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Spade and Archer

A prequel to ‘The Maltese Falcon’ tells how this unlikely duo came to be.

By Yvonne Zipp / February 27, 2009



Holmes and Watson. Spenser and Hawk. Shaggy and Scooby. Spade and Archer. Which one of these crime-fighting duos doesn’t belong?

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No, actually, it’s not the cartoon. While Scooby has been known to steal Shaggy’s sandwiches, it’s hard to imagine a less felicitous pairing than Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The piggish Archer, as fans of “The Maltese Falcon” know, didn’t last long as Spade’s partner. But why the two of them ever went into business together has been a mystery since Dashiell Hammett’s novel was first published in 1930.

“I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of,” Hammett once quipped. The former Pinkerton detective has been called the dean of hardboiled detective novels, and the third movie of “The Maltese Falcon” (the one starring Humphrey Bogart) is considered the first example of film noir. Now, another detective-turned-writer – three-time Edgar Award winner Joe Gores – has written Spade and Archer, a prequel to “The Maltese Falcon,” detailing just how Spade ended up with Archer (and Archer’s wife, for that matter).

“Spade and Archer” is an authorized work, blessed by the Hammett estate, which can be a dicey prospect for readers. Such novels tend to be so tidy and reverential that the creativity gets squeezed right out of them. Happily, Gores’s labor of love is about as far removed from, say, “Scarlett,” (the sequel to “Gone with the Wind”), as fans of either Gores or Hammett could wish.

After a brief opener in Spokane, the action begins in 1921 with Sam partially foiling a gold heist while searching for the runaway son of a rich banker. Sam recovers $50,000 of $125,000 stolen off the ship San Anselmo, and keeps Henny Baker from heading off to the South Seas. (Thanks to a botched operation by police Sergeant Dundy the criminal gets away.) Part 2 takes place in 1925, and Part 3 in 1928. The missing gold, the murderous mastermind behind the heist, and the banker’s son continue to crop up throughout the novel, as does Sam’s future partner, Archer, who, it must be said, doesn’t earn equal billing. He manages to stay alive in this book, but doesn’t appear much more than he did in “Falcon.” Gores, however, manages to give Sam – and readers – several reasons to cordially detest him.

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