Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Ever wonder what legendary private detective Sam Spade was up to in San Francisco before he got involved in the Maltese Falcon caper? Well, veteran mystery/crime writer Joe Gores brings us up to date quite nicely in SPADE & ARCHER (2009), the prequel to Dashiell Hammett's famous novel THE MALTESE FALCON (1929), which, of course, was later filmed in 1941 by John Huston (his feature film directorial debut) with a cast featuring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. 

SPADE & ARCHER begins in 1921 with Spade working as an operator (or "op") for the Continental Detective Agency in Seattle. He leaves the agency and heads for San Francisco where he opens an office as a private detective. He hires a secretary, Effie Perine and starts solving mysteries. The book is divided into three parts, spread over a period of seven years (1921-1928). Each part deals with a separate case but all three crimes are linked by a mysterious master criminal that Spade doesn't bring to justice until the end of the book. 

Gores does a good job of capturing Hammett's terse, stripped-to-the-bone prose style. There's not an ounce of fat on this narrative. Gores brings 1920s San Francisco to life with a colorful cast of characters that includes sympathetic cop Tom Polhaus and ball-buster supreme, Dundy.  Miles Archer doesn't join the firm until the third act. He helps Spade on a case but also demonstrates that he's a crooked, lazy detective. But Spade's no saint. He's screwing Ava, Archer's wife, every chance he gets. 

History doesn't record how Sam Spade met his death but I'm willing to bet it wasn't from old age. If a crook didn't get him with a bullet or a knife, Spade must have surely died from either the copious amounts of bootleg booze he imbibes or the countless filterless hand-rolled cigarettes he relentlessly makes and smokes throughout the book. 

SPADE & ARCHER is a good, fast paced detective novel that does what it's supposed to do, which is fill us on Spade's back story while setting the stage for THE MALTESE FALCON. In fact, the last paragraph of the book, is a paraphrase of the first paragraph of Hammett's novel. 


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