Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club


by Dashiell Hammett

Published in 1930, The Maltese Falcon is gritty, gripping noir at its best. As far as detective stories go, this one’s a game changer.

Detective Sam Spade’s cool, cynical nature turned him into one of the most memorable characters in literature and film, most notably the 1941 release starring Humphrey Bogart. Both the book and the movie are stunners.

Read: Buy it used or new on Amazon. (Read time: ~4 hours)

Reflect: Check out the conversation starters below.

Weigh In: Share your thoughts using the form below!

The Maltese Falcon - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast and Book Club

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The Maltese Falcon: Share Your Thoughts

Tell us what you think about the book, and we may share your thoughts in our next episode and send you a fabulous sticker! (It really is a pretty awesome sticker.)

The Maltese Falcon - Tea Tonic and Toxin Podcast
Dashiell Hammett - Tea Tonic and Toxin Podcast
The Maltese Falcon - Tea Tonic and Toxin Podcast

The Maltese Falcon: Food for Thought

WRITING STYLE + NOIR MYSTERY: Spade’s gruff “matter of fact” voice lacks any sign of emotion and seems hyper-masculine, modern, and American. The Maltese Falcon’s mystery at the center of the story – how is it different from prior (pre-1929) mystery styles? Does it hold up? Do Hammett’s writing craft, methods, and tricks work? 

SANITARIUMS, SAN QUENTIN & SAN FRANCISCO: Spade tells Brigid, “Most things in San Francisco can be bought, or taken.” (Ch.6) How important is the novel’s setting in The Maltese Falcon?

“Cold steamy air blew in through two open windows, bringing with it half a dozen times a minute the Alcatraz foghorn’s dull moaning. A tinny alarm-clock, insecurely mounted on a corner of Duke’s Celebrated Criminal Cases of America—face down on the table—held its hands at five minutes past two.” (Ch.2)

“This is my city and my game. I could manage to land on my feet—sure—this time, but the next time I tried to put over a fast one they’d stop me so fast I’d swallow my teeth. Hell with that. You birds’ll be in New York or Constantinople or some place else. I’m in business here.” (Ch.18)

SAM SPADE: He’s 6’ tall and “looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.” What’s his moral code? Is it hard (impossible?) to have one in so violent a world as the one in The Maltese Falcon? In Ch.12, he says he’s “no damned good.” Is that true? Is he a hero? Anti-hero?


“It’s tough, him getting it like that. Miles had his faults same as the rest of us, but I guess he must’ve had some good points too.” [Tom Polhaus speaking]

“I guess so,” Spade agreed in a tone that was utterly meaningless ….” (Ch.2)


“Have the Spade & Archer taken off the door and Samuel Spade put on.” (Ch.3)


“[You] paid us more than if you’d been telling the truth,” [Spade] explained [to Brigid] blandly, “and enough more to make it all right.” (Ch.4)


Spade stopped pacing the floor. He put his hands on his hips and glared at the girl. He addressed her in a loud savage voice: “Nobody followed her. Do you think I’m a God-damned schoolboy? I made sure of it before I put her in the cab, I rode a dozen blocks with her to be more sure, and I checked her another half-dozen blocks after I got out.”

“Well, but—”

“But she didn’t get there. You’ve told me that. I believe it. Do you think I think she did get there?”

Effie Perine sniffed. “You certainly act like a God-damned schoolboy,” she said.

Spade made a harsh noise in his throat and went to the corridor-door. “I’m going out and find her if I have to dig up sewers,” he said. “Stay here till I’m back or you hear from me. For Christ’s sake let’s do something right.”

He went out, walked half the distance to the elevators, and retraced his steps. Effie Perine was sitting at her desk when he opened the door. He said: “You ought to know better than to pay any attention to me when I talk like that.”

“If you think I pay any attention to you you’re crazy,” she replied, “only”—she crossed her arms and felt her shoulders, and her mouth twitched uncertainly—”I won’t be able to wear an evening gown for two weeks, you big brute.”

He grinned humbly, said, “I’m no damned good, darling,” made an exaggerated bow, and went out again. (Ch.12)


GREED: Most everyone’s a mercenary in The Maltese Falcon – making money at the expense of ethics. The novel was written during the Great Depression (Aug. 1929-1941). How might that have factored into the obsessive, unfettered green in the story?

In Ch.13, Gutman tells the story of the Maltese falcon. It’s a story of human greed. The Order is “rolling in wealth” from the ruthless amassing of loot they accumulated during the Holy Wars. The Maltese falcon statuette arose out of this history of plundered treasure and becomes the ultimate symbol of greed from Malta, Gozo, and Tripoli to Spain, Algiers, Sicily, Turin, Naples, Paris, Constantinople, Hong Kong, San Francisco …

Gutman says Wilmer is practically his own “flesh and blood”: “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.” (Ch.19)

GENDER AND SEXUALITY: Let’s talk about Brigid, Effie, Iva Archer, and Rhea Gutman. How different are their personalities and motivations? Is The Maltese Falcon/Hammett/the narrator misogynistic? And how about the portrayal of Joel Cairo? Is The Maltese Falcon/Hammett/the narrator homophobic?


“I haven’t lived a good life,” [Brigid] cried. “I’ve been bad—worse than you could know—but I’m not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I’m not all bad, don’t you? You can see that, can’t you? Then can’t you trust me a little? Oh, I’m so alone and afraid, and I’ve got nobody to help me if you won’t help me. I know I’ve no right to ask you to trust me if I won’t trust you. I do trust you, but I can’t tell you. … You’re strong, you’re resourceful, you’re brave. You can spare me some of that strength and resourcefulness and courage, surely. … Be generous, Mr. Spade. You can help me. Help me.”

Spade, who had held his breath through much of this speech, now emptied his lungs with a long sighing exhalation between pursed lips and said: “You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.’” (Ch.4)

ALL ABOUT EFFIE: Effie is the only female character in The Maltese Falcon who doesn’t use her femininity to manipulate and deceive. She also calls Sam on his crap. Her sensible nature allows Spade to trust her judgment. He often appeals to her “woman’s intuition” for advice.

Effie supports Brigid but thinks Iva is a louse. Why?

[Effie] glared at him between tightened lids. “Sam Spade,” she said, “you’re the most contemptible man God ever made when you want to be. Because she did something without confiding in you you’d sit here and do nothing when you know she’s in danger …”

Spade’s face flushed. He said stubbornly: “She’s pretty capable of taking care of herself and she knows where to come for help when she thinks she needs it, and when it suits her.”

“That’s spite,” the girl cried, “and that’s all it is! You’re sore because she did something on her own hook, without telling you. Why shouldn’t she? You’re not so damned honest, and you haven’t been so much on the level with her, that she should trust you completely.”

Spade said: “That’s enough of that.”

His tone brought a brief uneasy glint into her hot eyes, but she tossed her head and the glint vanished. Her mouth was drawn taut and small. She said: “If you don’t go down there this very minute, Sam, I will and I’ll take the police down there.” Her voice trembled, broke, and was thin and wailing. “Oh, Sam, go!”

He stood up cursing her. Then he said: “Christ! It’ll be easier on my head than sitting here listening to you squawk.” He looked at his watch. “You might as well lock up and go home.”

She said: “I won’t. I’m going to wait right here till you come back.”

He said, “Do as you damned please,” put his hat on, flinched, took it off, and went out carrying it in his hand. (Ch.16)

Effie also makes a pretty swell detective in The Maltese Falcon:

Effie Perine bit her lip, wrinkled her forehead, and, bending over for a better view of his face, asked: “Do you suppose she could have killed him?”

Spade sat up straight and took his arm from her waist. He smiled at her. His smile held nothing but amusement. He took out his lighter, snapped on the flame, and applied it to the end of his cigarette. “You’re an angel,” he said tenderly through smoke, “a nice rattle-brained angel.”

She smiled a bit wryly. “Oh, am I? Suppose I told you that your Iva hadn’t been home many minutes when I arrived to break the news at three o’clock this morning?”

“Are you telling me?” he asked. His eyes had become alert though his mouth continued to smile.

“She kept me waiting at the door while she undressed or finished undressing. I saw her clothes where she had dumped them on a chair. Her hat and coat were underneath. Her singlet, on top, was still warm. She said she had been asleep, but she hadn’t. She had wrinkled up the bed, but the wrinkles weren’t mashed down.”

Spade took the girl’s hand and patted it. “You’re a detective, darling, but”—he shook his head—”she didn’t kill him.” (Ch.3)

THE MALTESE FALCON (MOVIE): What aligns with the book? What doesn’t? Why?

THAT ENDING: Spade tried to turn the thugs against each other – much like the Continental Op from Red Harvest. In the end, Spade sees right through Brigid. Like the Op, nothing escapes his attention. How do you interpret Spade’s actions in the final scene? What would you have done? Ultimately, is The Maltese Falcon optimistic, fatalist, existential, pragmatic?

Does the Op get his reckoning? Does Spade get his? How do you interpret the last scene between Spade and Effie? And would you rather face the Old Man or Effie?

THE FLITCRAFT PARABLE: Is the search for meaning futile in our chaotic, unpredictable, morally ambiguous world? Here’s the story Spade tells Brigid. Back in 1922, a man named Flitcraft left his real estate office in Tacoma and never returned. In 1927, Mrs. Flitcraft came to the detective agency where Spade was then working, claiming someone had seen a man in Spokane that looked like her husband. Spade checked it out, and sure enough the man was Flitcraft. Going by the name Charles Pierce, Flitcraft had a car business, a wife, and a baby son. Flitcraft explained to Spade that one day he was walking down the sidewalk when a beam fell from a construction site and almost killed him. Though he wasn’t seriously injured, the incident made him realize that we can die at random at any time. “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.” He decided to change his own life at random by simply disappearing. After drifting around the country for several years, he settled in Spokane and got married. Spade is fascinated by the fact that Flitcraft’s new life wasn’t that different from his previous life. “He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.” (Ch.7)

About Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller from the 19th and 20th centuries. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolved.


Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

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