The Falcon’s Malteser

The Falcon's Malteser

For over thirty years, Anthony Horowitz has enjoyed a highly successful career as a children’s author. Working across a number of genres, he has created such well-loved series as the Alex Rider novels, Groosham Grange and The Power of Five. However, for the purpose of today’s review we’re going to be looking at one of his earliest novels, featuring the first case of Tim Diamond.

The Falcon’s Malteser was originally published in 1986 but has been released many times since then. It is the first novel of the Diamond Brothers series and was subsequently followed by Public Enemy Number Two (1987), South By South East (1991), Three of Diamonds (2004) (which collected the stories The Blurred Man, The French Confection and I Know What You Did Last Wednesday) and The Greek Who Stole Christmas (2008). The title of the novel is a spoof of The Maltese Falcon, the famous 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett.

The novel is a comic mystery story that focuses on the Tim Diamond (real name: Herbert Timothy Simple), a somewhat inept young man who is determined to make his name as a private detective, despite the fact that he has no money and lives with his thirteen year old brother (Nick) in small flat above a supermarket in West London.

As Nick wonders how they will survive on their last £2.37, a man by the name of Johnny Naples turns up on their doorstep asking to hire them. He wants them to keep a parcel safe for him until he returns to collect it and offers to pay them handsomely for their trouble. Overjoyed by their sudden windfall, the two boys head out to celebrate but return later that day to find that their office has been ransacked. Someone evidently wants the parcel badly, but when the Diamond Brothers open it they find that it only contains a box of maltesers.

Confused, the brothers head out to find their client but arrive at his hotel moments before he is shot dead. It quickly transpires that a criminal known as the Falcon has recently passed away and Johnny Naples could very well have been the only person to know where he had hidden his vast fortune of diamonds. Realising that the maltesers must somehow be the key to this treasure, Nick and Tim enter into a race against to clock to recover the diamonds before another gangster can discover them and take over the Falcon’s mantel as a new international crime lord.

The Falcon’s Malteser is one of those novels that is just fun to read. It is a relatively short book, totalling just over 200 pages, and contains all of the fast paced action that one would expect from a crime novel. The story neatly spoofs ‘30s detective stories, particularly those featuring Sam Spade, and takes much of its humour from the fact that Tim Diamond is completely incapable of emulating a hard-boiled detective. While never falling to Clouseau levels of slap-stick, Tim’s attempts to be gritty are frequently scuppered by his weak constitution and tendency to faint during violent situations.

Although some of the references to classic detective stories will probably be lost on modern readers, it does not make the novel any less of an amusing read. The story is told as a first person narrative from the perspective of Nick and is peppered with dry wit. Unlike his brother, Nick is sharp as a tack and quick to react whenever anyone is in danger. It is clear from very early on in the story that while Tim tries his hardest to be Sam Spade, Nick possesses all of the qualities of a film noir detective and is only hindered in his investigations by the fact that no one takes him seriously. In this, Nick is a character that both children and young teens alike can easily warm to as every one of them has had a time in their life when their opinion has been doubted purely because adults don’t believe that they have the experience to back up their assertions.

The most surprising thing about The Falcon’s Malteser is that the plot is far more solid than one would imagine. At a glance the story seems ludicrous – an assortment of gangsters and hitmen battling across London to steal a box of maltesers – but it actually does round up into sound and perfectly reasonable conclusion. Although I read through the early chapters of the novel expecting the story to grow increasingly silly, I was impressed by how gripping the novel was. It takes its audience very seriously, offering clues throughout the tale that tie neatly together over the last couple of chapters, leaving no loose ends.

However, as tidy as the novel is, it is far from being high fiction. While The Falcon’s Malteser provides a nice light read for a rainy day, it can’t ever be described as being deep or engrossing. The story is aimed for a slightly younger audience than Horowitz’s more popular Alex Rider series and so keeps things very clean and simple – progressing swiftly from one plot point to another without wasting too much time on exposition or characterisation.

Because of this, most of the characters receive little development. The criminal known as the Fat Man is a one-note joke because he is actually incredibly thin. Beyond this, there is nothing of interest about the character. Similarly Gott and Himmell, the two German hitmen, are vaguely hinted to be in a gay relationship with one another but this is swiftly brushed over as the two men seem to show little emotional attachment to each other, even when in mortal danger.

The lack of emotion and empathy that the characters show within the story is probably the thing that I find most frustrating. As a reader, I really want to get to know the characters in order for me to like them and yet the only character I feel any kind of attachment towards is Tim. Even Nick, the main character, is possibly the most unrealistic thirteen year old boy in children’s literature.

I don’t know if there is a word to describe a male Mary Sue but if there is, it is Nick Simple. He shows no fear when gangsters are threatening to drown him in the Thames and walks out of explosions without even batting an eyelid. In many of the more exciting sequences of the novel, he reads more like a Bruce Willis action hero than a school boy. A little flash of fear or concern for his own safety now and then would have gone a long way towards making me warm to him as a protagonist.

So what do I think of the novel as a whole? Well, for a light read it’s a lot of fun and you could do a lot worse. Horowitz clearly has a great knowledge of the subject that he is spoofing and captures the feel of a ‘30’s detective story very well, while at the same time filling it with a lot of neat little asides that will put a smile on any reader’s face. However, beyond this the novel seems to fall a little flat. While the story is highly memorable, its characters are far less so and I was left feeling disappointed that the same care that Horowitz took in crafting his plot was not extended to the characters that populated it.

The Falcon’s Malteser can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: Stormbreaker | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Public Enemy Number Two | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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