I regret I never met mystery writer Joe Gores, who died at 79 in January 2011 in California. Gores, who wrote the kind of hard-boiled short stories and novels that harkened to mystery literature’s “golden age,” lived a life that itself was the stuff of fiction.
Although he was a college graduate, Gores also spent plenty of time experiencing a world far removed from cloistered academia. He worked as a logger in Alaska, an automobile repo man, a truck driver, the manager of a hot-pillow motel, a teacher at a boy’s school in Kenya, and a private investigator in San Francisco. All undoubtedly provided fodder for his spare, crackling prose and his taut, noir plots.
Although Gores won three Edgar Awards for his mystery writing, his last major work, “Spade & Archer” (2009) stands as my personal favorite. This prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 classic, “The Maltese Falcon,” faithfully captures Hammett’s gritty, lean style.
Hammett’s daughter had liked his work so much that she gave her blessings to “Spade & Archer,” the storyline of which ends at the moment “The Maltese Falcon” begins. (Personal note: In both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, reviewers of “Spade & Archer” were kind enough to also mention my continuation of the Nero Wolfe adventures after the death of Rex Stout.)
Gores arrived on the scene in the late ‘50s, when the era of pulp magazines such as “The Black Mask” was coming to a close. But he was very much a part of that tradition, which had its origins in the 1920s and ’30s, when Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly and other classic crime novelists of the hard-boiled school were honing their craft. Joe Gores very much belongs in their ranks.