Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spade and Archer, by Joe Gores

I finally got around to reading Joe Gores's Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer. It tells the story of a younger Sam Spade, fresh out of the army and setting up his own private detective agency in San Fransisco. The story is told in three sections, spanning seven or eight years in total, all with a common thread. This gives the book an episodic feel, but it also prevents the book from hanging together nicely.

In the first section, Spade moves to San Fransisco and is hired by a banker to find the banker's son. While searching the docks, Spade uncovers the theft of a large number of gold coins. In the second section (my favorite of the three), Spade is hired to protect a friend of his secretary, Effie Perrine. In the third, Spade is drawn into a case of illegal Chinese immigration and international intrigue.

My criticism of the book falls mainly in line with that of the New York Times review. Gores does a good job aping Hammett's style, but there are moments of exposition that are extremely clunky. And the characters' "business" was so repetitive that it drew me out of the novel on more than one occasion. Nearly every two or three pages, Gores describes someone rolling his/her own cigarette (down to wetting the paper, etc) or "hooking a hip" over someone else's desk.

If you're a fan of Hammett, you might enjoy it.  Otherwise, I can't really recommend it.

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