Joe Gores - Spade and Archer (4 stars)

Joe Gores - Spade and Archer

(Orion)

It’s a tall order writing a prequel to one of the greatest American hardboiled crime novels. But if anyone was going to pull off a forerunner to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon it was Joe Gores, like his predecessor, a war veteran, former private eye and celebrated crime writer. And then there’s Gores’ bio-fictional book Hammett, which was made into a film by Wim Wenders.

Spade and Archer opens in 1921 (just as Sam is setting up his own detective agency) and closes in 1928, shortly before the black bird makes its appearance. In those seven years we learn about Spade’s service in WWI, how Miles Archer stole his girl and then became his partner, the daily grind of his sleazy profession; in short, how Spade became the ruthless dick of the Falcon case. Gores makes a good stab of aping Hammett’s pared-down writing style and he peppers his pleasingly convoluted plot with plenty of knowing literary and biographical references.

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