Joe Gores (1931-2011) wrote sixteen novels and dozens of short stories. Although his legacy as a crime writer is substantial, he is probably best known for his DKA (Dan Kearney and Associates) novels. Kearney and his unforgettable collection of employees repossessed cars and did skip traces … the mundane, real-world work of private detectives. Yet mundane is never an apt descriptor of Gores’ writing. His fiction is tight, authentic, and memorable.
Educated at Notre Dame and Stanford (where he earned a master’s in English), Gores’ work experience included stints as a truck driver, a logger, and an assistant motel manager. He also taught English in Kenya. Yet it was the dozen years he spent working as a private detective (where he learned the art of repossessing cars) that most informs his crime fiction. More information about Gores’ life and his work is available in this Thrilling Detective entry.
Gores began writing crime fiction in 1957 and continued until shortly before his death. A multiple winner of the Edgar Award, Gores wrote television scripts in addition to books and stories. His novel Hammett (inspired by his long devotion to the work of Dashiell Hammett) was adapted to film in 1982. His love of Hammett’s writing led him to revive Sam Spade (after convincing Hammett’s family) in his last published work, a prequel to The Maltese Falcon titled Spade & Archer. The story behind that novel, and another glimpse of Gores’ rich life, is found in this article from Stanford Magazine.
Gores wrote engagingly (and too briefly) about his life and career here. The New York Times obituary also offers insight into the man and his work. This remembrance of Gores was penned by his friend Mark Coggins.
The Thrilling Detective website provides this bibliography.
If he were still alive, Joe Gores could be teaching a workshop for aspiring authors of crime novels. He did everything right. He gave his characters full, quirky, and recognizable personalities, he wrote with a sharp eye for detail, he maintained a steady pace, and he told credible, interesting stories that maintain interest from beginning to end. And he did all this with an amazing economy of language. Not one word of a Joe Gores novel is superfluous.
The Joe Gores novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:
Dead Skip - the first DKA novel, published in 1972, sends Dan Kearney and Larry Ballard on a fast-paced mission to find the man who nearly killed Barton Heslip.
Final Notice - the second DKA novel, published in 1973, again begins with the beating of a DKA employee (Ed Dorsey), and again follows Kearney and his crew as they solve the mystery behind the beating.
Gone, No Forwarding - the third DKA novel, published in 1978, involves a conspiracy that may lead to the loss of Kearney’s license as a private detective.