(Editor’s note: After hearing today that crime novelist Joe Gores had died, I asked his fellow author and friend, Mark Coggins, to write something in his memory. Coggins’ recollections are offered below.)
Green Apple Books, arguably the best used bookstore in San Francisco, offers a collectible books section near its front door. One day, maybe 15 years ago, when I was browsing through that area, I found a number of volumes from the personal library of one of my favorite mystery writers, Joe Gores.
These were rare and valuable first editions inscribed to Joe from some very well-known authors, many of whom thanked Joe for helping them to get their start, and I couldn’t understand how the store could have acquired those books. Worried that something tragic had happened to Joe, I tracked down a clerk and asked him. The clerk reassured me that Joe was fine. He went on to explain that Joe’s wife, Dori, was allergic to dust and the large library of books he had collected over the years was exacerbating her problem. The couple had culled their library in hopes of cutting down on the dust in their home.
At the time I didn’t know Joe Gores personally, but I knew him by reputation. Born in Minnesota, he’d taken an English Literature degree from Notre Dame University, come west to settle in San Francisco, worked for a dozen years as private eye and a “repo man,” and penned scripts for a variety of TV crime dramas, including Kojak, Remington Steele, Magnum, P.I., and B.L. Stryker.
Even better, I knew Joe for his books and admired him as a consequence. I was particularly fond of his Dan Kearney and Associates (DKA) series, perhaps the most faithful rendition of real-life private investigation work since Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories. But I also liked the unique and special Interface (1974), written in the same objective third-person point of view Hammett used in The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key, and featuring Neal Fargo, a hard-boiled 1970s detective who was every bit the match for 1920s Samuel Spade.
Over the course of the next decade and a half or so, I began to write and publish detective novels of my own, and like many of the writers whose books I saw on the shelves at Green Apple Books, I wrote to Joe Gores requesting that he supply a blurb for one of my novels. It was through that dialogue that I got to know Joe personally and came to understand that in addition to being a gifted writer, he was a wonderful raconteur and a witty, generous, and most thoughtful person.
So I was particularly saddened to hear today that Joe died in a Marin County hospital this last Monday, January 10, 2011, at age 79--50 years to the day after Hammett passed away.
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. You need only read Joe’s essay, “It Was a Diamond, All Right,” which serves as the introduction to Vince Emery’s 2005 collection of Hammett yarns, Lost Stories, to appreciate the insights he had regarding Hammett’s many influences on literature, movies, and television.
I will remember Joe for other things, though. Prominent among them was his generosity. After I wrote him about that blurb for my novel Candy from Strangers (2006), he not only agreed to provide it, but he gave me an endorsement that ran to paragraphs. This was no generic puffery, no phalanx of clichés. Joe had read my book and enjoyed it for the very reasons I hoped others would enjoy it--and recorded those reasons with humor and sincerity.
Shortly thereafter, I attended a public presentation and signing scheduled around his 2006 novel, Glass Tiger, and he spent the first minutes talking about Candy and other writings of mine that he had sought out on his own. I finally had to interrupt him and ask him to stop.
At that same event and many others of his I attended, Joe displayed his tremendous gift for storytelling--another thing for which I’ll remember him. Drawing on his seemingly limitless reserves of real-life experiences as a private investigator, he always had a witty and entertaining story to share in support of the topic at hand. One of my favorites involved a ruse he used to convince a post office employee to provide the home address of a post office box holder. You can listen to Joe tell that story on one of the videos featured a bit farther down in this piece.
And although I’ve already touched on Joe’s familiarity with Hammett and his works, let me conclude here by saying that one thing that always impressed me was his encyclopedic familiarity with Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, in particular. 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 Falcon at the public library in Pleasanton, east of San Francisco. Being the conscientious sort, I prepared a page full of questions I wanted to cover during that 60-minute session. However, I managed to get through only about half of them, because Joe’s responses were so intriguing and his asides so entertaining, that I just let him talk. And talk. Nobody in the audience was disappointed, I’m sure.
If you want to learn about The Maltese Falcon, and more 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.
One final thing: I was sorry there wasn’t a special tribute or panel discussion devoted to Joe Gores during last October’s Bouchercon in San Francisco. Not only because he had made the city so much a part of his writing over the years, but because Spade & Archer brought a new wave of attention to Hammett’s relatively brief but important connection with San Francisco. There were many people at Bouchercon--authors and readers alike--who could have benefited from learning about (or teaching others about) Joe’s efforts on behalf of crime fiction.
It’s not really my place to suggest this, but perhaps Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller could somehow honor Joe during the ninth edition of Noir City, the San Francisco Film Noir festival, coming up later this month. Might I recommend a showing of Hammett, the 1982 movie made from Joe’s 1975 novel of the same name, in which a slightly fictionalized Dashiell Hammett himself takes center stage?
(Author photograph by Mark Coggins. Used with permission.)
UPDATE: A New York Times obituary quotes Gores’ stepdaughter, Gillian Monserrat, as saying that the author died from “complications of bleeding ulcers.” Meanwhile, Janet Rudolph reports in Mystery Fanfare that a memorial mass for Gores “will be held Friday, January 21, at 11:30 [a.m.], St. Sebastian Catholic Church” in Greenbrae, California.
READ MORE: “R.I.P., Joe Gores (1931-2011),” by Bill Pronzini and Steve Lewis (Mystery*File); “Mort: Joe Gores,” by Don Herron (Up and Down These Mean Streets); “Joe Gores, R.I.P.,” by Ed Gorman (Ed Gorman’s Blog); “Why I Write Mysteries,” by Joe Gores (MysteryNet.com); “Joe Gores and Hammett,” by Nicolas Pillai (Squeezegut Alley); “Joe Gores,” by Russel D. McLean (Do Some Damage); “Joe Gores: The Telegraph Obituary,” by Michael Carlson (Irresistible Targets).