15. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930) 201 p.
This is the oldest book I’ve read so far this year, at 78 years of age. (The oldest thing I have ever read is still Oedipus Rex, which has a more impressive 2438 years under its belt.) Reading something from an entirely different era is always difficult; I think The War of the Worlds (1898) remains the only pre-WWII novel that I’ve really enjoyed.
The Maltese Falcon is one of those stories that’s dripping with cliches, and yet at the same time it isn’t, because it’s the story that invented those cliches in the first place. Sam Spade, hardboiled private eye in 1930s San Francisco, is embroiled in a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of a priceless artifact from the Crusades. There are swooning dames, murders on foggy nights, criminals discussing business over hard liquor, strangers hailing from the Orient and the Levant, and vital clues found cut from the shipping news. Perhaps I was just giving him the benefit of the doubt, but Hammett manages to make all of this reek with style, even to a 21st century mind that has been plastered with these genre tropes over and over again. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, or even a particularly great book, but I enjoyed reading it well enough even though it’s older than my grandparents, and that has to count for something.