The Will to Kill is the latest Mike Hammer novel, originally started by the now-deceased Mickey Spillane and finished by the deft hand of Max Allan Collins.
Mike Hammer predates James Bond and was a contemporary of Phillip Marlowe. Let that history sink in, and then celebrate that we have a brand-new Hammer novel.
Typically, I’d say it’s not a cause to rejoice, because Spillane died in 2006, and, hell, what would Mike Hammer be up to these days at an age of about one hundred years old? If he was lucky enough, probably solving the case of the missing dentures from the retirement home. But, in the event you are not aware, here’s the drill: when Spillane died, he had a bunch of Hammer manuscripts in varying degrees of completion and instructed his wife to pass them to his padawan learner, Max Allan Collins to complete. So, in a nutshell, this new non-Spillane novel isn’t an estate trying to cash in—as so many do—instead, it’s Collins finishing off the Hammer legacy that Spillane started with I, the Jury in 1947.
In M.A.C.’s opening co-author’s note, he estimates that this latest adventure (of which Spillane wrote roughly thirty pages) takes place in 1965, so our hero is a little older but still battle ready.
Walking at midnight along the Hudson River, Hammer makes a grisly discovery of a mutilated corpse on an ice floe. That classic detective narration still sparkles:
Half a person isn’t a pleasant thing to see. There’s something obscene about a foreshortened human who is only a head and shoulders, arms and belly. We looked down from the pier at the expressionless face turned sideways against the ice, one arm folded under his chest, the other sprawled out awkwardly in front of his head. The way the water lapped around the edges of the grotesque raft made it sound like the river was bored.
The dead man is identified as Jamison Elder, and he was employed as a butler for the late and very wealthy Chester Dunbar and family. Elder’s car was found rammed into a snow bank at the end of a covered bridge. Perhaps, one cop speculates at first, Elder was the victim of a hit-and-run, knocked into the drink, and was severed by either the car or ice.
But Pat Chambers—Captain of the Homicide Division and Hammer’s good friend—always suspected Dunbar’s death, which was ruled a suicide, sniffed of foul play, and now the butler has died under unusual circumstances. (Refreshing inverse to the “butler did it” cliché.) Chambers suspects one or more of Dunbar’s kids—but why would offspring who had been provided for quite handsomely kill the goose? Since it’s out of Chambers’s jurisdiction—yep, you’re ahead of me—Mike Hammer to the rescue.
Agatha Christie is mentioned during the course of the read, and for very good reason. Mike Hammer weeds his way through the many suspects, resembling a locked-room mystery that Hercule Poirot would be investigating—only Mike has much more sex appeal. True to his secretary Velda, always, that doesn’t stop other interested parties from trying.
She came over and sat sideways in my lap and nuzzled my neck. I gave her a kiss, to show I appreciated the effort, but then I held her face in my hands and said, “A lovely girl like you has nothing to prove.”
Tears glittering like gems, she nodded.
I kissed her again, then made a hasty exit.
Damn! This lousy case came complete with hot and cold running dames. I went up to my bedroom and climbed in the rack and tried not to think about what I’d just walked away from.
Mickey Spillane wrote 13 Hammer novels in his lifetime, and with Collins guiding hand another nine (there are also short stories in various publications), so far, have appeared since his passing. Collins has done an admirable service in not just continuing a popular series, but giving the tough guy detective more humanity. It’s subtle—a remark here, an observation there—and doesn’t detract from the take-no-prisoners character that Hammer has been for seventy years. It’s just that friendships with Pat Chambers and love for Velda have only deepened in all the right ways.
Spillane has said that true heroes never die, and the same undoubtedly can be said of his greatest creation, Mike Hammer.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.