Joe Gores

"Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon"

(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew FEB 14, 2009)

"It was thirteen minutes short of midnight. Drizzle glinted through the wind-danced lights on the edge of the Tacoma Municipal Dock. A man a few years shy of thirty stood in a narrow aisle between two tall stacks of crated cargo, almost invisible in a black hooded rain slicker. He had a long bony jaw, a flexible mouth, a jutting chin. His nose was hooked. He was six feet tall, with broad, steeply sloping shoulders..."

Spade & Archer by Joe Gores

In the thoroughly entertaining Spade & Archer, the title characters brassily bandy about "booze, bribes, and biddies" in talk of field expenses. They could just as well talk "bullion, bimbos, and burglars" in a bull session about their investigative work. Or "treachery, tricks, and treasure." In a string of cases involving stolen British gold, grisly murders, union breaking, ship stowaways, bank fraud, the Bohemian Club, Chinese legends and nationalists, adultery, bootlegging, and an elusive criminal mastermind, this atmospheric and suspenseful novel touches down at three different times during eight years of Sam Spade investigations in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Joe Gores' prequel to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon delivers pitch-perfect 1920s detective noir. As one reads one can almost see a young Humphrey Bogart-like Samuel Spade as he hitches his hip onto secretary Effie Perine's desk and "sweetheart's" her. Their introduction to one another is a don't-miss moment. The Maltese Falcon cops, Dundy and Polhaus, also play their lived-in roles in Spade & Archer, as does Spade's lawyer, Sid Wise, and it is a delight to see their histories fleshed out and them coming "alive" again in another work of literature.

Naturally Spade's back story with Miles and Iva Archer permeates Gores' novel, and the author convincingly sets up the tensions manipulating this percolating, complicated troika. Sam (who is 27 when the tale begins) possesses brains, toughness, and survivor instincts. Freewheeling Miles, not so much, though he is, in Spade's estimation, "a good detective." And seemingly fickle Iva just doesn't want to be without a man in her bed. If anything in Spade & Archer is underdeveloped it is the Archer arc. One hankers for bigger helpings of these two very different private eyes to understand their dynamic and what leads to events in Hammett's "sequel." Approaching the conclusion of Spade & Archer, one may wonder if some pages have been left out as other characters gather and both Iva and Miles are conspicuously absent. However, the book's final exchange between Spade and Effie provides felicitous and entirely justified cover. Still, the Archers could arguably have played more prominent roles in this novel.

Spade & Archer's crystal clear prose vividly recreates hard-boiled Sam Spade's ever foggy San Francisco. The old days without a Golden Gate, when a phone call set you back a nickel and a cup of coffee a dime, shimmer. It's a time when modern political correctness, social safety nets, and sweeping civil rights hadn't been dreamed up yet. It places us beside men in worsted wool suits who smoke constantly, drive Model Ts, and live in a less crowded society rife with dangers specific to its time.

As a former private detective himself, Gores' experience beefs up the muscularity of the novel's plentiful detective work and also injects the complex cases Spade solves with a factual, down-to-earth credibility.

Spade & Archer is a practically perfect novel that confidently creates a whole greater than its parts out of many memorable characters and ingenious plots Hammett might even have jealously coveted. This book should take its place beside The Maltese Falcon as unimpeachable Spade lore, and classic tough-guy detective fiction. After all, who doesn't love cinematic Bogart/Spade dialogue like this:

"Where's the girl, Sam?"

The tension went out of Spade. "I've got her stashed."

"Gimme her name so we can check her out," said Dundy.

"....Go out and find her yourself. I'm not stopping you."

  • Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Spade & Archer at RandomHouse



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About the Author:

Joe GoresJoe Gores was born in 1931 and he served in the U.S. Army, writing biographies of generals at the Pentagon. He was educated at the University of Notre Dame and Stanford, and spent twelve years as a San Francisco private investigator. The author of dozens of novels, screenplays, and television scripts, he has won three Edgar Allan Poe Awards and Japan's Maltese Falcon Award.

Gores lives in northern California.

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