Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spade & Archer: The first thirty pages

Here's Dashiell Hammett's famous description of Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon:

"Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by the thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down – from high flat temples – in a point upon his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan."
Here's how Joe Gores picks up — and displaces — the v motif in his new Maltese Falcon prequel, Spade & Archer:


"He had a long bony jaw, a flexible mouth, a jutting chin. His nose was hooked. He was six feet tall, with broad, steeply sloping shoulders. He stayed in the shadows while the scant dozen passengers disembarked from the wooden-hulled steam-powered passenger ferry Virginia V, just in from Seattle via the Colvos Passage. ... The watcher stiffened when the last person off the Virginia V was a solid, broad-shouldered ..."

I'll file that under "clever solution to a problem." An author picking up such a well-known story needs to recreate without copying. I don't know if the boat name Virginia V has any narrative significance, but it certainly alludes to the original's v motif, rekindling memories of Hammett's Spade without descending to word-for-word copying. Damn, that's clever. And if not, it's a hell of a lot of fun.
And remember that line about looking pleasantly like a blond satan? Here's Gores, on page 30 of Spade & Archer: "`You will,' said Spade. His grin made him look pleasantly satanic." Gores takes bits of Hammett's original description and appears to be sprinkling them throughout his own book, an interesting choice that ought to make Hammett readers smile.
I haven't written much about Gores because he's not beyond my borders, but I recommend his DKA Files novels. Of these, 32 Cadillacs and Cons, Scams and Grifts are two of the great comic crime novels ever. The protagonists are repo men and women. How can you beat that?
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And here's a passage from the same chapter that may interest a certain regular reader of this site:
"Yeah, uh, thanks, Sam." Something sly and delighted seemed suddenly to dance in Archer's heavy, coarse voice. "We're living over in Spokane so's she can keep working at Graham's Bookstore ... "
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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18 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

It sounds like good stuff. Do we learn anything more Mrs Spade -Sam's mother - in this book? I remember a passage in MF where Sam says something like "Mrs Spade didn't raise any boys who blathered away in front of District Attorneys" and I remember thinking hmmm, sounds like a tough cookie.

I suspect I know the Graham you're talking about.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's good fun so far, no surprise for Gores. He and Donald Westlake once shared a chapter that included each one's gang of characters and worked the chapter into a Westlake novel and a Gores novel.

Another bit of good fun: One heist in the book matches what sounds like a case Hammett is said to have solved when he worked for Pinkerton's.

I remember that line you mentioned, but Mrs. Spade has not figured in the action yet. Effie Perrine has mentioned her own mother, though. And Effie is seventeen when the book opens.

I think I'll reread "The Maltese Falcon" when I'm done with this and then maybe Gores' novel "Hammett."

Same Graham we both know, I suspect. Dame up in Santa Cruz. Works in a bookstore. Claims she's ignorant, but she knows more than she lets on.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Great post!

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Cormac Brown said...

I'd also recommend Gore's "Cases."

February 12, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Thank you for including Hammett's
description of his iconic character. I never read Maltese Falcon. Brilliant!

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, DH. Eventually I may make a post about other aspects of the novel. For now I'm just having fun with the homages to Hammett and his work. And I'm no Hammett expert, just a casual reader. I imagine others might finds clues and homages that I'll miss.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Cormac. Until now, I've never read Gores other than the DKA Files books. I may take a look.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, I bet you've seen the Humphrey Bogart movie, though. I think many readers who have seen that movie before they read the book are surprised by the description of Spade. A blond Bogart. Imagine!

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Hammett makes an appearance in Locked Rooms, the 2005 Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel set in San Francisco. He collaborates in solving the mystery.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's something, Dashiell Hammett and Sherlock Holmes. Does Hammett tell Holmes he'd thought he was a fictional character? And have you read Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith?

In Spade & Archer, Effie does ask Spade if a detective's life is like the stories in Black Mask.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

This sequel sounds interesting. I like Hammett's fast, spare, 'manly' style. Since he had a load of followers in his own day as well, it should be nice to see how 'Spade and Archer' reworks that milieu.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You might read this book with an especially sharp eye, then. Gores makes a deliberate effort to evoke Hammett's spare style. He'll use lots of adjectives to describe a character or scene, for instance, but plain, everyday adjectives: strong, sloping, sunny. The tendency today, I think, is to spare the adjectives or, if using them, to use fancy ones.

One of Gores' phrases, used several times to describe an action of Spade's, gets under my nerves a bit in its deliberate evocation of hard-boiled style, but that's just a quibble.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I don't recall whether Hammett asked Holmes that question. Hammett did the gumshoe work, as one would expect, while Holmes ratiocinated.

I read that one by Hockensmith and was amused, but not enough to continue with the next one or two. One of these days I'll give them another shot.

King's books are pretty darned good (both series - the other features a present-day SF cop). I reviewed them.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That seems like quite an achievement, to maintain the Holmes flavor while bringing in Dashiell Hammett.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

As for Graham, I think I know the dame in question too. Once upon a time, I would have said she should be so lucky as to own a bookstore, in Spokane or elsewhere, but now I dunno.

I feel like this book has been haunting me the past couple of days. My boss came up to me while I was at the register yesterday and asked me if it should be categorized as a mystery rather than fiction. I hadn't heard of it, so had to look it over a bit, because I thought she was asking whether it was fiction or nonfiction and at first I thought it might be some sort of study of Chandler's work. Then I came home and saw Peter's blog about it, or maybe that was vis versa, and then someone bought a copy as a present today while I was working the register.

I haven't read Gores, though we used to carry a bunch of his stuff, but he does sound very clever. He's probably a little too clever for me, as I wouldn't have caught all those references back to Hammett. Haven't figured out whether the Archer reference is to Lew Archer or not yet, despite my recent run of exposure to the book.

Laurie King lives in Santa Cruz, or Watsonville, really, just down the road a ways. I've met her a few times, though she wouldn't know me. I interviewed her for our store newsletter some years ago, but it was all by email. A very nice person. Her husband just died last week--I took some classes from him up at UCSC many a moon ago. He was an Anglo-Indian, much her senior and quite the beaming jovial character. I remember going to a party because of this connection once, before she was published, and talking with her about her writing mystery novels. I am sure I had a somewhat cynical attitude about her being successful--not because of anything about her personally, but just in general. What are the odds, I would have thought? Well, that was a lesson to me, because the odds were very definitely on her side, as it turned out.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nope, the Archer is Miles Archer, Spade's parther, who is only referred to in The Maltese Falcon, having been killed before the action starts. He's on the scene in Spade and Archer, though.

The book can stand on its own, I think. I happened to remember all the v's in The Maltese Falcon's description of Sam Spade, for instance, but not so remembering would not have hampered my enjoyment in the least.

No surprise your shop would have carried Joe Gores. I can't say for sure, but he may be from Northern California, and the DKA books, which I like so much, are set in San Francisco.

I met Laurie King briefly at Bouchercon in Baltimore. I haven;t read her work, though.

My word is what happens when it becomes thoughly in to dress like the Norse thunder god: thorchic

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I just went to King's website. She's recently been scanning pages of her drafts for her latest book with editing marginalia into her blog.

Reminds me of the old dictum about legislation: "Never watch sausage or laws being made." I can't remember whether that was Bismarck or Disraeli.

My word is mitichar, which is obviously an abbreviation (with typo!) for mitochondria.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sausage, law and newspapers. But we're doing an outstanding job. Our editor just said so.

February 13, 2009  

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