Kurt's Reviews > Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon

Spade & Archer by Joe Gores
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jul 23, 2011

it was ok

This book isn't terrible, and Gores clearly loves Dashiell Hammett, the Maltese Falcon, and San Francisco of the 1920s, but Gores' prequel is mostly valuable for showcasing how phenomenally talented Dashiell Hammett was. There are many things to like about this story, which covers seven years of Sam Spade's life, ending with a scene that overlaps an early scene of Hammett's classic. The action is very much in keeping with Hammett's style, in which bad things happen to people, but mostly off-screen, and sex is treated the same way. The pacing is also well-done, as the three major sections of this book each fly by briskly without wasting too much time on superfluous activity. I also like the idea of a shadowy villain who haunts Hammett's life for seven years, leaving the detective weary and jaded when the Maltese Falcon enters his life. The characters are treated with love, as the reader gets a bit of an explanation of why Effie Perine rolls Spade's cigarettes for him, why Spade has such prickly interactions with the local police in his most famous case, and why Spade began his affair with Iva Archer that added such an intriguing layer to his character in his original appearance.

Unfortunately, this book isn't very good on its own. I appreciate that Gores did a lot of research on old San Francisco, but it surfaces in awkward ways throughout the novel - for example, two characters will be having a conversation by a public pool, and they will trade trivia bits that show them to be intimately familiar with its dimensions, history, and engineering. It shoves the reader out of the story, and I think it's the sign of Gores' lack of confidence - characters are saying that a particular island is seven miles from Fisherman's Wharf, but they mean, "Please, please, Hammett fans, I promise I did my homework when I tackled this project, please don't hate me!" There are also some odd recurring phrases - did Hammett use the term "hooked his hip over/onto the corner of her desk," because Gores uses it no fewer than six times, and I lost the train of the narrative trying to figure out why Gores would overuse such a silly phrase. I also think that Gores can't quite pay homage to Hammett's wit and his knack for cruel but creative character descriptions.

Also, when the reader can slip past the shadow of Hammett's original work, then dive below the cluttered shield of too much research, the stories underneath are fairly lifeless pulp. I admire the pulp stories of the 1920s and 1930s that never got the attention that Hammett and Chandler drew, but they lacked a certain vitality that set those two masters above their peers. Reading this prequel reminds me of how hard it is to write a noir story that is also great literature, and while it works as a love letter to Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade, it doesn't work as a story that Hammett himself might have written, and I don't really recommend this book to anyone but the most hardcore of Hammett fans.
4 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Spade & Archer.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 23, 2011 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Matthew (new)

Matthew I haven't read the book, but your review makes me feel that I have. Very well analyzed and written.

back to top