Spade and Archer by Joe Gores

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Spade and Archer by Joe Gores

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This book is the prequel to the acclaimed 'The Maltese Falcon'. Mr Samuel Spade, Private Investigator solves an array of crimes in his own unique fashion, much to the chagrin of the local Police Department.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-1409113232

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Sam Spade decides, bravely, to set up his one-man detective agency. It's the 1920s in San Francisco so we have the prohibition era and all that that entails. Many locals, of course, choose to disobey the law, stick two fingers up, so to speak and as a result there's lots of bootleg liquor.

Straight away, it's evident that Sam is a man of few words. He has the mannerisms of a cat - stealthy, quick on his feet. He's also a compulsive chain-smoker, but then again, most people were. In that era, holding a cigarette was an elegant, almost essential accessory. How times have changed.

Sam is very much his own man and he certainly is not cowed by authority. He quickly builds up a steady client base with the energetic help of his young and loyal secretary, Effie. Assignments can be a mixed bag (he doesn't do domestics). Some are basic, bread-and-butter cases, while others are altogether more dangerous. Sam is not afraid of danger. He faces it head on. Also, where the local Police Department seem to have a line of thinking where its 'big and complicated' Sam's philosophy is 'to think small and simple.' It works and his agency achieves results. As a backstory for The Maltese Falcon it fits perfectly.

Sam also has charisma oozing out from every pore. His laid-back style and snazzy dressing is a big hit with the ladies - or dames as he would say. We have lots of fiery eye moments in the books, lots of clamped mouths, repressed emotions. But he also has a softer side as displayed by his attitude to Effie - he treats her like a little princess. His humour is as dry as a good dry martini. For example, when Sam's in conversation with the local Police Department, he reminds a sergeant that 'on this side of the bay you don't have the authority to arrest a dog for lifting its leg.' There are other elegant lines such as 'she hooked a hip over the corner of his desk' and also ' a secretary ... was banging on a typewriter as if it were a faithless lover'.

As Sam goes about his detective business, the real star of the book is the location of San Francisco. Perhaps the author appreciates this too. We're treated to many fine descriptions like 'In the bay Alcatraz was baying like an old hound.' The famous streetcars are mentioned time and time again, as well as the infamous fog which often covers the city like a blanket.

For me, courtesy of all those wonderful Holywood movies, the scene is very much set. I'm also thinking in black and white. Lots of lovely descriptions about the clothing of the time, the food, the music which gives almost a three dimensional flavour. Many of the scenes (both indoor and outdoor) are evocative of that great Holywood movie era. It's all very romantic ...

Although the title is Spade & Archer, the partner Miles Archer doesn't really make his appearance until around the last third of the book.

This book is all about action. That said, I think that I'd prefer to see it as a film rather than read it as a book. It's an uncomplicated, easy, pleasurable read. I get the hard-boiled city slicker Sam and I also get his innocent, wide-eyed side-kick, Effie. Both straight out of the movies.

If you like plenty of action, then this book's for you.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.

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