The Blackstone Audio Mike Hammer plays showed up in the stocking Friday, and listening to the stories put me on a Mickey Kick like I haven’t been on in several years. Hammer was the first hard-boiled P.I. I read about back in the day, so when I started writing my own private eye stories, of course the hero vaguely resembled Hammer. I read anything I could get my hands on that had Spillane’s name on the cover—still do—but in the last few years I’ve moved on to other authors and Mickey has fallen by the wayside; with the posthumous Spillane material Max Allan Collins is working on, that won’t be the case for long.
The audio plays made me think of the two last Hammer books Spillane wrote before he died, 1989’s “The Killing Man” and 1996’s “Black Alley”. “The Killing Man” is my favorite of the two, so that’s what I’ll start with. That’s also, incidentally, the order in which they were published, in case you didn’t realize.
When we meet Hammer in “The Killing Man” not much has changed since the novel that preceded it ten years earlier, “Survival…Zero” (one of the best Hammer books, by the way—what an ending!). He’s on his way to the office, a rare Saturday appointment, and when he gets there he finds his secretary Velda on the floor, wounded from a blow to the head and near death, and a dead man in his office chair with a note staked on his chest that reads YOU DIE FOR KILLING ME.
Hammer proceeds to beat the tar out of bad guys; verbally spar with politicians, federal men, and a feisty district attorney; and dishes out some .45-caliber punishment as he tracks down the man who nearly killed Velda.
I think the first chapter should be memorized by anybody who writes and wants a lesson on how to create tension. That first chapter is nothing but tension and Spillane carries the mood through the rest of the book. The first time I read it, I thought, “Wow, what a great book!” After reading it the third time, flaws started popping out. Hammer doesn’t really do much other than talk to sources who provide information and argues with members of law enforcement who think they know more about crime busting than he does. He really doesn't do any real detective work. The solution comes out of thin air and I don’t think is properly set-up, but it’s a decent ending as endings go. We learn that the killer wants to murder Hammer for something Hammer did to the killer’s family, and it’s the last bit of righteous firepower Hammer dishes out since when we see him again in “Black Alley” he barely does any shooting. “Black Alley” is not my favorite book; I hated it so much, I read it three times. It’s a good book but it’s not a real Mike Hammer book. (And that concludes my comments on “Black Alley”.)
Mickey Spillane will always be a favorite, and forever an inspiration, but I think he was at his best with his original seven books. The stuff he wrote post-The Deep doesn't have the same impact; one or two are good, the rest are formulaic. My absolute favorite of the latter-day efforts is The Delta Factor, it’s just a rip-roaring adventure, and I’ll write about that soon, and meanwhile hope that one day we see the rumored sequel to Morgan the Raider’s first adventure (any word on that, Max?). Then again, The Delta Factor has some competition, and that book would be The Erection Set. And anybody who admits that they enjoy The Erection Set is a Spillane fan indeed.