- - Thursday, September 1, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

MIKE HAMMER: MURDER NEVER KNOCKS

By Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Titan Books, $22.99, 255 pages

Murder is a comfortable topic in the bare knuckle world of Mike Hammer who punched his way through decades of thrillers. He is the legendary tough guy who sprang from the pen of Mickey Spillane and he has been brought to roaring life in a posthumous “last thriller.”

Max Allan Collins was an ideal choice to continue the bloody doings of Hammer. Murder begins the book with a hired killer who underestimates the private investigator and predictably winds up dead. Hammer has the kind of brutal skills that can put down three bad guys at once and tell wisecracks about it. It sounds dated but it isn’t. It is happily devoid of morality and it is doubtful anyone in it ever heard of political correctness. Which makes it a good old-fashioned read. Mr. Spillane picked the right man to move in on the pile of still-unpublished manuscripts that he bequeathed to Mr. Collins. What is interesting is that he also bequeathed a writing style that dates back through the 1950s and has an atmosphere of the film noir with men in trench coats and women who sound as if Damon Runyon would fit them into the cast of “Guys and Dolls.”

Nevertheless it is hard-bitten but solid. Hammer is always a little broke, and admits happily that he never turns down a thousand or three to keep him in his relatively modest lifestyle including the cigarettes he is trying to give up. He is still solidly enamored of Velda, his gun-packing secretary who is always where he needs her when he wants her, including in bed. And they have the kind of sophisticated relationship that didn’t become fashionable for about another 20 years when open marriage hit the happy couples. In this hard-bitten case, Hammer bounces into his next assignment to protect a Hollywood producer throwing a party for the Broadway star who is his current fiancee. Of course somebody gets killed. Murder comes calling again for one of the victims, a newsstand operator who took a bullet meant for Hammer, seriously annoying the private eye who seems offended by the ones that miss as well as the ones that find their target.

And he feels more kindly toward newsstand operators than wealthy producers anyway, as the producer finds out. Mr. Collins has a fistful of thrillers of his own, but he is quoted as being more than pleased at becoming Mr. Spillane’s literary executor and this book sounds a though he is looking forward to another career in which large numbers of bad guys are down and dead. He even appears to enjoy Hammer’s friendship with Pat Clark, probably one of the more easygoing detectives in the New York Police Department and a man who always has Hammer’s back. The plot has a nice twist at the end and it is giving away no secrets to announce Hammer not only survives but is off to bigger and probably bloodier things, undoubtedly with the help of Velda.

It is not surprising that with 225 million copies, Mr. Spillane was the best-selling American mystery writer of the 20th century, even topping Agatha Christie’s legions of fans. It is safe to say however that Ms. Christie probably did better with murderous butlers and never fired a gun in her life. It must also be said that Hammer was an original. Ms. Christie probably would have appreciated his handling of the hit man poised to shoot him in his private office. The investigator throws a glass ashtray at him, thereby spoiling his aim. Then he complains about the loss of the ashtray.

Mr. Collins acknowledges that he tries to live up to the Spillane reputation and perhaps that is why there is so much irony in the fate of murderers foolish enough to take on Hammer. Who else would say of a departing killer, “Just before his lights went out, I bid him goodbye. My way.” You can hardly wait for “Lady, Go Die” featuring a modern Lady Godiva naked astride a horse.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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