famed actor Walter Huston, after working as a screenwriter for Warners and winning praise for his script of Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York and for Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra (the film that made Humphrey Bogart a star), was given the opportunity to write and direct The Maltese Falcon. Huston, in what is no doubt an apocryphal tale, is said to have given the novel to a secretary to transcribe the dialogue exactly as Hammett wrote it, and while the script is loyal to the book (albeit with less sex and cursing—and more smoking), it is very similar to the 1931 script. In addition, Huston blocked out each scene including camera angles, close-ups, and other details so was unusually prepared for the production of his first film as director.
Huston is also responsible for Spade’s immortal response to Detective Polhaus, lifting the falcon and asking, “Heavy. What is it?”
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon also benefited from its extraordinary cast. Not only did it feature Bogart in a star-turning role, but it also starred Mary Astor, whose personal affairs had recently been tabloid fodder following a public custody battle, as Brigid O’Shaughnessy; the Austrian-born Peter Lorre, famous as the child molester in Fritz Lang’s M, playing Joel Cairo; the formidable Sydney Greenstreet in his first screen appearance as the Fat Man, Kasper (here with a K for some reason) Gutman; and the great Elisha Cook, Jr. as the hotheaded gunsel, Wilmer Cook.
When George Raft turned down the role of Spade (he had the contractual authority to reject being in remakes), Huston offered it to his drinking buddy, Bogart, who was certainly no “blond Satan.” Bogart had been acting for 20 years on Broadway and in Hollywood. After playing a gangster in The Petrified Forest, first on the stage and then, in 1936, on the screen, he was typecast as a heavy in numerous Warner’s pictures including Dead End and Angels with Dirty Faces. But being cast as Spade changed everything. Bogart’s iconic and archetypal performance in the film, with his nervous tics and wise patter, is now practically inseparable from Spade and you can see similar traits in Bogart’s future roles in Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, and The Big Sleep, in which he plays Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, as well as in many other actors tackling the role of the cynical, world-weary detective.
A nice 3 DVD set of the three versions of The Maltese Falcon is available from Warner Home Video, and includes the 3 radio adaptations and a blooper reel.
In 1969, the famed King of the B’s, Roger Corman, directed Target: Harry, a film starring Vic Morrow and Suzanne Pleshette. Set in Monaco, Turkey, and Greece, it borrows much from the plot of The Maltese Falcon. Various baddies are after valuable British engraving plates that are in the possession of Harry, a charter pilot. Apparently Corman was aware of how bad it was so he used the pseudonym Harry Neill. These days, it is practically impossible to find.
In 1975, George Segal was tapped to played Sam Spade, Jr., in The Black Bird, a film directed by David Giler, in what is generally considered to be a weak comedy/sequel. In the film, Junior inherits his father’s agency, including his father’s secretary, Effie Perine, played by Lee Patrick who also portrayed the same character 34 years earlier. Elisha Cook, Jr. also reprises his role as Wilmer Cook.
The next year, TV’s Colombo, Peter Falk, portrayed Sam Diamond in the star-studded comic mystery, Murder by Death. Directed by Robert Moore and written by Neil Simon, this film, set in a country house, plays more as an Agatha Christie-type whodunit than a hard-boiled film noir. It features a lot of well-known British and American performers playing famous fictional sleuths, including David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston (based on Hammett’s other renowned creation, Nick and Nora Charles). Eileen Brennan plays Tess Skeffington, Diamond’s secretary.
Captain Picard, Private Eye
The Maltese Falcon has been ripe for parody and homage in many places, including Abbott and Costello’s recurring character on radio, Sam Shovel; Sam Diamond in The Addams Family; Sydney Street in The Avengers; Rowan and Martin’s horrible film, The Maltese Bippy; Sam Spayed in Garfield’s Babes and Bullets in which a beautiful dame asks the cat private eye “Are you Spayed?” and the voiceover narrator replies “I never know how to answer that question”; Star Trek: The Next Generation featured an episode called “The Big Goodbye,” in which Captain Picard gets trapped in a holodeck malfunction while playing the part of Dixon Hill, private eye, in a program re-creating the milieu of a Maltese Falcon-like novel; there is also the character Samantha Spade in Without a Trace; and, of course, Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir.
Sam Spade had a long and fruitful life on the radio, first in several adaptations of the novel and then from 1946 through 1951 in the long-running Adventures of Sam Spade.
In 1943, in episode 172 of Lux Radio Theatre on CBS radio, The Maltese Falcon was adapted for radio in an hour-long version. Edward G. Robinson, one of the biggest movie stars at Warner Brothers, was enlisted to provide the voice of Samuel Spade. Laird Cregar, an actor who weighed more than 300 pounds, played Gutman. Later that same year, in episode 162 of CBS’ The Screen Guild Theater, the original cast from Huston’s film was reunited for a condensed, half-hour version of the story. And in 1946, episode 15 of CBS’ Academy Award Theater brought Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet together again for another condensed radio production.
Duff as Spade and Tuttle as Perrine
Due to the popularity of Sam Spade, ABC began broadcasting The Adventures of Sam Spade in 1946 for 13 30-minute episodes starring Howard Duff as Spade and Lurene Tuttle as Effie Perrine. Its scriptwriters, Jason James and Bob Tallman, won an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama in 1947. Duff appeared as Spade in more than 200 episodes, even as the program moved from ABC to CBS and then to NBC. After being named in Red Channels: The Report of the Communist Influence in Radio and Television, Duff was replaced by Steve Dunn who performed in 24 more episodes from 1950 through 1951. Duff also played Spade in a few episodes of Suspense, including, in 1948, a 60-minute episode called “The Khandi Tooth Caper,” which is billed as a sequel to The Maltese Falcon in which Gutman is back (from the dead) as is Cairo, but with a new gunsel. It also includes a cameo by Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery who hosted Suspense also played Marlowe in film and on radio). Later in Duff’s career, from 1966 through 1969, he played Detective Sam Stone on television in ABC’s Felony Squad, a character influenced by Spade
In 2008, Blackstone Audio’s Hollywood’s Theater of the Ear released a 3.3 hour audiobook featuring the voices of Michael Madsen as Spade, Sandra Oh as O’Shaughnessy, and Edward Herrmann as Gutman. (Booklist‘s Joyce Sarick’s gave it a starred review.) It was nominated for a Grammy and won an Audie Award for Best Audiobook Adaptation. William Dufris read The Maltese Falcon in an unabridged version, available from Blackstone. Eric Meyers reads it for Naxos. In 2009, Tom Wilkinson portrayed Spade in a BBC Radio 7 production. Jane Lapotaire played O’Shaughnessy, Peter Vaughan (Game of Thrones) as Gutman, and Nikolas Grace as Joel Cairo.
In 1946, a 47-page adaptation of The Maltese Falcon appeared in comic-book form in Feature Books #48, by the David McKay Company. It was drawn by Rodlow Willard. While the comic book is incredibly rare and fairly valuable, it didn’t leave much of an impression on those who have seen it with artwork described as “wooden” and “underwhelming.” The cover isn’t bad, though.
Spade also frequently appeared in a single-page newspaper comic strip/advertisement trumpeting the benefits of Wildroot Cream-Oil, for grooming and dandruff prevention. The artwork was attribute to Golden Age comic artist, Lou Fine.
In addition, Hammett had some success launching a comic strip for King Features called Secret Agent X-9, originally drawn by Alex Raymond, who was famous for drawing Flash Gordon. It ran until 1996 and was spun off in film and on radio.
In the May 1, 2008 issue of Booklist, Keir Graff looked at Hammett’s literary legacy in an “Another Look at The Maltese Falcon.” In it, he connects its use of a priceless, historic artifact to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and its imitators. He also lists Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder in All the Flowers Are Dying, Andrew Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop trilogy, Martin Cruz Smith’s hard-boiled Gorky Park set in Russia, and Jim Nisbet’s San Francisco-based wrong-man thriller, The Syracuse Code, as direct descendants of Hammett’s Maltese Falcon.
Add to that the three-time Edgar Award winning Joe Gore’s Spade & Archer from 2009, which, as the subtitle indicates is The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. (Bill Ott gave it a starred review in Booklist.) In 1975, Gores wrote the novel Hammett which Wim Wenders filmed in the 1982 Francis Ford Coppola production, starring Frederic Forrest as Hammett (with Elisha Cook, Jr. as Eli the Taxi Driver). The screenplay was co-written by Ross Thomas.
You can see that Hammett and the Falcon’s influence is still very much with us and will no doubt be with us for a long time to come.
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Quoted material should be attributed to:
Keir Graff, Likely Stories (Booklist Online).