"I loved detective work, I truly loved it."
Born Joseph Nicholas Gores, he's one of only two authors to receive Edgar Awards in three separate categories: Best First Novel, Best Short Story and Best TV Series Segment. His novels 32 Cadillacs and Come Morning were nominated for Edgars as Best Novel, and his 1973 novel Hammett was adapted for the screen by producer Francis Coppola and director Wim Wenders. As well, he's written episodes of such popular TV crime shows as Columbo, Mike Hammer, Kojak, Remington Steele, B.L. Stryker and Magnum, P.I.
He attended Stanford University (they rejected his first proposal for a thesis, a critical examination of Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald). Along the way he worked as a truck driver, a bodybuilding instructor, a hod carrier, a logger, a clerk, a driver, a carny, an English teacher at a boy's school in Kenya and as an assistant motel manager.
And all that time he read. "Five paperbacks a day, mostly hard-boiled mysteries. Hammett and his ilk had sunk their fangs into me."
And he wrote. He eventually got his master's degree from Stanford (on South Sea adventure tales, of all things). But mostly he wrote fiction -- mostly hard-boiled crime fiction -- and eventually, in 1957, he started selling it. "To men's and the mystery magazines. Almost everything I did owed a great deal to Hammett's work."
Throughout the sixties he sold to Manhunt, to Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, to Negro Digest -- to anyone he could. He even worked for twelve years as a private eye. Just as his hero, Dashiell Hammett had done. Granted, Hammett never repoed cars, which is what Gores did, eventually going to work for Dave Kikkert and Associates.
It was, in Gores' opinion, all grist for the mill. He often relied on his former occupations, particularly his repo days, to lend an air of authenticy to his work, blasting through the "glamour" of detective work, showing the drudgery and grunt work of detection.
But none of his experience would have counted for a lick if, beneath it all, Gores hadn't been a helluva writer.
Joe Gores's first novel, A Time of Predators (1969), proved that. It was set in the suburban Peninsula region south of San Francisco and told of a Stanford professor who retrains himself in the long-dormant skills he used as a military commando to go after a gang of juvenile thugs who raped his wife. It won a well-deserved Edgar for Best First Novel.
For many, Gores' Interface is his masterpiece, often cited as one of the finest P.I. novels ever written. It introduced morally-challenged Neal Fargo, and features possibly the best surprise ending since Sam Spade refused to play the sap for Brigid O'Shaugnessy in The Maltese Falcon.
Gores has written several acclaimed standalones, including Wolf Time (1989), Dead Man (1993) and Cases (1999), and created a fair share of unique one-off private eye characters, including Danny Durant, Bonecrack Krajewski and Eddie Dain.
As you may have guessed from that last character's name, gores has also gone back to the Hammett pool several times. Hammett, his 1975 fictional take on his idol has the creator of Sam Spade and The Continental Op pushing aside the typewriter and getting "back on the game" as a favor for a pal. Set in San Francisco in 1928, it's part biography and part novel, and eventually inspired the Wim Wenders-directed feature film Hammett (1983).
But it's Gores DKA series that he'll be forever linked woith. The novels and short stories featuring skip tracers and repo men and women of Dan Kearney and Associates are simply one of the all-time great series and the closest anyone has ever come to a private eye version of Ed McBain's famed 87th Precinct procedural novels.
Joe passed away in January 2011. His last published novel, Spade and Archer (2009) was a fitting tribute to the man and his talent. And to his idol. It was a prequel of sorts to Hammett's most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon.
I had the chance to meet Joe a few years back, in a bar at the Bouchercon in Vegas, and we killed a little time while he waitied for our wives. He was charming and gracious, a generous man and a full-tilt storyteller 24/7.
He will be missed.
Great article from Notre Dame Magazine on the writing life.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. The photo of Gores at the top of this page was taken by Kim Komenich outside John's Grill in San Francisco. John's Grill, of course, is a setting for Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.
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