Mickey Spillane’s literary output could be classified as intimidating, both in practice and in the style his characters embodied. Although he sold more than 225 million copies of his books around the globe and had seven of the top 15 all-time best-selling fiction titles under his belt, no character was more popular than his signature detective Mike Hammer. Born out of his 1947 novel I, Jury, Hammer is every bit the hard boiled anti-hero that Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were. He’s a heavy drinker and a hardened ex-soldier who doesn’t care much for chivalry or manners. If he wasn’t so damn smooth and tough, it’d be a lot easier to root against him.
Spillane passed away from pancreatic cancer in July of 2006, leaving his legacy and unfinished work to Max Allan Collins. A week before his death, Mickey told his wife Jane, “When I’m gone, there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max — he’ll know what to do.” Collins stumbled upon was an unfinished sequel to I, The Jury, and that sequel became Lady, Go Die!
Mike Hammer and his raven-haired dame/secretary Velda are on vacation in Sidon (Long Island) away from the drudges of New York City when they come upon some hoods giving a helpless victim the business in a dark alley. Turns out they’re police, but Hammer has a history with the man doing the heavy beating, an old Vice cop by the name of Dekkert. After doing some grunt work of his own, Hammer saves the sad sap who now has a name: Poochie.
Poochie is an “idiot savant” who’s about as sharp as a butter knife. Hammer contacts the local MD Doc Moody to come patch up his new buddy at the hotel he’s staying at. He needs Poochie well to get some information on the happenings in this quiet little resort town. Poochie gives Hammer the score on Sidon and finds out a wealthy socialite by the name of Sharron Wesley has gone missing, and the town is wise enough to know that something’s up. It’s the kind of place with enough regulars that are wise to the fact that people don’t disappear for long stretches of time, even if that someone didn’t want to be found. When the bloated and murdered body of Sharron Wesley is found grotesquely posed on a stone horse in the town park, Hammer is back on the beat, unfurling a murder mystery like only noir can deliver.
Mike Hammer is the ultimate bad ass, his iron fist of toughness oozes from the pages. He’s the kind of cop who gets the answers he needs by using brute force, with the most quick-witted responses that can only come from a man who’s been on the beat long enough to know what gets things done. Take this passage for example, when he walks right into a police station and starts strong-arming everybody.
“I ought to kill you, Hammer!”
“Dekkert, I told you a long time ago, back in the city,” I said casually, “you are welcome to try it. Any time.”
I laughed in his face. “You’re not going to try anything, Dekkert.”
His teeth were clenched and his eyes showed white all round. “I’m not? And why is that, Hammer?”
“Because you’re yellow.”
Hammer is tougher than John Wayne’s whole career.
The story is more than 60 years old, with Collins working from a partial manuscript circa 1945. That doesn’t matter a bit, because the material couldn’t sound any fresher. Passages like the following prove that if guys like Frank Miller carried the hard-boiled noir torch with his best-selling Sin City series, then Spillane is the godfather who lit the whole damn thing.
“Pulling the trigger had been easy. Living with it had been hard. Crazy rage got replaced with a joyless emptiness. No emotion, no feeling. I felt as dead as the one I’d shot. I had evened the score for a friend but the cost had been high — a woman I loved was dead, and the bullet that sent the killer to hell had along the way punched a gaping hole in my soul. I tried to fill it with booze, or at least cauterize the damn thing, spending most of my evenings at Joe Mast’s joint, trying not to fall off a bar stool and usually failing. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing worked.”
Where would the best selling games Max Payne and L.A. Noire be without the grandfather of tough guy fiction ass-kicking the way?
The story more than justifies it’s published resurrection, with my only complaint being that I wanted more. Collins is more sure of the material than anyone who could have taken up the pen and dared to collaborate with a legend like Spillane. At 241 pages, it’s a breeze to read and a real joy to experience Hammer growl out lines Clint Eastwood would call tough. I for one am thrilled that Collins took the time to bring us some more Mike Hammer.
Somebody get me a whiskey neat.
Lady, Go Die! the new Mike Hammer novel is available at all fine bookstores now!