Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Short Book Review

Joe Gores, Spade & Archer


If I were to commission an author to write a book specifically to appeal to my (non-machinery) fetishes, this one would hit close to the mark. Detective fiction writer Joe Gores' 2009 book Spade & Archer tells the back story of Dashiell Hammett's character Sam Spade from prior to the book (and the movie) The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is, of course, the book's central character, and the broad strokes follow his career as a private detective over three periods spanning from just after he leaves the employ of the Continental Detective Agency up to the arrival in Sam's office of Falcon's Brigid O'Shaughnessy. These three periods correspond to breaks in a particular case in which Spade (and later Spade and Archer) is involved.

The book was written with the permission of the Hammett estate (specifically, Hammett's daughter), and introduces us to all the characters made famous in the book and movie (including Lieutenant Dundy & Sergeant Polhaus, his secretary Effie Perrine and, of course, Miles Archer--and his wife Iva), and gives us some detail about where they've come from and how they made their initial acquaintances.

These elements do not guarantee a compelling book, of course (even if they guarantee a degree of interest), but Gores has his mentor's measure. The book is stylistically seamless with Hammett's original, the tone tough and hard-boiled and the plotting brisk. And he fills in these semi-familiar characters as though he were working from Hammett's own notes. Miles Archer was really an incidental character in the original, but here Gores gives him a personality and a chunk of the story; and he gives us Spade's opinion about the man, something that just didn't get much play before.

And it all works most satisfyingly. If you like crime fiction; if you love this period of history; if you like film noir, this is your book.


Jon said...

I'll have to get the book from you as I have listed The Maltese Falcon as one of my favorite movies. I really like that time period too. Actually, I like all books and movies from that period.

CyberKitten said...

I'll have to look out for it. Thanks!

More Film Noir book reviews from me in the next few months...