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Joe Gores dies at 79; prize-winning mystery writer

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Joe Gores, a former San Francisco private investigator who became a prize-winning author of hardboiled mysteries such as "Hammett," "Come Morning" and "Spade & Archer," has died. He was 79.

A resident of San Anselmo, Calif., Gores died of a stomach hemorrhage Monday at Marin General Hospital in nearby Greenbrae, said Tim Gould, his stepson.

Gores, who began his career selling short stories to magazines in the late 1950s, received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1970 for best first novel, "A Time of Predators."

He won two other Edgar Awards — in 1970 for best short story, "Goodbye, Pops"; and in 1976 for best episode in a TV series, "No Immunity for Murder," a segment of "Kojak."

Gore's 1975 novel "Hammett," in which mystery writer and former Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett becomes involved in a murder case in 1928 San Francisco, became a 1982 movie with Francis Ford Coppola as executive producer, Wim Wenders as director and Frederic Forrest as Hammett.

Gores, whose novels include "Interface," "Wolf Time" and "Glass Tiger," also wrote the popular DKA series about a San Francisco skip-tracing firm, Daniel Kearny Associates.

"He was one of the really admired writers in the field, and admired by his colleagues too as a guy who could write really wonderful books," said Otto Penzler, whose Mysterious Press and Otto Penzler Books published about 10 of Gores' novels.

More than three decades after the publication of "Hammett," Gores wrote "Spade & Archer," a 2009 prequel to Hammett's 1930 classic "The Maltese Falcon."

"It's an outstanding book, truly first-rate," Penzler said. "He understood the language, the cadences, that Hammett used, and it was a remarkable achievement. It's a tricky business writing a sequel to 'The Maltese Falcon' because you're going to be examined very closely by all the fans of both Hammett and 'The Maltese Falcon.' "

Richard Layman, a trustee of the Dashiell Hammett Literary Property Trust and a longtime friend of Gores, said he "had a special affinity with the works of Dashiell Hammett, and 'Spade & Archer' is evidence of that."

"He was so good at capturing Hammett's voice that his daughter [Josephine Hammett] had to stop herself from time to time and remind herself that she wasn't reading her father."

As for Gores' novel "Hammett," Layman said "the reason Joe was perfectly suited to write it is he didn't write from intuition or guesswork. Before he wrote the novel, he did very careful research on Hammett's life in San Francisco and, in particular, 'The Maltese Falcon.'

"He used his skills as a detective to do the same thing that Hammett did as a writer, that is, write what he knew."

Gores, a former president of the Mystery Writers of America, worked extensively in television in the 1970s and '80s, including writing episodes of series such as "Columbo," "Remington Steele," "Magnum, P.I." and "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer."

Born Dec. 25, 1931, in Rochester, Minn., Gores earned a bachelor's degree in English literature at the University of Notre Dame in 1953. After a stint in the Army in the late 1950s, he earned a master's degree in English literature at Stanford University in 1961.

Once his first short story was published, Gores told the Rocky Mountain News in 1995, "I just kept writing through all my jobs — laborer, clerk, truck driver, logger, teacher, whatever. I enjoy the research, learning as I go."

While attending grad school at Stanford, he lived above a weightlifting gym in Palo Alto, where he also worked, he recalled in a 1992 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

"There was a guy who came in who was a private eye, a repo man, and he used to tell these wonderful stories. I said, 'Geez, that sounds like fun, can I ride around with you some night?' "

He did and wound up working on and off as a car repo man and private investigator for many years while continuing to write.

"I tell people that I learned to write mystery novels by turning out complete reports on cases during my days as a detective," he said in the Rocky Mountain News interview. "That taught me the benefits of logically stating the fact, so that everything made sense."

In a 1981 interview with The Times, Gores said he was fascinated by "that thing between being a detective and a novelist."

"A detective gets in and digs around in the garbage of people's life. A novelist invents people and then digs around in their garbage. They're very similar."

In addition to his stepson, Gores is survived by his wife, Dori; a stepdaughter, Gillian Monserrat; and two granddaughters.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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