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'By Gad, Sir, You Are a Character'

A background check on Sam Spade, detective, as revealed by Dashiell Hammett and Joe Gores.


  The Maltese Falcon Spade & Archer
The Falcon and the Gumshoe
maltese falcon cover

The Maltese Falcon, serialized in The Black Mask in 1929, was then published in 1930 as a book. Two movie versions preceded the 1941 classic, which starred Humphrey Bogart and marked the directorial debut of John Huston. Innumerable spoofs, including a 1975 movie about Sam Spade Jr., The Black Bird; a 1976 comedy called Murder by Death with a detective named Sam Diamond; Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir; and a Tweety Bird cartoon called “The Maltese Canary.”

Spade & Archer, “the prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon,” published in February by Knopf. In 1975, Gores published Hammett, in which the tubercular Sam Hammett (Dashiell was a family name he chose to make his pen name) is drawn back into the detective business and uncovers a sex scandal involving prominent San Franciscans. The 1982 movie version starred Frederick Forrest.

The Plot Thickens One case: Spade is hired to find an antique sculpture that’s being pursued by competing thieves, including femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (aka Miss Wonderly), thug Floyd Thursby, Casper Gutman (the fat man), grafter Joel Cairo and Wilmer the gunsel. The action takes place within one day. Several cases: Spade, who left Spokane, Wash., to enlist in the Great War, opens a private detective office in San Francisco in 1921. During the next seven years, his cases involve a massive gold-smuggling effort, a bank swindle, an attempt to frame union-minded dockworkers, and intrigue over the financing of Sun Yat-sen’s army in China.
A Spade and His Women Are Soon Parted Iva Archer, his partner Miles’s widow, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Spade “won’t play the sap” for either of them. Iva Archer, who quickly fell into Miles’s arms when Sam enlisted. Penelope “Penny” Chiotras, kept woman who knows too much. Spade’s heat with the luckless Penny helps explain how the detective got hard-boiled.  
A Sample of the Kind of Over-the-Top Metaphor That Defines the Genre Spade, his chin, lips, nostrils and hairline described as a series of V’s, “looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.” “In the reception room a secretary he didn’t know was banging on a typewriter as if it were a faithless lover. ”
The Passage the Books Have in Common


There’s a girl wants to see you. Her name’s Wonderly.”
    “A customer?”
“I guess so. You’ll want to see her anyway: she’s a knockout.”
    “Shoo her in, darling,” said Spade. “Shoo her in.”

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