Veteran Gores (Glass Tiger, 2006, etc.) spins the straw of an origin story for the firm of Spade & Archer, violently dissolved in the opening chapters of The Maltese Falcon, into storytelling gold.
When he leaves the Continental Detective Agency to hang his own shingle with Effie Perine as his secretary, Sam Spade already knows Miles Archer, who married Spade’s old flame, Iva Nolan, when Spade volunteered for war service. Looking for runaway banking heir Henny Barber, Spade bumps into a much bigger case: the theft of $375,000 in gold from the San Anselmo, Henny’s probable ride to the South Seas. Spade feeds information to Sgt. Dundy and Patrolman Tom Polhaus, then watches as they let the master criminal behind the theft slip through their fingers. He resurfaces in 1925, when insurance man Ray Kentzler secretly hires Spade to establish whether banker Collin Eberhard’s mysterious non-drowning was accident, suicide or murder, and Effie’s friend Penny Chiotras, in an apparently unrelated development, seeks the fabled chest of Bergina. The search for the mastermind won’t close till 1928, when Mai-lin Choi’s search for the money stolen from her unacknowledged (and very well-known) father and Archer’s first case as Spade’s partner culminate in one last treasure hunt.
Along with the obligatory pleasures of watching Spade dealing with familiar supporting characters for the first time, Gores, a far more virtuoso plotter than Hammett, keeps multiple pots boiling furiously while providing a pitch-perfect replica of his master’s voice.