Review

Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

by Joe Gores

“There’s a girl wants to see you. Her
name’s Wonderly.”

“A customer?”

“I guess so. You’ll want to see her anyway:
she’s a knock-out.”

“Shoo her in, darling,” said Spade. “Shoo
her in.”

Almost everyone is familiar with those words. Humphrey Bogart
spoke those words on the big screen when he played Sam Spade in
what was to become a classic detective film. Dashiell Hammett wrote
those words to begin THE MALTESE FALCON as he created arguably the
most famous PI in fiction. Those are the first words of the chapter
headed “Spade & Archer.” Now this wonderful
prequel, SPADE & ARCHER, tells what led up to that scene from
the first day that “Samuel Spade, Esq.” appeared on the
frosty glass of his office, and Effie Perine, Spade’s plucky
receptionist, landed her job.

As SPADE & ARCHER opens, Sam Spade is about to close his
last case with the Continental Detective Agency in Tacoma. He
clears it, turns in his resignation and moves to San Francisco.
There, he sets himself up in an office and settles in to wait for
business. It doesn’t take long before a case comes through
the door. It might be called a missing person or a runaway kid,
depending on how you look at it. However you define it, it seems
like a good way to make a quick buck for Spade. But it leads to
bigger fish when Spade’s target turns up down at the foggy
docks on San Francisco Bay. No question it’s a shady place,
full of adventure --- and full of crime.

Spade’s investigation stirs up a hornet’s nest,
putting him in grave danger. Most anyone else would be trembling in
their boots, but Spade remains cool and calm. As expected, he wraps
his case up with satisfying results. But the case of the missing
lad sparked a spur investigation that, unfortunately, is left
hanging. It will take Spade seven years to solve that one.

Meanwhile, Miles Archer and his voluptuous wife Iva transfer
down from Spokane. Archer pesters Spade for a partnership deal.
Spade resists, but only for so long. The best he can do is to send
Archer on assignments that take him away from San Francisco for
days at a time. While Spade may want Archer far away, he would like
Iva close by. Sam is a sucker for a beautiful face. And Iva’s
isn’t the only beautiful face he falls for. Women are his
weakness. He falls in love more than once while trying to wrap up a
case. But what nags at him the most is the unsolved case from the
docks. Oh, he’ll solve it all right, but at what price?

Sam Spade truly is the iconic detective of all time. He is
enigmatic, tough, determined, tireless and loves women. And he
never carried a gun. To quote him, “I think if you need to
use a gun you’re doing a lousy job as a detective.”
Effie is almost his polar opposite, except for the gun part. As for
Miles Archer, he could never measure up to either one of them.

Spade’s creator, Dashiell Hammett, was himself a private
detective. According to Hammett, Sam Spade is the man “who
all private detectives would like to be and, in their more
egotistical moments, think they are.” Three-time Edgar Award
winner Joe Gores, writing here in the style of Hammett, was also a
private detective. More than just a Hammett aficionado, Gores
wanted to discover who Spade was before his debut appearance in THE
MALTESE FALCON. He was given the chance and, wow, the results are
blockbuster. Fans of Hammett will leap headlong into this prequel
with relish, likely forgetting that Hammett isn’t behind the
pen. Talented Joe Gores is.

SPADE & ARCHER should earn Gores and, by default, Hammett a
passel of new fans. This book is just un-put-downable good.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011

Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon
by Joe Gores

  • Publication Date: February 10, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307264645
  • ISBN-13: 9780307264640