three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Joe Gores
user_rating: 
0

The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon

A-Spade & ArcherA three-time Edgar Award winner and author of the out-of-print historical novel Hammett, Joe Gores turns back the pages on the quintessential detective yarn, The Maltese Falcon, and the character that epitomizes "hard boiled": Sam Spade.

The Story: When Sam Spade hung out his shingle in San Francisco, the Bay City hadn’t caught the scent of the depression to come. The high times were good for business, and it didn’t take long for Spade to sniff out the string of cases—and ample opportunities for trouble—that provide the narrative of Spade & Archer. This prequel is much more than a coming-of-age story; it’s a rip-roaring foundation myth filled with bootlegging, dames, foggy nights in Chinatown, seamy villains, and McGuffins-a-plenty—all of which set the stage for the classic potboiler The Maltese Falcon.
Knopf. 337 pages. $24. ISBN: 0307264645

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A prequel to The Maltese Falcon (1929)? Are you nuts? I mean, that book is the quintessential hard-boiled thriller with its taut, tough prose, its almost ritualistic Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest mayhem, its dark alleys and obsessed crooks … Well, Joe Gores has actually pulled it off." Sam Coale

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The brutally honest Hammett later called The Maltese Falcon ‘too manufactured,’ but Gores’ Spade & Archer seems neither copycat nor contrived. It engages and flows with creepy atmosphere, crisp dialogue and multiple plots, one drawn from Hammett’s Pinkerton days, spinning like plates on poles." Jane Sumner

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"With an academic’s meticulous grasp of the original hints left by Hammett and a pulp writer’s predilection for narrative propulsion, Gores knits together a clever and appropriate back story for the iconic detective that makes for a nifty period potboiler all on its own." Clayton Moore

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Gores delivers the streets gritty, the action hard-boiled and the feel of late-night mist seeping into your bones. His rhythmic language, the poetic yet staccato-like dialogue, the one-liners are in true Maltese Falcon style. Gores gets it pitch perfect." Cara Black

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Once in a while, a line of Gores’ staccato poetry thrills like a jolt of Hammett. … Spade and Archer amounts to a fine re-imagining, and a relief from the overworked tales of teenage heroes, wielding techno gadgets, saving the world." Rollie Welch

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Eighty years later, Spade & Archer comes within admirable distance of a utopian prequel that, paraphrasing one of the novel’s villains, gets to take Sam Spade apart and see what makes him tick. … The net effect is uneven, but never less than entertaining." Sarah Weinman

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Gores is pushing it when he has Sam Spade allude to George Sand, and it’s hard to believe that in 1925 Spade would be reading The Great Gatsby—which had just been published—or whistling Louis Armstrong’s newly recorded ‘Gut Bucket Blues.’ How does a working detective (who, as far as we know, doesn’t own a radio or a phonograph) find time to keep up?" David Gates

Critical Summary

Nearly all critics begin their reviews with one, head-scratching question: Why? The pages of book sections are littered with excoriating reviews of prequels to classics like Gone With The Wind and The Godfather. So it’s an even greater tribute to Gores’s achievement that, but for one glaring exception, he creates a chorus of converts. This meticulously researched backstory is a highly entertaining novel in its own right, albeit one that happens to cast new light on one of crime fiction’s most compelling characters. Gores, who has written for television shows like Columbo and Magnum P. I., was turned down once by Hammett’s daughter when he asked to write a prequel. She finally gave him the green light, and he’s done her, her father, and a literary icon proud.