Saturday, 10 November 2012

(Let's Go) Buy the book...

I looked up from the dregs of my glass and she was there – there was no mistaking her perfume, the way she had of making a guy feel like a heel even before she said the first word... I tossed the rest of the whiskey back and left a quarter on the bar. Outside the first drops of rain told me it was going to be one of those nights... Yes, I've gone and read a crime-thriller, the pulp pre-cursor to Film Noir.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett died in 1961, taking with him the sort of novel that we really don't see these days – his book The Maltese Falcon remains a classic of the genre. Hammet himself was a Pinkertons Detective, a p.i. - with time off to serve in World War I. A remarkable man, he survived the flu epidemic at the end of the War (Millions did not – more died of the flu than German bullets or shells together.), as well as tuberculosis. A drinker, he became a writer, drawing on his experiences as a p.i. To provide realism. He finished writing novels in 1934, devoting his time to political activism. Despite his health, he managed to re-enlist for WWII, editing an Army newspaper. After the war, his activism saw him jailed – he refused to name names during the notorious McCarthy witch-hunts and, his health failing him, his final work (A novel entitled Tulip) remained unfinished.

 Above and below; Dashiell Hammett.
Which brings us to the point; Spade & Archer. (I bought an Orion Books (ISBN 978-1-4091-1324-9) edition in paperback.) (Guess from where...) Joe Gores, an ex-private eye himself would seem to be the ideal man for the job at hand; a prequel to The Maltese Falcon.
The book itself is in three parts – dealing with, respectively, the years 1921, '25 and '28. Samuel Spade is a former private investigator for the Continental Detective Bureau – who sets up on his own in San Francisco. He hires the loyal, smart Effie Perine - then just seventeen - as his secretary. He works various cases, all of them fun to follow and interesting in their own right. The thread running through them concerns a mysterious stranger – St.Clair McPhee – who is behind the theft of a cargo of Gold Sovereigns from a steamship. Working a case, Spade happens across the heist and manages to partly foil it... but McPhee – whoever he is – is not a man to take such a loss lightly...
This is a wonderful read – I do gush about the books I review (Trust me, you should see the amount I pass over), but this is a stand-out; a real page turner that sucks you in and keeps you hooked. I read this with a younger-than-the-movie Bogart in mind, natch, but Gores' descriptions made it easy to keep a clear mental picture – Bogie to a 'T'.
Gores' acknowledgements are the proof of the amount of research he undertook – his San Francisco is vivid and authentic, we breathe the air and walk the streets of it without the artifice ever intruding. Jo Marshall, Hammett's last surviving daughter is credited for giving her blessings and research to the book – providing the idea for much of Part III. This one's a keeper!.
 Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (Warner Brothers 1941)

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