“Spade & Archer,” by Joe Gores; Alfred A. Knopf; 337 pages; $24.

Breathing new life into an iconic character created by a long-dead author is a risky business that requires both skill and daring.

John Gardner pulled it off rather nicely with Ian Fleming’s 007, but Robert Parker’s attempt to resurrect Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe (“Poodle Springs,” 1989) was a disaster.

Now comes veteran mystery writer Joe Gores with “Spade & Archer,” a “prequel” to Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 masterpiece, “The Maltese Falcon.”

Taking on Hammett is a formidable task.

“The Maltese Falcon” was a novel of astounding originality. It virtually invented the noir style, setting the stage for every hard-boiled writer and movie director from Chandler and John Houston to today’s James Ellroy and the Coen brothers. And the novel’s protagonist, Sam Spade – disdainful of authority, wisecracking in the face of danger, and impervious to the wiles of conniving women – defined the ideal of the American private eye for all time.

Still, Gores would seem to be a logical candidate for the job. He’s something of a Hammett expert. He made Hammett, who worked as a Pinkerton detective before taking up writing, the hero of one of his 16 previous detective novels (“Hammett,” 1975.) And Hammett’s daughter, Jo Marshall, gave Gores her approval to give it a try.

Gores has said that in writing the book, he “set out to find out for myself who Sam Spade was when he started out.” And Gores’ publisher boasts: “What we don’t know is how Spade became who he is, until now.”

By that standard, the book doesn’t work, because we still don’t know.

Gores does invent new details about Spade’s past. He tell us that Spade was a sharpshooter in World War I. He tells us how Spade became partners with Miles Archer, who is shot down in the opening pages of “The Maltese Falcon.” Gores even tells us how Spade began his affair with Archer’s wife, Iva, whom the hero tosses away like a dirty old sock in “The Maltese Falcon.”

But from the very first page of “Spade & Archer,” Sam Spade is the same cool customer we came to know in Hammett’s book, and Gores provides no insight into how he got to be that way.

Perhaps that’s for the best, however. It’s difficult to think of Sam Spade as being anything other than the way Hammett created him. One imagines Spade born wearing a fedora, packing a gat, and greeting the midwife with a wisecrack and a sneer.

In writing “Spade & Archer,” Gores abandoned his own broad prose style and chose instead to mimic Hammett’s staccato dialogue and clipped narrative. He even copies Hammett’s habit (considered archaic by today’s crime novelists) of elaborately describing every character:

“The clerk was a blonde of about his age, pretty verging on beautiful, with an oval face, blue eyes, and a moist red mouth. Her silk-striped woolen rep dress, too fashionable for a shopgirl to wear to work, clung to an exquisite body.”

Mimicry is difficult to do well, but Gores nearly pulls it off, falling short mainly in Spade’s dialogue. Gore’s Spade, like Hammett’s, cracks wise, but in Gore’s hands the dialogue isn’t quite as sharp and clever.

In scope, however, “Spade & Archer” differs greatly from the original. “The Maltese Falcon” unfolds in about 24 hours, most of the action occurring in Spade’s office. “Spade & Archer” spans seven years. It has Spade gallivanting from Seattle to San Francisco. And in Spade’s frequent jaunts from Mission Hill to Sausalito, Gores gets to show off his impressive research about the Bay Area in the 1920s.

In “The Maltese Falcon,” Sam Spade grapples with a treacherous trio intent on finding a jewel-encrusted black bird. Once you suspend disbelief and accept the farfetched premise, the plot unfolds logically, no matter how surprising the twists.

In “Spade & Archer,” Spade is hired to find a rich kid who is trying to run away to the South Sea Islands, investigates the theft of thousands of dollars in gold coins, looks into the apparent suicide of a banker, helps out a young woman who’s gotten herself into some kind of trouble, and is hired by the illegitimate daughter of Sun Yat-Sen to track down missing money that was raised for him by Chinese Americans. Gores clumsily weaves all of these threads together into a single, hard-to-swallow mystery.

For all its failings, however, “Spade & Archer” is a quick, often pleasurable read. Gores should be commended for his desire to bring Sam Spade back to life and for making a noble attempt to do the near-impossible.

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