Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe . . . blunder through their books being bopped, “packing heat”, meeting shady dames, drinking too much hootch, with or without a Mickey Finn, and all that hooey.
In The Maltese Falcon, private eye Sam Spade and femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy look for a jeweled statue of a falcon that the Knights Templar of Malta sent to Charles of Spain in the 16th century. Not only is it valuable but it's somehow tied to the death of Spade's business partner. It's a fast-paced read, with lots of twists and wild goose chases, but ultimately it's the dialogue that makes it worth reading.
A few years ago my sister in San Francisco took Don Herron's Dashiell Hammett tour. Apparently Hammett used The Maltese Falcon to rewrite some Continental Op stories that he didn't like. Don Herron has also written a guidebook.
If you've read The Maltese Falcon already, check out Marissabidilla's theory that Rhea (the fat man's daughter) and Wilmer (the gunman) are the same person.