I picked this classic book up after it was recommended by someone on the website Quora. I am considering someday writing a novel set in 1938 San Francisco, and because this one is in San Francisco basically in that era, it seemed appropriate. And I did get exposure to that era and location. What I didn’t plan on was a total lesson the art of writing a suspense novel. I can now say that anyone who ever plans writing a suspense novel should include this book as required reading. Here’s why:
1. Viewpoint. Most novels today (including my own) are written either in first person or in third person with internal dialogue. This one is written in third person, but with only an external viewpoint, no internal dialogue. At first glance, you might think that would be a disadvantage, because it would prevent readers from identifying with the main character. But what it does accomplish is allowing the reader to be continually surprised by what happens next. The main character, the infamous Sam Spade, comes across as someone who could end up being a hero or a villain, which makes for some very interesting reading.
2. Characterization. From the very first paragraph, the reader knows this is not your typical novel with the gorgeous hero and heroine. OK, the heroine is gorgeous, but the hero is far from beautiful. What he is is crafty, street savvy, and three steps ahead of everyone else in the story. The other characters are colorful and entertaining as well. More interesting reading.
3. Dialogue. This is the main reason I wanted to read this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. The dialogue is credible, faithful to the era (the original version was written in 1929), and still fun. Here’s an example: apparently publishers were a little more hesitant to publish books with profanity in them. How does he handle this? The villain, an overly obese man named Gutman (great name!) says “By Gad!” which gets the point across without offending those of us who don’t take God’s name in vain. Here’s another: A teenager is shadowing Sam Spade. When he confronts the teenager, the book says: “He responded with a verb, followed by the word ‘you’. Colorful. And it gets the point across.
4. Description. Wonderful description, and written with a panache that you don’t see much anymore.
5. Plotting. I won’t give you the ending, but even I was surprised with how it all panned out. And I love to be surprised in what I read.
Most people know this book because of the great movie starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Charles Laughton (which I will be watching in the next few days). But those of who prefer the book to the movie won’t go wrong by reading this book. It’s not long, but there is a great deal to take away from this one.
As I said earlier, it’s a must read for anyone who wants to write suspense. I give it five out of a possible five stars.