Friday, March 16, 2012

Book: Interface, by Joe Gores (1974)

Multiple deadlines have me neglecting the blog of late. One thing I haven’t forgotten is Joe Gores’ Interface, which I read several weeks ago and have been meaning to write about ever since. I’m tempted to call this a “Friday’s Forgotten Books” post, only Interface never really faded into obscurity; among the cognoscenti, it’s regarded as one of the key crime novels of the 1970s and the most hardboiled of P.I. yarns.

On page one, Docker, Vietnam vet turned bagman, has already committed one murder as part of his plan to boost a kilo of heroin and the cash meant to pay for it. His betrayal sets into motion a manhunt in the San Francisco underworld. Among the first people called: Neil Fargo – always the two names, Neil Fargo – ex-football player turned private investigator turned part-time drug dealer and the man who brought his army buddy Docker in on the deal. Neil Fargo has to run down his old friend before his new partners lose their patience.

It took me a few pages to find my footing in Interface. Gores kicks you into the middle of the action, introducing a host of truly despicable characters in short order. And that’s before the double crosses start and the hidden agendas come to light. What hooked me was the book’s dense, almost fetid atmosphere, a vivid snapshot of Zodiac-era San Francisco, “the muggers’ and pushers’ and prosties’ and hypes’ San Francisco ... the city of cheap hustlers.”

Interface is a throwback. Its relentless narrative energy recreates the pace and feel of a Black Mask story from the 1930s. Gores dispenses with psychology entirely, never bothering with his characters’ thoughts and keeping the focus on their actions in the style of Dashiell Hammett. In many respects Interface is a funhouse mirror version of The Maltese Falcon, so it’s no surprise Gores was chosen to write the Falcon prequel Spade & Archer. All of this tumult is in service of setting up a sucker punch of an ending – and even that is saying too much. Interface is essential reading for any crime fiction fan, and I’m glad I finally got to it.