Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Gores


I posted two days ago about some of the ways Joe Gores alluded to Dashiell Hammett's life and work in his Spade & Archer, a "prequel" to The Maltese Falcon. Here are two more.

Gores has Sam Spade adopt the alias Nick Charles in one scene. Charles, of course, was the protagonist of Hammett's novel The Thin Man (thought not its title character).

The novel's structure, too, is reminiscent of the 1920s and '30s, when a series of loosely or tightly knot stories published over several issues of Black Mask might later be reissued together as a novel. Frederick Nebel's The Crimes of Richmond City, Paul Cain's superb The Fast One and several of Hammett's own books appeared as serials this way before their publication in book form.

Spade & Archer is presented as three long, linked episodes, set in 1921, 1925 and 1928 (The Maltese Falcon was published in 1929). I don't know if Gores intended this, but it's easy to imagine one is reading three long stories brought together as a novel, in the old Black Mask manner.

(Click here for a thoughtful, highly critical review of the book.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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8 Comments:

Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter -

Interesting way to construct a novel, it seems. Do the three stories comprise one major arch?

February 14, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

That wasnt a review that was a man grinding his axe for 800 words. I wonder who put him up to that hatchet job?

February 14, 2009  
Blogger Cormac Brown said...

To give everyone a further impression of Hammett's Sam Spade, versus Warner Brothers giving us Bogart. Owen Smith was commissioned to do these Hammett posters for Downtown San Francisco last summer.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, the stories are linked but probably could be read independently. I don't know if this structure was a tribute to the serialized novels of the Black Mask days. It may be simply a function of Gores' desire to cover a long stretch of time: from Sam Spade's origins up the moment just before "The Maltese Falcon" begins.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know if it was a put-up job. The piece was needlessly sniffy in places (One clue: its use of the snotty "by the way," clearly intended to convey the reviewer's superiority to the reader even as he invited him or her to join in the piling on).

But I had noted a number of the tendencies that the reviewer did, even if they did not bother me as much: the tone of the physical descriptions, for instance, and the borrowing of typical Hammett locutions. I may have been more indulgent toward Gores' use of these devices, but they did seem a bit artificial.

For me the parts that worked best were those were Gores was extrapolating from Hammett's themes rather than copying his style.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cormac: Thanks for the link. I'd say the third poster down comes closest to depicting a satanic Spade. And it's quotation from Wilmer reminds me that Humphrey Bogart was not the only actor who deeply impressed his image on the name of a character from the book. Elisha Cook Jr. did the same.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

There's a good reason you describe all the characters in a classic 30's noir - because we never know who's going to be relevant and who isnt. Its all about red herrings.

I also wonder what ticked him off about Sam being concerned with the price of things. Spade doesnt have a lot of money and the cost of things is important. If G hadnt done the research no doubt the reviewer would be complaining about that too.

The reviewer also seems to think that he is a better writer than both of them, dismissing G's work and The Maltese Falcon itself as a lesser novel, compared say to The Thin Man. It's the easiest thing in the world to pick on a few small points to confirm ones own prejudice. The axe grinding noise got so loud toward the end of this review I thought I was back in metal shop.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, the end is where the reviewer flings the "by the way" at us.

In re the price of things, let me divert you toward Linda Richards, who has just published her second novel with an Effie Perrine-like protagonist. She (Richards, not Effie) has some interesting things to say about the economic exigencies of holding down a job during the (first) Great Depression, which may indicate she's more aware of her historical period than this reviewer was.

I'd say that physical descriptions are fair game for criticism, but that the reviewer fails to put them in historical perspective. He fails to recognize that the descriptions may be a pitfall of prequels and sequels in general and of writing historical fiction in particular (and this book is historical fiction of a kinds, even though the history to which it refers is itself fictional).

February 16, 2009  

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