The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 17 : Saturday Night | Summary



Spade goes to Pickwick Stage terminal and leaves the bird in the Parcel Room. He mails the check for the package to a San Francisco post office box number. He then goes to Brigid's hotel, where the door is opened by a teenage girl who appears to be drugged. She tells him she is Rhea Gutman, and as he holds her he feels a scratch on his hand. She is holding a three-inch pin. She opens her dressing gown and shows him thin red lines and tiny red dots crisscrossing her chest. She explains she made the marks with the pin to stay awake and that Brigid said Spade would come. She tells him Brigid was taken to 26 Ancho, Burlingame, by her father, Wilmer, and Cairo to "kill her." Spade tells her to stay awake until a doctor can come, but she cries, "No ... father ... kill me." He places Rhea on a bed and calls the hospital to come for her.

Spade gets a car and a driver to take him to Burlingame. They find the house and get the key from a neighbor, but the place is empty. He returns to the Alexandria and asks if the Gutmans are in. The clerk says no and that someone from the hospital had come about a sick girl but no girl was found.

Spade goes to Effie's house, and she tells him the police took her down to the Hall for questioning. She saw Wilmer standing in the hallway, but then he was gone. She confirms the dead man was Captain Jacobi. Spade goes home, and as he unlocks his door Brigid appears. She holds him, then they go up to his apartment. When he turns the light on Gutman, Wilmer, and Cairo are waiting for him, holding guns.


This chapter is noteworthy for its dramatic and complicated writing: there are twists and turns, false information, a woman hiding in the shadows, and men with guns lying in wait in a dark apartment. The plot twists keep coming as Hammett builds suspense and surprise toward the final revelation of truth and a sort of justice.

Gutman's daughter Rhea is drugged and scarred. The implication is that her sadistic father is the perpetrator. It's not clear if Gutman has a history of abuse or if he did this out of desperation because he is so consumed with finding the black bird. Gutman's soft "purring" voice and his conversational speaking style with Spade are in stark contrast to his ruthless behavior. His greed for money clearly means more to him than his own daughter, which makes him quite evil. He will reveal the same selfish brutality in the next chapter when he agrees to sacrifice Wilmer, whom he says he considers like a son to him, to protect himself. Rhea Gutman is not seen again in the novel, so her fate remains unknown.

Spade was diverted to Burlingame so that Gutman and the others can search his place for the falcon. Also Brigid's role in the whole charade is mysterious. It is her call to Spade in the previous chapter that sends him scurrying off to find her. Was she really in danger and then grabbed by someone? Or was she pretending to be in danger, making her complicit? If Brigid has broken her alliance with Spade to join with the others then it brings into question both her loyalty to Spade and her love for him. Is she using him to get the falcon, or is she forced to show allegiance to Gutman and the others to protect herself? Notice that when Spade arrives home Brigid is waiting for him. She doesn't appear to know the others are waiting for Spade in his apartment, and she is breathless and seemingly nervous when Spade appears.

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