“Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab. San Francisco’s night-fog, thin, clammy, and penetrant, blurred the street. A few yards from where Spade had dismissed the taxicab a small group of men stood looking up an alley. Two women stood with a man on the other side of Bush Street, looking at the alley. There were faces at the windows.”1
Dashiell Hammett’s (1894-1961) The Maltese Falcon (1930) follows San Francisco private investigator Sam Spade on the case of the elusive Falcon statue. A murdered partner, a legend of a jewel encrusted bird, a femme fatale, and a hero that must remain one step ahead of the game are what keep the plot moving. Hammett uses the city as another character creating an ominous world where any apartment holds a dead body and lurking in the fog are loaded guns.
Originally published as a Black Mask magazine serial this novel is often cited as the first in the hard-boiled detective genre. Spade is also called the archetypal detective. Hammett worked as a Pinkerton private detective for seven years before becoming a writer. His other works include The Thin Man (1934), The Dain Curse (1929), Red Harvest (1929), and The Glass Key (1931). Much of Hammett’s work has been adapted into film and television and radio. The most famous adaptation being the 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart.
In 1847 Jasper O’Farrell was commissioned to map the city of San Francisco. Supposedly, a sailor using the name JP Bush was hired to assist O’Farrell in the survey. For his help, O’Farrell named Bush Street after the sailor. Where Bush and Stockton streets intersect is where a section of Bush Street is a bridge over the south end of the Stockton Street tunnel (and what the text means by “Where Bush ROOFED Stockton”). The tunnel opened in 1914 and was the first major tunnel in San Francisco. It connects the city’s business district with Chinatown. San Francisco has the oldest Chinatown in North American and also one of the largest Chinese communities outside of Asia.
1Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. 1930. New York, NY: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard-Random House, 1992. 12. Print.
Ryan McKinley is from Honolulu, Hawai`i. He is currently a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Fiction Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California. Ryan loves a good mystery, listening to the world around him, and writing detective fiction.
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