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.