Max Allan Collins & Mickey Spillane,
Complex 90
(Titan, 2013)

Max Allan Collins has another new book this season, although the book is only partially his. When renowned mystery-suspense writer Mickey Spillane died, he left behind several unfinished manuscripts, including three featuring his series hero, Mike Hammer. Spillane, a good friend of Collins', entrusted his unfinished manuscripts to the younger writer, who has been completing them and bringing them to the public.

In this one, Mike Hammer has been asked to accompany a conservative senator on a trip to Russia. He does, and is promptly arrested. He just as promptly breaks out of the Russian jail and fights his way out of the country, killing 45 communists -- Russian citizens are always referred to as communists in this novel; Hammer and his creator were both violently anti-Communist.

At any rate, from the time Hammer makes it home, Russian spies are trying to capture him and bring him back to Russia. It appears that his own government would be just as happy if he was sent back as well. Hammer, while fighting to remain free, begins to question why he was chosen to go along on the trip in the first place and why the Russians are so anxious to get him back alive. Then, an old enemy of Hammer's, a man every bit as violent, sadistic and ready to kill as Hammer himself, shows up. Hammer, who went a round with this guy in an earlier book, thought he was safely in an American prison, but it turns out our government used him to make a deal and now he's back to kill Hammer and his associate and love interest, Velma.

As I mentioned in my review of the previous Spillane-Collins collaboration, Lady, Go Die, Spillane was a comic-book writer back in the Golden Age, who turned to writing mysteries after Frederic Wertham killed the crime comics he wrote by publishing Seduction of the Innocent. (In fact, he is credited as a research source by Collins.) It is this fact, I believe, that helps explain his love of exaggeration, his larger-than-life characters and the impossible situations his characters find themselves in, which generally have a visual quality to them; for example, I can't count the number of times Velma, described as a woman whose beauty is capable of causing brick buildings to crumble, is strung up naked.

Maybe the comic book qualities kill some of the realism of his books but they also give us a clear, straight-ahead narrative with a racing plot, fast-moving action and sheer narrative tension. You can't stop reading a Mickey Spillane book.

And you can only wonder how much he would love doing graphic novels.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

30 March 2013

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