Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins: The Big Bang
Penzler/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00
As I've mentioned before, it was Jack London and Ray Bradbury whose stories inspired me to start writing in the fourth and fifth grades. But it was reading four novels by Mickey Spillane in seventh grade that taught me how to put scenes together. Reading him also showed me how important it was to create an atmosphere for the scenes. I was terrible of course but Spillane gave me my first inkling of how fiction really worked. I still reread my two favorites of his, Kiss Me, Deadly and The Long Wait, every few years. Because of the violence (tame by today's standards) and politics he was dismissed as a goon. It took decades for his considerable talents to be identified and appreciated. He was a master of the hardboiled; his vision of post-War America was every bit as serious as other writers preferred by the literary establishment. Most of those writers have long been forgotten of course.
So, needless to say, I'm happy that the Spilllane name is once again on the cover of brand new novels, this time shared with that of Max Allan Colllns.
The Big Bang, the second novel produced in the collaboration, takes me back to the dark and gritty first novels of Mike Hammer. The narrative urgency, the world viewed as a corrupt hellish sink-hole, and the single most important rule of the road--neither believe nor trust anyone.
Here we have Hammer on the mean streets of the city breaking up a mugging. But what kind of mugging involves three men beating a bicycle messenger? Hammer doesn't have time for questions at this point. Collins is a good as Spillane at creating bravura fight scenes. The thugs die for their trouble.
But as Hammer soon learns the mugging was no isolated incident when somebody tries to stab him. And there's a gung-ho assistant D.A. dogging Hammer's tracks. Why? What has Hammer stumbled into?
All this is classic Hammer as he penetrates the midnight secrets of a corrupt city. Collins keeps the Spillane legend fresh and lively with his consummate craftsmanship. This was a two-sitting book for me. I couldn't wait to get back to it. And you won't either.
This should be a book club selection. Those of us who grew up reading (and learning) from Spillane are glad to be back in his definitively rnumber one bestseller world wide.
Max Allan Collins (from his blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins) http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/
Jon Breen reviews The Big Bang in Ellery Queen:
*** – In New York of the 1960’s, Mike Hammer confronts the counterculture and battles the drug trade. The tough private eye is sent on an unusual journey late in the going. This one is vastly better than the first posthumous Hammer, The Goliath Bone (reviewed here in March/April 2009), probably because Spillane’s part was written when he was closer to his prime and collaborator Collins was left with more to do. There’s a clever concept at the center of the plot, a fine finishing twist, and plentiful humorous examples of the older writer’s influence on his younger acolyte, a far superior writer.
From the blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/
I have to point out that Jon Breen is not a Spillane fan. He has been a huge booster of mine, for many years, but he has never, ever warmed to Mickey and Mike. Getting a three-star review out of him for THE BIG BANG means that both Mickey and I did something very, very right. Or that I have finally worn him down….
While I like THE GOLIATH BONE (the previous Collins-Spillane collaboration) a lot, I agree with Jon that THE BIG BANG is much better – it is probably the best ‘60s Hammer after THE GIRL HUNTERS (I exclude THE TWISTED THING, because it was written in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s and withheld for publication until 1966). But I also think KISS HER GOODBYE (the third posthumous Hammer, the “lost” ‘70s novel, out sometime next year) is probably the best of the trio. This shocked me, because I was so happy with THE BIG BANG. But ultimately I think KISS HER GOODBYE is even better.
It’s very important that anybody caring enough to read this update buy THE BIG BANG, and if you haven’t picked up THE GOLIATH BONE, please do so in August when it hits mass-market paperback. It’s crucial that you support these books, and encourage others to buy and read them. I make this plea because there are three other substantial Hammer manuscripts that need completion, and for me to be able to finish those three remaining Hammer novels, these first three have to sell very well. Right now we’re doing okay, but just okay…bewilderingly, foreign publishers have not picked up on GOLIATH BONE or BIG BANG (with the exception of the UK). Considering that Mickey was the most widely translated American author of the 20th Century, that one has me shaking my head.
I’ve discussed this several other places, but here are the three remaining, as yet-to-be-completed Hammer novels:
COMPLEX 90 – a cold war thriller, a sequel to THE GIRL HUNTERS, started around 1964. Mike Hammer goes to Russia and kills lots of Rooskies. Amazing stuff from Mickey in his prime.
LADY GO DIE! – the second, never-completed Mike Hammer novel, written between I, THE JURY and MY GUN IS QUICK (and the postponed TWISTED THING). Mike and Velda vacation in a small town, where a killer is slaying left and right, and Velda gets kidnapped. Written in 1948, the year I was born! A major discovery in the Spillane files.
KING OF THE WEEDS – a book begun in the ‘80s by Mickey, a sort of response to the TV show. It’s a serial killer novel and deals with the impending retirement of Pat Chambers. Mick intended this to be the final Hammer, until 9/11 inspired him to set this book aside and start THE GOLIATH BONE. The lost ‘80s Mike Hammer novel.
All three of these are substantial manuscripts – 100 finished pages or more, with plot and character notes. Some people have the idea that I am writing these by myself, maybe working from scraps of paper or something. Bullshit. These are novels that were well under way when Mickey (for various reasons) set each aside, in every case intending to return to them.
Why is this so important? So what if Spillane left half a dozen half-finished Mike Hammer novels in his files?
Mickey’s first seven novels were the bestselling American mystery novels of all time. In the 20th century, he outsold everybody – from Erskine Caldwell to Stephen King, from Jacqueline Susann to Dean Koontz. In mystery fiction, only Agatha Christie has outsold him worldwide. In America, during Mickey’s heyday, only Erle Stanley Gardner came close.
But the difference is this: Christie wrote 33 Poirot novels and 54 Poirot short stories; Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels and stories. The great Rex Stout wrote 33 Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels and dozens of Wolfe/Archie novellas.
Mickey wrote no formal Mike Hammer short stories (there are a couple of exceptions that I helped find their way into print) and a mere 13 Mike Hammer novels.
For a fictional detective of Hammer’s fame, popularity and influence to have appeared in such a relative handful of books is remarkable in itself. That another six stand to be added to the canon – completed by the writer Spillane chose himself, in his final weeks – is unique in the genre.
It’s particularly interesting (if merely coincidental) that Spillane made his fame and fortune based on six Mike Hammer novels, published between 1947 and 1952 – I, THE JURY; MY GUN IS QUICK; VENGEANCE IS MINE!; ONE LONELY NIGHT; THE BIG KILL; and KISS ME, DEADLY. The entire private eye novel revival of the fifties and the TV show craze it spawned grew out of the success of those half dozen novels.
Now we have six more to add to the canon. Three are a done deal. Three more will not happen unless readers step up to the cash register and sign up as Mickey Spillane’s favorite kind of human: customers.
As a postscript to the above, I must note that there are a number of smaller Hammer fragments in Mickey’s files. I have already turned one of those into a short story, “The Big Switch,” for The Strand Magazine, and just fashioned another Hammer story for The Strand, “A Longtime Dead,” plus the audio Hammer novel in progress, ENCORE FOR MURDER, derives from a one-page novel outline of Mickey’s.
I have four or five potential Hammer novels beyond the six mentioned above, but these would be based on a chapter plus plot notes, in most cases. Not the truly substantial half-dozen manuscripts mentioned. There are several other interesting manuscripts in the files – a rough draft of a Mike Danger novel from the ‘80s; one hundred-plus pages of a second Morgan the Raider novel; a third young adult novel about his Josh and Larry kid characters; and several completed screenplays (all non-Hammer) that could be novelized.
So if Spillane got hot again, there could be ten or fifteen years of wonderful new/old material. But making that happen is not my primary goal.
Adding six more real Mike Hammer novels to the canon is what this effort is about. Three have been done. Readers, help me build enough support to get the other three finished, as well.