Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Death in the Fog

[[B O O K S]] * Seventy-six years ago today, Pinkerton detective-turned-author Dashiell Hammett saw the publication of his third novel, The Maltese Falcon, a consciously tragic tale of avarice, obsession, manipulation, and nuanced honor being demonstrated under the worst of circumstances. It was in that story that Hammett--whose books until then (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) had featured a short, “fat, middle-aged, hard-boiled, pig-headed guy” of 40 known only as the Continental Op (or Operative)--introduced the more romantic but morally suspect Samuel Spade. Although Spade, a San Francisco gumshoe, would never again appear in a novel (though he did appear in several Hammett short stories), he has since become a model for the hardboiled hero of American crime fiction, a guy who’d sleep with his partner’s wife but won’t lie to keep a girlfriend out the slammer (“I won’t play the sap for you,” Spade says at the end of Falcon).

Now comes the exciting news that Edgar Award-winning California novelist Joe Gores, another ex-private eye and the author of Hammett (1975), a thriller that imagined Dashiell Hammett returning to the mean streets of San Francisco in pursuit of a killer, is going to pen a prequel to Falcon. Writing in his blog, fellow author Mark Coggins (Immortal Game, Vulture Capital) quotes part of a letter he received from Gores:

In February of last year, lightning struck. Hammett’s surviving daughter, Jo, whom I met in 1999, was in San Francisco for a conference, and asked to talk to me. In 2000 I had hit her with the idea of a prequel to The Maltese Falcon. She turned me down flat. But last February she asked me if I would be interested in reviving the project! I was floored. But we have [moved] slowly and cautiously ahead through hundreds of phone calls, outlines, proposals, agents, lawyers, letters, and I finally signed the contract with Knopf--Hammett’s publisher--a couple of weeks ago ... My title is Spade & Archer and I’m revving up the research right now. I have my own research from 1975 for Hammett, and am digging out a great deal of new stuff now. I hope to start writing the novel in March or April ... It is a really exciting project to be working on.
You can say that again.

I’m not usually a fan of authors other than their creators assuming control of renowned fictional figures (examples of what can go wrong: Philip Marlowe in Perchance to Dream, by Robert B. Parker, and Rick Blaine in Michael Walsh’s Casablanca sequel, As Times Goes By). But the 75-year-old Gores spent a dozen years working in the P.I. game himself, and his track record--particularly his Dan Kearney & Associates (DKA) novels--suggests that he’s up to this game. Sign me up for a copy of Spade & Archer.

(Hat tip to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.)

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