Joe Gores, 79; mystery writer turned jobs into popular stories

By William Grimes
New York Times / January 20, 2011

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NEW YORK — Joe Gores, a crime writer whose spare, chiseled sentences and deadpan dialogue put him squarely in the Dashiell Hammett tradition and who persuaded Hammett’s daughter to let him write a follow-up to “The Maltese Falcon,’’ died Jan. 10 in Greenbrae, Calif. He was 79 and lived in San Anselmo.

The cause was complications of bleeding ulcers, said his stepdaughter, Gillian Monserrat.

Mr. Gores, well known to crime fiction fans as a short-story writer, scored a critical success in 1969 with his first novel, “A Time of Predators,’’ the story of an ordinary man who wrestles with his conscience as he tries to avenge the murder of his wife by a teenage gang. It was named the best debut mystery novel by the Mystery Writers of America, which gave it its Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1970.

He also won an Edgar that year for “Good-bye, Pops,’’ a short story that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Mr. Gores followed up with “Dead Skip’’ (1972), the first in a series of taut, ingeniously plotted stories about Daniel Kearney Associates, a detective agency whose main focus is repossessing cars, a job Mr. Gores once held. Joseph Nicholas Gores was born in Rochester, Minn. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Notre Dame University in 1953 he took a series of jobs that would stand him in good stead as a writer. At various times he was a hod carrier, a logger, a truck driver, a manager of a hot-sheet motel, and a gym instructor.

Mr. Gores sold his first story in 1957 to Manhunt, one of the last of the pulp magazines. After earning a master’s in English literature from Stanford, he taught English in Kenya.

“While living in Africa, I read Robert Ardrey’s ‘African Genesis,’ and a few years later Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces,’ ’’ he told the reference work Contemporary Authors. “From these I came to understand what my basic fictional theme was: a hero who has been stripped of society’s defenses must overcome danger and death armed only with the genetic survival skills inherited from his prehuman ancestors.’’

He wrote many screenplays, as well as television scripts for the series “B.L. Stryker’’ (for which he was a story editor), “Remington Steele,’’ and “Magnum, P.I.’’ One of his scripts for “Kojak,’’ “No Immunity for Murder,’’ won an Edgar Award in 1976.