Mike Hammer Lives


Author Max Allan Collins remembers that when he was a teenager back in the early sixties, he was drawn to the work of the notorious mega best-seller Mickey Spillane. While the literary establishment was blowing gaskets over sadism and masochism—not to mention sex and ultraviolence—in the work of this hardest of hard-boiled authors, Collins was taken with Spillane’s “noir poetry” and “fever-dream prose.”

Collins, now a top-shelf genre author himself, recalled meeting Spillane, the notorious hell-raiser and creator of hard-edged PI Mike Hammer, at a Bouchercon in 1981. Following a brief exchange, they became friends and, eventually, collaborators, after Spillane chose Collins to complete manuscripts he’d abandoned. Finally, after Spillane’s death in 2006, Collins found himself appointed Spillane’s literary executor.

Collins has been finishing Spillane’s unfinished Hammer manuscripts—as well as westerns and stand-alone crime novels—since 2008 (The Goliath Bone). His most recent effort, Killing Town, published by Titan Books last April, is noteworthy for being Spillane’s first Hammer effort, abandoned by the author in the mid-1940s before he eventually returned to the character and launched the now-legendary series. Collins and his publisher are discussing how to honor the seventy-fifth anniversary of Hammer’s appearance in print in a few months. “There’s a possibility of a biography,” he says.

Collins figures there is enough unpublished, uncompleted material for “another six novels,” which means that Mickey Spillane will be living in his head for a good while longer. That doesn’t bother him a bit.

When the novels were new, Collins said, “all these critics chose one violent paragraph in The Big Kill to show how terrible Mickey was. I’ve always thought they were reading each other, not Mickey.”

And Spillane could handle them himself, Collins said. “He loved to tell about a literary luncheon he once attended. At that point, he’d written the first 6 of the top 10 best-selling books of all time, and a critic asked him, ‘Aren’t you ashamed for what you’ve done to the American reading public’s taste?’ Mickey answered, ‘Shaddup or I’ll write four more.'”

In reading Spillane, it’s important, Collins emphasizes, to “consider the era.” He explains, “Mike Hammer was a returning World War II vet who learned to kill in the jungle islands of the South Pacific. He was now going to deal with criminals the way he dealt with the enemy in war, bringing a combat soldier’s approach to crime fighting. This connected him with an audience of veterans returning to a postwar world that was not living up to its billing.”

And Collins is not a copy of Spillane or his hero. “I’m a liberal, Mickey was arch-conservative. Hammer believed the end justifies the means. I don’t.”

Collins says he is delighted when reviewers pick out “a typical Spillane line” from one of the novels, “and it’s one of mine!” Like the time Mike says they could hang his battered body “in a museum and people could stare and wonder what the hell I meant.” Collins wrote that.

Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels weren’t to every reader’s taste when they were written, and they won’t be today, either. But for anyone interested in the evolution of the hard-boiled style and the intersection of that style with noir fiction, they are essential. A major literary reclamation project continues.

Reading Spillane and Collins

The Goliath Bone (2008)
The Consummata (2011)
Lady, Go Die! (2012)
Complex 90 (2013)
King of Weeds (2014)
Kill Me, Darling (2015)
The Legend of Caleb York (2015)
Murder Never Knocks (2016)
A Long Time Dead (2016)
The Bloody Spur (2018)
Killing Town (2018)



About the Author:

Don Crinklaw is a former university teacher currently working as a reporter for the Tribune Company in Fort Lauderdale. He's written reviews for Booklist, Commonweal, National Review, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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