Spade & Archer

[Amazon Link]

Aficionados of the private eye genre will probably have read, if not memorized, The Maltese Falcon, the 1930 novel by Dashiell Hammett that birthed the tradition of the hard-boiled PI. And no doubt watched the 1941 movie version, with Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade.

But how did Spade get there? What was the deal with Archer, the partner Spade so clearly despised? And not to mention the, um, complex relationship between Spade and Archer's wife, Iva? How did he get his sassy secretary, Effie Perrine? With approval of the Hammett estate, Joe Gores wrote this prequel to answer these questions and more.

It spans a number of years in the 1920's, mainly set around San Francisco and environs. No bridges, so the only way to get to Sausalito or Oakland is by ferry. (But who wants to go to Oakland?) Spade is equally at ease in poolroom dives and swanky gentlemen's clubs. He's especially good and handling delicate situations without involving the cops, a fact that invites the ire of some cops. While on his cases, Spade becomes aware of his Moriarty, a shadowy figure who's willing—nay, eager—to brutally murder anyone who might get in his way.

There are a number of amusing nods to Hammett readers. We get the full Flitcraft story. When Spade needs a nom de plume to investigate some shenanigans down at the docks, he picks "Nick Charles". (Of course. What else would he pick?) When visiting the Bohemian Club with a client, he notes a bird statue on top of a bookcase; "A falcon?", he asks. Nope, an owl.

The book is clearly a labor of love for Gores, a writer I've liked for quite a while. It's the result of meticulous research and respectful insight into Spade's character.

Last Modified 2013-08-26 6:18 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Ellis and his friend Neckbone (really) are two Arkansas kids, living near (or, in Ellis's case, on) the river. Life is far from perfect: Neckbone lives with his goofy Uncle Galen, while Ellis's parents are on the verge of splitsville. Their families make their living from the river, and nobody's getting rich doing so.

But that doesn't mean kids can't do kid things. Specifically, they've found an abandoned boat storm-stranded high in the trees on a Mississippi River island. Cool! But their explorations uncover a guy (Matthew McConaughey) living on the island, dirty and uncivilized. His name: Mud. Mud provides them more adventure than bargained for.

Mud's goal is to run off with the once-lovely Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Complicating things is that Mud is a fugitive wanted for killing Juniper's abusive boyfriend, so he's hiding both from the law and the boyfriend's rich and lawless family.

After two movies that were totally predictable, it was fun to see something different, with complex and sympathetic characters. There's an unexpectedly violent climax.

Michael Shannon plays goofy Uncle Galen, but does not once demand to be Kneeled Before.