Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins,
Lady, Go Die
(Titan, 2012)

When premier hard-boiled mystery writer Mickey Spillane died, he left behind a ton of projects in progress, semi-completed novels that fell into the possession of his good friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins. With the encouragement of Spillane's estate, Collins took on the task of completing these novels and publishing them as collaborative works. Titan signed on to publish three books featuring Mike Hammer, Spillane's primary series character.

For the kids out there, a little social history is in order. In 1947, Spillane, a former comic book writer, published I, the Jury and turned the publishing world on its head. A violent, almost sadistic private eye novel, I, the Jury was the book that the phrase "runaway bestseller" may as well have coined to describe. The novel went through more than 60 paperback printings in its first year on the market, starting a mass market paperback revolution. It has never been out of print.

Lady, Go Die was meant to be the followup to I, the Jury, but Spillane abandoned it. When Collins discovered it among the Spillane papers entrusted to him, he knew he had to finish it. In Collins, Spillane had the perfect co-writer. A crime writer himself, he shared Spillane's aesthetic and even had the same comic book background.

So, what kind of book is Lady, Go Die? It has an action-filled, speed-of-light plot that states its intentions and grabs you from its opening sentence: "They were kicking the hell out of the little guy." Hammer and his secretary are on vacation in the small Long Island beach town of Sidon when Hammer discovers the beating and intervenes. The attackers, it turns out, are local cops whom Hammer, who rarely bothers to ask questions, kicks the hell out of. This action does not endear him to the local force, which makes trouble for him when a rich year-round resident woman turns up murdered and placed on top of a statue of a horse in the town park.

Hammer gets involved in the case, which turns out to be much more complicated than it appeared on the surface. It involves crooked cops, illegal gambling, the syndicate and a missing quarter-million dollars, which in 1947 was worth something. In case this isn't enough, a side plot has to do with a serial killer, who has been murdering beautiful young women, stealing their clothes and posing their bodies as if they were works of art.

Both Spillane and Collins know how to keep you turning the pages. It's as if they're standing behind you, one by each shoulder, urging you on. Lady, Go Die is compulsively readable. I believe the secret to its readability lies in the comic-book background of its creators; Mike Hammer isn't simply a post-World War II private detective, he is a modern-day superhero, capable of beating up three mean-ass thugs without working up a sweat. He is fast enough on the draw to whip out his .45 and shoot the gun out of the hand a man who already has a bead on him.

Obviously, he is never intimidated.

He has a comic-book philosophy, too (and this is a statement of fact, not an implied criticism.). He quit the police force because they had too many rules. He decided he'd rather use a simpler method for dealing with criminals; he'd kill them -- being careful, of course, to make it self-defense. As he says, "I'm a killer, not a murderer."

Even though it is text, you read Lady, Go Die the way you'd read a comic book or graphic novel: with a pretty strong suspension of disbelief. Mike Hammer fans will be glad to see him back and readers new to the series ought to welcome this entry.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 April 2012

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