Hammett by Joe Gores

When I discovered this novel, I jumped on it. I don’t know how I missed it. I very much enjoy humorous mysteries; I have read 32 Cadillacs and a couple of Joe Gores’s other DKA novels. This book was no disappointment; Gores is a masterful novelist. If Hammett has any appeal to you, read this book.
Gores wrote that “I didn’t start out to be a mystery writer.” http://www.mysterynet.com/books/testimony/why-i-write-mysteries-joe-gores/

It is lucky for us that that is what he became.

Joe Gores was a three-time Edgar Award winner, and only one of three authors (the other two being Donald E. Westlake and William L. DeAndrea) to receive Edgars in three separate categories. He was recognized for his novels Hammett, Spade & Archer (the 2009 prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon) and his Edgar Award-winning or -nominated works, such as A Time of Predators, 32 Cadillacs and Come Morning.

In his web posting, “Why I Write Mysteries,” he relates:
In 1955, Stanford University refused me a Master’s Degree in English Literature because my proposed Thesis was on the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. “Since these novels are not literature,” they said, “obviously graduate theses cannot be written about them.” That is, if fiction is fun to read, it is mere escapist fare.

[I] discovered that the mystery is the only fiction genre that lets you write anything you want while demanding a form that makes you tell a story people want to read.

So I write my mysteries for pleasure, mine and I hope yours, and for money.

I think that this prejudice against mysteries has declined, although not completely. In a teaching job interview not too long ago, I was asked what novel had I read recently that I had enjoyed. The title that popped into my mind, out of all the books I had read in the past few weeks, was a mystery. Interestingly, the interviewer knew the book, and we talked about it. Later, I thought that maybe I should have mentioned another book because, well, is mystery literature? It is, as far as I am concerned!

Gores explains much better than I can the appeal of the type of mystery I prefer:
The opening line of “Gone Girl” [a short story Ross Macdonald wrote, featuring an early incarnation of private eye Lew Archer. The piece was written in the 1950s.] was ‘I was tooling home from the Mexican border in a light blue convertible and a dark blue mood,’” Gores recalls. “And I thought ‘My God, that is the way I want to write! . . . That kind of tightness, that kind of directness, no nonsense, no navelgazing. You are in there to create vivid characters who are doing extremely interesting things and that’s it.”

I have little patience for the type of mystery that involves the detective’s personal life. As I mentioned in another blog, this refers to such writers as Sarah Paretsky, Rita Mae Brown, and Sue Grafton. Unfortunately, this seems to be a fault of women mystery writers. But I generalize…

Hammett is excellent. I could have been reading Dashiell himself. The setting, the plot, the dialogue, the prose – all tone-perfect. Hammett, when published in 1975, was well-received as a fictionalized version of the adventures of Samuel Dashiell Hammett. Wim Wenders directed the movie version in 1982, which I’ll have to try to find. Decades later, Gores still felt he had “unfinished business” with the author, so in 1999, he asked Hammett’s daughter, Jo Marshall, if the family would consider a new book based on The Maltese Falcon.

Although Marshall first said no, she had a change of heart. As her daughter Julie Rivett puts it, the family felt that Gores was the right guy to take up her grandfather’s story. “He’s walked the walk as well as talked the talk. He knows as well as anyone where those characters came from,” she said.

Gores released Spade & Archer, a prequel novel that explains how Spade came to seek the falcon statue that is perhaps the greatest MacGuffin in detective fiction. It is both a love letter to the original work and a satisfying read for Falcon fans that circles back to where Gores’s own hard-boiled history—and the genre’s—began: with an appreciation for the finely written line, and a nose for trouble. I haven’t read this book; I intend to. The reviews I read were very positive.

Gores, who had been working on a new DKA novel, died 50 years after Hammett’s death, to the day. RIP, Joe Gores, and thanks for all the books.


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