Hammer Time.

masquerade for murder

Thank goodness for indie booksellers doing their best with curbside pickup.

My last bundle of books (in a free tote, no less) included Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins’ new Masquerade For Murder – A Mike Hammer Novel. It’s no secret here at this site: I’m a Mickey Spillane fan and proud to defend the much-maligned writer to literary-leaning mystery/crime fiction readers and authors. And, I happen to be a Max Allan Collins fan as well, loving his long-running Nathan Heller series along with Ms. Tree, the Maggie Starr series (please write some more of those, Mr. Collins) and others.

With a new title out, it’s no surprise that you’ll see Collins appearing here and there. I recommend “My Five Favorite Private Eyes” at Criminal Element (link below), those detectives including Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin, (not surprisingly) Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Max Allan Collins’ own Nathan Heller. Confession: I’m not a huge Nero Wolfe fan. And for me it’ll always be Chandler/Marlowe all the way over Hammett/Spade. But, lets not argue about it. They’re all great.

criminal element

Also turn to Mystery Fanfare (Mystery Readers Inc.) for “Completing Mike Hammer” by Collins himself (link also below), in which the author provides some background on the 1950’s publishing sensation (225 million books sold), how his association with Spillane came about and some insights into the process of fleshing out incomplete Spillane materials.

mystery fanfare

As for Masquerade For Murder? I’d have devoured this novel in an evening or two if day-job responsibilities hadn’t intruded (pandemic sheltering-in notwithstanding). The 220-page Titan Books hardcover was a quick read, as a Mike Hammer novel ought to be. Collins concedes that he had less to go on in the way of Spillane’s notes, partials, outlines, etc. for  this one, in which a slightly older, wiser but no less dangerous Mike Hammer witnesses the suspicious hit-and-run of a prominent financial wunderkind, which leads him and Velda Sterling through a maze of Wall Street brokerages and decadent 1980’s New Wave nightclubs, tangling with wealthy traders, brutal bank robbers, a blackmailing call girl and a particularly lethal martial arts murderer. Spillane loved ‘gotcha’ endings, and although the ‘bad guy’s’ identity isn’t all that much of a secret here, Collins still cooked up a zinger in the final pages, with a femme fatale getting her just desserts, followed by a more tragic ending.

Bottom line: If you revere Mickey Spillane like I do, or at least enjoyed his Mike Hammer novels, you’ll go for Masquerade For Murder. No, it’s not from the hands of the master, but it is channeled through and lovingly crafted by a friend, credible expert, hard-core enthusiast and one heck of good writer.

https://www.criminalelement.com/my-five-favorite-private-eyes/

http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2020/05/completing-mike-hammer-by-max-allan.html

Over 6,000 Books Per Day.

The Loong Wait 1

Just over 6,000 books per day. Every single day. For the last 102 years, since the day he was born on March 9, 1918, in fact. That’s how many books you’d have to sell to equal Mickey Spillane’s estimated tally.

That’s not just a successful writer. That’s a pop culture phenomenon.

Born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, New York, Mickey was writing for comics in the 1940’s, a career he’d started while still a Gimbels basement salesman before enlisting in the Army Air Corps the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The comics scripts led to writing two-page prose shorts used as filler in some titles. Newly married after the war and looking to buy a country house in exurban Newburgh, New York, Spillane decided to write a novel for some added income, blasting out I, The Jury in just 19 days. Accepted by Dutton, it sold over 6.5 million copies in its initial hardcover and paperback releases. Pre-Amazon, pre-eBook.  I, The Jury introduced postwar crime fiction readers to an entirely new type of hard-boiled private eye: Mike Hammer, adapted from Spillane’s earlier Mike Danger comic scripts, a rough, tough loner dispatching vigilante justice with his fists and his .45 on single-minded vengeance filled quests against organized crime in the earliest novels, and Communist spies in later works. Spillane wrote 13 Hammer novels (and a number of short stories) between 1947 and 1996, some unfinished manuscripts later completed by Iowa writer Max Allan Collins in recent years. I’ve got ‘em all, some in different editions, along with Primal Spillane, collecting his early shorts, Collins and James Taylor’s One Lonely Night – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and From The Files Of Mike Hammer – The Complete Dailies And Sunday Strips from the mid-50’s and others. A scan of my more-or-less demolished (slightly cleaned up for use here) 1952 first printing of Spillane’s The Long Wait paperback is the image up above. I want to get the edition below, and will inevitably when I spot one going for less than collector prices.

The ong Wait 2

The Long Wait is a non-Hammer novel, though with some minor tweaks it easily could be, and I suppose Spillane scholars debate whether it started out as one. In the tradition of Ross MacDonald’s 1947 Blue City and a host of similar crime fiction novels, a drifter who’s much more than he seems stirs up trouble in a lethally crooked town, not arriving as a hero on a quest, but seeking vengeance. When the dust settles – or the gun smoke clears, the blood stops flowing and the screams finally fall silent, this being a Mickey Spillane novel – there’s a brief bit of ‘gotcha’ at the very end as in most Spillane tales, though they all (like so many postwar crime fiction novels) could do with expanded denouements, IMHO. Also shown here is a foreign (French?) edition which adapts the original U.S. hardcover’s dustjacket art. The other is an Orion UK paperback edition, which is what you get today if you order a new paperback online, and what the hell that cover art is about, I don’t know.

The Long Wait 3

I cherish Spillane’s first wave of Mike Hammer novels from 1947 through 1952 (before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, putting his writing temporarily on hold): I, The Jury, My Gun Is Quick, Vengeance Is Mine!, One Lonely Night, The Big Kill and Kiss Me, Deadly. Still, I have a particular but inexplicable affection for The Long Wait, every bit as hard-boiled, gritty, violent and retro-sexy as any of his early Hammer books, if not more so.

The Long Wait 4

It was made into a film starring Anthony Quinn and Peggie Castle in 1954, which I’ve never seen, though it sounds like it uses at least the core of Spillane’s novel. It doesn’t seem to be available on disk or download, and the only sites I see offering the film have “dot-ru” at the end, so you’ll understand if I’m not ready to click away on those.

The Long Wait 5

Mickey Spillane’s popularity was lamented by intellectuals. He was reviled by literary critics, envied by fellow writers, and adored by readers (he called them customers) and paperback rack-jobbers. For good or bad, he added a new chapter to the evolving twentieth century mystery/crime fiction genre and to the paperback book pop culture revolution.

So, happy 102ndbirthday, Mickey Spillane. Say hello to Velda and Pat Chambers for me.

Listening To: (I Wish)

The Music From Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer

From Modernizor at Tumblr and Pinterest, originally from Flickr, The Music From Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, which looks like it’s music from the Mike Hammer TV series, arranged and conducted by Skip Martin…featuring RCA Victor’s ‘Sound Of Violence’?! Oh I wish that LP was spinning on my turntable right now.

 

The Master At 101 Years

Kiss me Deadly

Shame on me, but I screwed up my post scheduling, so this was meant to appear on Saturday.

A belated birthday acknowledgment to Frank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, born 101 years ago on March 9th, who sadly left us in 2006. Loved by readers, resented by writers (to this day), reviled by critics, spoofed by himself and many others, the man was actually an instrumental part of building the postwar paperback marketplace. I’ll argue that he played a part in revitalizing — maybe even redefining —  the hard-boiled private eye novel for the second half of the twentieth century, and along the way, sold a mere 225 million books.

Crime Reads Screen Cap

Crime Reads editor Molly Odintz has a very interesting piece at Crimereads.com, “The Ten Best And Pulpiest Mickey Spillane Covers”  – do log on and check it out. The covers shown here aren’t the ones Odintz presents, and some might say her choices aren’t anywhere near as pulpy, weird or downright pervy as some Spillane covers can be. Molly Odintz acknowledges that while commercial success should never be a measure of literary merit, Spillane’s recent centennial and various authors (Max Allan Collins key among them) arguing for a reassessment of the writer’s importance begs for publishers to reissue his work, but in different cover art, “…so that folks like me will actually want to read him in public. Can you imagine bringing one of these on the subway?” But she continues, and this is crucial to understanding Spillane and his work: “But Mickey Spillane didn’t care about what people thought of his cover designs, or the literary merit of his books, and paid no attention to any censorial judgments whatsoever, so perhaps the best way to celebrate the iconic writer’s birthday would indeed be to bring one of these on the subway – and not care what anyone thinks”.

Vengeance Is Mine

Odintz showcases ten Spillane covers she considers particularly weird, pulpy or tawdry. Anyone familiar with postwar pulp magazine and paperback cover art may consider them surprisingly tame. I’ll concede, Spillane’s One Lonely Night was almost always packaged with particularly disturbing cover art of a bound and partially stripped woman. The 1960’s – 70’s era Spillane reissues followed that period’s trend towards photo cover art, and typically employed provocatively posed near-nude women with no relation to the title, story or…well, anything at all, simply beckoning to the reader with ‘come-hither’ expressions. Some European editions of Spillane novels went way beyond anything that would be allowed in the U.S. market. And the fact is, many 1950’s era mystery/crime fiction paperbacks (and certainly the remaining pulps from the same era) can completely out-weird, out-sex, out-perv most any Mickey Spillane cover art, with one after another depicting menacing thugs and lover-boy private eyes threatening or otherwise taking advantage of a gallery of women-as-victims and women-as-eye-candy, invariably undressed or undressing in fetishistic detail, restrained, terrified…or often as not…dead.

One Lonely Night

Do we blame the writers? The publishers, their art directors, the illustrators? Do we blame the culture of the time? Do we blame anyone at all, or do we just recognize that they’re artifacts from another era? Don’t ask me…I’ll have to leave vexing questions like that to smarter folks than I. But I won’t apologize for appreciating Mickey Spillane. I have all of the Mickey Spillane novels, with doubles and triples of a few from different eras, along with the unfinished works completed by Max Allan Collins, some few books about Spillane, the complete Mike Hammer comic strip book and sundry other Spillane items. Call me a fan.

The Body Lovers

While I don’t ride the subway, I fully understand what Molly Odintz is saying, and there are more than a few (maybe most) of my Spillane books that I’m not too eager to whip out in the coffee shop, just so I can watch fellow patrons ease their chairs away from me. But the same goes for other vintage paperbacks I have, and quite a few contemporary books, now that I think of it.

Cheap used bookstore copies of the first few Mike Hammer novels were actually what lured me into the mystery/crime fiction genre in the first place, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. Spillane’s no-nonsense prose and plot-first writing style guides me in my own humble writing attempts, particularly whenever I get ‘writerly’. I don’t know if, like Molly Odintz, I’d like to see Mickey Spillane’s body of work reissued in ‘tamer’ packaging, or just as she speculates, if the hard-boiled crime fiction master’s work indeed should be reissued, but in cover art that celebrates all the violent, sexy, tawdry, pulpy storytelling each book contained.

The Long Wait

 

Their First Meeting

Strand Magazine Oct-Jan 2018

Foolishly, I used to bypass Strand Magazine on the newstands, wrongly considering it a Sherlock Holmes and cozy mystery title. Once I finally bought a copy, I learned otherwise, of course.

For example: The October 2018-January 2019 issue leads off with a Mike Hammer story by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, adapted from a radio-style playlet originally intended as part of a 1954 Mike Hammer jazz LP. Iowa writer Collins, as many know, became close friends with Spillane in the hard-boiled master’s latter years and was assigned to manage his papers after his death, which included completing a number of unfinished manuscripts.

“Tonight My Love” in this current issue of Strand Magazine is a short-short story, opening much like a Mike Hammer novel would, with the “hard-hitting and lusty” private eye on a routine tail job, lurking outside a low rent nightclub while he tries to keep a Lucky Strike lit on a rainy New York night. “That was when she showed up from somewhere wearing a red dress that would’ve looked painted-on if any living artist was only that good. Her eyes were big and dark, and her lips so lush it made my own go slack…”

In a little over two and half pages of taut, vintage Spillane (via Max Allan Collins) prose we witness an important event in the Mike Hammer saga that stretched over multiple novels, short stories, movies, TV series, radio shows and comics. The very last line of “Tonight My Love” is a gotcha for any Spillane fan (and I’m definitely one).

Different actresses have played the part, from Maxine Cooper to Tanya Roberts, but it may be that, much like Spillane’s Mike Hammer himself, it’s a role that can’t really be assumed since each reader has their own image of…well, that’d be giving away the last line of “Tonight My Love”. Check it out in the current Strand Magazine.

 

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