Saturday, February 11, 2006

Joe Gores and Sam Spade

Joe Gores is one of my favorite writers. He is a three-time Edgar award winner (for Best First Novel, Best Short Story and Best TV Series Segment) and a premiere expert on Dashiell Hammett, particularly The Maltese Falcon and Hammett’s time in San Francisco.

In his 1975 article “Sam’s Spade San Francisco” for the City of San Francisco magazine, he described the research he did to locate the real locations that served as models for fictional settings in The Maltese Falcon. The most important of these was probably Sam Spade’s apartment, which Joe located at 891 Post Street. As I discuss in an article for Mystery Scene Magazine describing the dedication of the building as a literary landmark, this was also the apartment building Hammett lived in when he wrote Falcon.

Joe used his knowledge of Dashiell Hammett’s time in San Francisco to write Hammett, a novel where Joe has Hammett return to his old vocation of private detecting, just before the publication of his (Hammett’s) first novel, Red Harvest. The book has some great details of 1920's San Francisco and also drops some clever hints about how Hammett's later characters came to be (including the “fat man”).

I like and admire Hammett very much, but my favorite book of Joe’s is Interface. As Kevin Burton Smith says on his wonderful web site, The Thrilling Detective:

Interface, one of the finest PI novels ever written, introduced morally-challenged Neal Fargo, and features possibly the best surprise ending since Sam Spade refused to play the sap for Brigid O'Shaugnessy. The style, a totally objective third-person narrative (what one writing teacher of mine called "camera/tape recorder") is, like the socko surprise finish, reminiscent of The Maltese Falcon.
And regarding that objective, third-person point of view, Vince Emery, in his essay “Hammettisms in The Maltese Falcon” written for his the book Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade notes:

Third-person objective is not commonly employed because of the difficulties involved in writing with it. Few writers have been able to sustain it throughout a novel-length work. Hammett was one; Ernest Hemingway was another.
And Joe Gores is a third.

I had heard rumors of some exciting news regarding Joe and The Maltese Falcon, but Joe gave more details in a recent letter:

In February of last year, lightning struck. Hammett’s surviving daughter, Jo, whom I met in 1999, was in San Francisco for a conference, and asked to talk to me. In 2000 I had hit her with the idea of a prequel to The Maltese Falcon. She turned me down flat. But last February she asked me if I would be interested in reviving the project! I was floored. But we have slowly and cautiously ahead through hundreds of phone calls, outlines, proposals, agents, lawyers, letters, and I finally signed the contract with Knopf—Hammett’s publisher—a couple of weeks ago … My title is Spade & Archer and I’m revving up the research right now. I have my own research from 1975 for Hammett, and am digging out a great deal of new stuff now. I hope to start writing the novel in March or April … It is a really exciting project to be working on.
I’m very excited, too. There’s no other writer I would trust with Sam Spade and Hammett's literary heritage.


Post a Comment

<< Home