Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book: Spade & Archer, by Joe Gores (2009)

Yes, I took a brief sabbatical. You try seeing two movies a night and then staying up late to post about them.

While attending Noir City, I was also reading Spade & Archer, the prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I’m not a purist about Falcon; after all, it took three tries to get the movie right. (In the comments on my post about the first two films, I am schooled by none other than Max Allan Collins. Go look.) And the character of Sam Spade later appeared in a radio series.

As for following Hammett, you couldn’t ask for a better choice than Joe Gores. They have a lot in common. Both know San Francisco, both toiled as gumshoes themselves. And Gores is a talented writer whose work includes a novel with Dash himself as the protagonist.

But the opening pages of Spade & Archer gave me pause, because we see a young Sam Spade investigating the Flitcraft episode. Spade recounts this incident from early in his career to Brigid O’Shaughnessy in several extraordinary pages in Falcon. Rehashing this story – or, to use a hated term that seems appropriate, unpacking it – at the outset is a miscalculation.

Soon, though, Gores’s uncanny approximation of Hammett’s voice and his feel for San Francisco take over. The book is in three linked segments, another technique lifted from Hammett. The third section, in which Spade finally confronts the villain who has dogged him amidst a caper involving a woman who may be the daughter of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, is overcomplicated and anticlimactic. Various aspects of Spade’s life familiar from Falcon are fleshed out in ways that satisfy without surprising. At times Spade & Archer reminded me of Casino Royale, the movie that rebooted the James Bond franchise by explaining a character who was already fully formed. Of course, I liked Casino Royale, and I liked this book. Gores has done as good a job as possible with the project, but when I reread The Maltese Falcon I won’t remember what I learned in Spade & Archer. I won’t need to.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this exchange from the book.

“The bank making money?”

“Tons if it. If you have the routine down and don’t make any crazy investments or shaky loans, it’s all so darned easy.”

Too bad that wasn’t in the original. Someone might have paid attention.

On The Web: The Larry Sanders Show

I have only now discovered that episodes of my favorite sitcom are available on Crackle. To think I am but a click away from the seething anger of Hank Kingsley, or the wisdom of Artie.

“After my first wife gave me the gate, I went on a binge of sex, drugs, and 180 proof Everclear that lasted for three years. After my fourth divorce, I was able to squeeze the same amount of debauchery into a long weekend. But I have a scar from that one.”