The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 15 : Every Crackpot | Summary

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Summary

Spade has lunch with Polhaus, who confirms that Thursby shot Miles because his gun matched the bullet found in Miles's body. Polhaus provides some background information on Thursby: he was the bodyguard of a big mob boss. Polhaus also says that they did not keep Cairo at the police station all night. They questioned him, and he left. Spade is still upset with the way Dundy pressured him about Miles's death. Polhaus tells him to "grow up" and get over it: "You came out on top." He admits Dundy never really thought Spade murdered Miles anyway. Polhaus asks Spade not to mention their conversation to the DA, whom Spade plans to see that afternoon. Spade then goes to DA Bryan's office, where they are joined by two other men, Thomas and Healy. Bryan asks Spade who killed Thursby because Bryan theorizes that the person who asked Miles to follow Thursby also killed Thursby. Spade disagrees. Bryan then suggests other scenarios, but none of them is correct.

Analysis

Knowledge is a commodity that is always being negotiated and traded in The Maltese Falcon. Spade has an interesting relationship with the police and the district attorney. He is both friendly with them and tight lipped, common characteristics of the hard-boiled detective, who is a solitary observer, taking in the big picture from the sidelines. Spade is especially friendly with Polhaus, but their relationship can also be seen as self-serving. The two men share information that can help them in their work, but it also enables them to keep certain information hidden to give themselves an advantage. When Spade visits Bryan, the DA, for example, Spade says nothing about Polhaus's revelation to him that Thursby killed Miles.

The police are not any closer to solving the two murders, and the scenarios they offer are far off the mark, which makes Spade look superior to them. The most useful thing Bryan has to say is about how hard it is to know what is true or false. He describes how a client could come to Spade with a "completely false story." How would Spade "tell what was behind it," or that it "wasn't an ordinary piece of detective work"? He implies that Spade could make himself "an accomplice" to a crime by "concealing [his] knowledge ... or information that would lead to [the criminal's] apprehension." This is, in fact, very similar to Spade's situation regarding Brigid, Cairo, and the Maltese falcon rather than Thursby's murder, but the police don't know it. The question remains: How much does Spade know about that situation?

Spade knows Thursby's murder is not related to the mob, and he has kept Brigid's role a secret. He is also protecting Brigid as she is the one who asked Miles to follow Thursby though she is not Thursby's murderer. How much Spade actually knows about Brigid and her involvement in the murders is unclear at this point. It will be revealed, however, in the final chapter.

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