Written by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins — Titan Books and Mickey Spillane’s literary executor Max Allan Collins are back, and they’ve completed and released another unfinished Mike Hammer novel from the archives. We reviewed Lady, Go Die! last year, gave it four stars, and interviewed Collins about the process of completing Spillane’s novels.
Complex 90, which is set in the 1960s, is a kind of sequel to The Girl Hunters (1961), in which Mike Hammer has been living as a down and out drunk after his secretary and fiancee Velda disappeared, feared dead. Instead, she has been working as a spy, and has been captured by the feared Russian assassin, The Dragon. The clock is ticking for Hammer, who must find The Dragon before Velda really does get killed.
The beginnings of the story are told in a flashback. Hammer has been helping out an old PI buddy doing some body-guarding work for conservative politician Senator Allan Jasper. When he foils an assassination attempt on Jasper in which his friend is killed, Hammer agrees to accompany Jasper on a fact finding mission to Moscow. There he is separated from the Senator, and bundled into the back of a van by the secret police. However, a jail that can hold Hammer hasn’t been built and he makes his way back to the States, killing 45 men in the process.
Far from returning a hero, Hammer finds himself somewhat of an embarrassment. The Russian government is demanding his extradition to face charges, and there are some in the US top brass who think he should be returned. An uneasy truce is reached in which Hammer is allowed his freedom, but in return he is to be guarded by American state agencies in case the Russians try to kill him in New York. Hammer doesn’t like it but agrees to go along to get the brass off his back. No sooner is he out than attempt is made on his life. Hammer’s not one to play possum and decides his way into the case is to investigate the attempted assassination of Jasper and find the murderer of his friend, before delivering his own brand of justice. What he discovers involves the space race, double-crosses, and treason in the form of selling state secrets. Things get personal for Hammer as the Russians send the legendary Dragon after Hammer and Velda.
Given Spillane’s politics and the time the original manuscript was written, I did fear the book would be dominated by jingoistic Commie-bashing, but not a bit of it. In fact, if anything it is the American government that gets both barrels. The scene in which Hammer turns the tables on the Pentagon brass who are trying to give him a dressing down is very funny. There is humour throughout the book, I suspect mainly from the pen of Collins, as Hammer, the legend, is given free range. We get Hammer as investigator, ladies man, secret spy, and of course, as vengeance.
The writing is so ebullient and confident, and the narrative so fast-paced, that I found myself overlooking the more outrageous aspects of the plot which, thinking about it now, is pretty outrageous throughout. It feels as if the authors have recognised this, decided to run with it, and in turn made it a virtue. There haven’t been many more entertaining books this year. Hammer is a rocket, and Complex 90 is a blast.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars