The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Spade and Polhaus meet for a lunch of pickled pig’s feet at a diner. Polhaus apologizes for Dundy punching him and informs Spade that they have substantial evidence linking Thursby with Archer’s murder. Specifically, they found a witness from Thursby’s hotel who claimed that the gun that had fired the fatal bullet was Thursby’s. Polhaus tells Spade that Thursby had a long history working as a gunman and bodyguard in the mob. Most recently, he worked for Dixie Monahan, a mobster who was in deep gambling debts to other mobsters
While the book is critical of the failures of authority, it does not caricaturize all police officers as arrogant. In contrast to Dundy’s brash arrogance, Polhaus is a considerate and helpful police officer who provides Spade inside information into the murder case. Polhaus seems to care primarily about solving crimes, and knows that Spade is able to do that.
Themes
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
After talking with Polhaus, Spade meets District Attorney Bryan at the man’s office. Bryan asks Spade for his opinion on who killed Thursby as well as why Archer was following Thursby. Not wanting to breach his client’s confidentiality, Spade refuses to tell Bryan anything. Bryan tries to convince Spade that his client was working for Dixie Monahan’s debt-holders, who employed Archer to follow Thursby so that he would unknowingly lead them to Dixie.
In contrast to Polhaus, Bryan is an authority figure with almost no accurate info (neither of them even know about Gutman or the falcon) so they concoct unfounded theories. In this way, it seems more important to the authorities that they find any answer to the mysteries surroundings the murders rather than to do the work to find the right answer.
Themes
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Spade ridicules Bryan’s theory as completely ungrounded, telling Bryan that the only way he’ll catch the murderer is if the police stay out of the case and let Spade do his work. Spade storms out but not before calling Bryan and every person on the government payroll a crackpot.
Spade’s disgust at the authorities’ incompetence reveals itself in full here. Since Spade calls everyone in government a “crackpot,” this scene reveals his contempt for the ineffectiveness of the authorities in general.
Themes
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon