By Russel D McLean
I wish I could have a more cheerful post after the start of 2011, but I couldn’t just avoid the fact that this week crime writer Joe Gores died. I only read two Gores books in my life – and I have some more on my list – but to me he will always be the man who wrote HAMMETT. Shortly after I started digging crime fiction and in particular those old hardboiled books by Hammett and Chandler, my dad pressed a book into my hands. Told me I had to read it.
The books was HAMMETT by Joe Gores. I wasn’t sure. It was one of those books that melded fact with fiction, that took a real life figure and put them in the midst of fictional events. Not in an Ellroy kind of way – no one except Ellroy could do that – but in the way of an entertaining thriller that took its inspiration from some kind of reality. It sounded a little trite, if I’m honest, but my dad was so enthusiastic I cracked the spine. And discovered an incredible novel. If it wasn’t true, I wished it was. I loved Hammett as written by Gores, the hardboiled detective who still tried to make a living as a pulp writer. It should have felt false, even though it was true, and yet Gores pulled off the enviable trick of making you want to believe that it was all true, even the bits that had to be fiction.
Hammett was a perfect book, and I still have that copy on my book shelves. Over a decade and a half since dad “loaned” it to me. So if he’s reading this, I guess he’ll be coming up to reclaim it sometime soon…
But Gores proved to me what an incredible talent he was a couple of years ago with the release in 2009 of SPADE AND ARCHER. This “prequel” to Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON should have stunk of parody and been a book that was surplus to requirements. There was no way anyone should have been able to capture Hammett’s voice and yet still ensure the book felt written for a modern market.
When the name Gores was attached, I should have had more faith. It was a blinder of a novel that at once recalled Hammett’s style and yet felt evolved from there, as thought Hammett himself had continued writing and evolving his style. It was an engaging and brilliant novel with enough of a wink at the legacy of the original book to satisfy, but never allowed itself to tip over into parody.
Gores was an enormous talent. For those two books alone he should be remembered.
The little I have learned of Gorres over this past week has been intriguing and astounding. Like Hammett, Gorres, it seems, was a private eye in younger days which perhaps explains his affinity to Hammett, the two of them having this connection. It also explains the level of conviction that ran through his work. The books felt real, felt accurate perhaps because they were so and not just in terms of procedure but of emotion, too.
If you haven’t read Gores I beseech you to seek out his work. In particular HAMMETT or SPADE AND ARCHER. He was a major talent and his work should, and I believe will, be remembered.