Joe Gores on The Maltese Falcon

Crime writer and Dashiell Hammett expert talks about The Maltese Falcon

Bay Area crime fiction writer Joe Gores passed away on Monday, January 10, 2011, at age 79—50 years to the day that Dashiell Hammett died.

Joe will be remembered for many things. He’ll be remembered for being only one of three authors to receive Edgar Awards in three separate categories: Best First Novel, Best Short Story, and Best TV Series Segment. (Donald E. Westlake and William L. DeAndrea were the other two). He will be remembered for winning Japan’s Maltese Falcon Award and for being entrusted by the Hammett family to write 2009’s well-regarded prequel to The Maltese Falcon, Spade & Archer. And he will be remembered for being the very knowledgeable Hammett scholar that he was.

As part of a fall 2007 event associated with the National Endowment of the Arts’ “Big Read” program, I had the opportunity to interview Joe on the subject of the Falcon at the public library in Pleasanton, east of San Francisco. If you want to learn about The Maltese Falcon, and just as importantly, would like to watch and remember Joe Gores at the top of his game, you can do no better than to view the video record made of that Pleasanton event. I’ve embedded our discussion in six parts below.

Part I

In which we learn:

  • The true nature of the relationship between Sam Spade and Bridget O’Shaughnessy
  • Whether Spade knows from the beginning that O’Shaughnessy has killed Miles Archer
  • What the Falcon is really about
  • Spade’s motivations
  • Why Spade is an excellent PI

Part II

In which we learn:

  • Why Gores is an excellent PI, too
  • Whether Hammett intended Spade as a reflection of himself
  • What Hammett was aiming for when he wrote the Falcon
  • The relationship between Effie Perine and Spade
  • Gutman as a character and a villain
  • Definition of “gunsel”

Part III

In which we learn:

  • Definition of “gooseberry lay”
  • The Flitcraft story and its purpose in the novel

Part IV

In which we learn:

  • Where the name Flitcraft comes from
  • Why Bridget O’Shaughnessy talks fast
  • How Gores came to write the novel Hammett
  • The research Gores did on Falcon locations

Part V

In which we learn:

  • Lillian Hellman and her reaction to Joe’s book Hammett and the movie that was made from it
  • How Joe came to write the prequel to The Maltese Falcon

Part VI

In which we learn:

  • The curious question of Spade having coffee in Bridget O’Shaughnessy’s hotel room
  • Miles Archer’s character and why Spade hates him
  • More on why the Falcon is such a seminal book
  • Why The Thin Man is flawed
  • What private eyes and writers have in common

(Thanks to Penny Johnson, Senior Librarian at the Pleasanton Public Library for making and editing the tape of the interview.)