Recently, I started offering a new type of program that combines literature and forensic science. The program came about as part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Big Read” which encourages communities to engage a work of literature in unique ways. One of the books from the NEA’s list is Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon. With nearly a year to prepare for Poughkeepsie’s Big Read program, I was asked to do a program that brought forensic science to this famous story. I decided that a simple analysis of the case in the book/movie would be cold, so I chose to create “the next chapter.”
In my program, attendees and I enter the world of Sam Spade by imagining that a descendant of one of Hammett’s characters comes to visit me and asks for help in exonerating her grandmother’s sister in a crime from the 1920s. Using stills from the 1941 film as “police photographs,” we delve into the case, but we do more than point out the areas where forensic science has changed since that time. We also look at the murky morality and ethics of the quintessential early 20th century detective and explore how human intuition and deductive reasoning still occupy a central role in solving crimes.
I have added slides of title pages of the historical works that Casper Gutman mentions when reciting the history of the black bird, and I pepper the program with pieces of forensic evidence that I have created to fit into the story. There are even a few surprises for devoted fans of Dashiell Hammett or Humphrey Bogart.
This 1.5 to 2 hour program is great for libraries and is targeted toward adults and high school students who have read/watched The Maltese Falcon. In Poughkeepsie, this program was conducted twice--once for nearly 200 high students and once for adults. Professor Angela Laflen of Marist College wrote of these programs:
“I greatly appreciate your work researching and presenting “Sam Spade Meets CSI: The Maltese Falcon Re-examined.” Your presentation was incredibly thorough and engaging, and I was impressed with your ability to present this material to two such different audiences. Your presentation brought both the novel and the subject of forensic science to life for the audience, and contributed greatly to the program offerings for the 2012 Poughkeepsie Public Library District Big Read.”
While this program was part of the Big Read, it is perfectly suitable as a stand-alone program.
If you would like information on booking this program, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.