King of the Weeds by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

3 Mins read

Once again, Max Allan Collins reprises his role as literary executor and with King of the Weeds he has completed another of Mickey Spillane’s unfinished manuscripts. Whereas the last two books produced in this fashion – Lady, Go Die! and Complex 90 – went further back into Mike Hammer’s story, this one was originally conceived as a sequel to Black Alley (1996), the last Hammer novel completed in Spillane’s lifetime. The author intended it to be last Hammer title, but that was before 9/11 after which he wrote The Goliath Bone. That was also completed by Collins. Anyhow, you won’t need to have read Black Alley to enjoy King of the Weeds.

Everybody’s favourite vigilante PI is now in his 60s and looking forward to marrying his secretary/detective partner Velda. He’s even contemplating retirement and has even given up wearing his Colt 45. Hammer has always been a force of nature but now he is beginning to recognise in himself the first signs of aging. He’s no invalid, mind, but in his more reflective moments he knows he can’t take the kinds of chances he did in his younger days.

Hammer knows the whereabouts of a secret stash of hidden mafia loot – some $89 billion and counting. A who was a trusted employee of the Ponti crime family, if not actually one of their own, passed on the knowledge to Hammer when on his deathbed. So far the PI has avoided temptation – other than dipping in to buy Velda an engagement ring – to avoid bringing trouble down on himself. Hammer knows all kinds of criminals are looking for the legendary treasure, and any ostentatious display of wealth on his part might bring them to him.

However, that might have already happened, because the book begins with a failed attempt on Hammer’s life. It was pure luck that saved him. The two bullets would have surely killed him if they hadn’t been stopped by a thick book wedged in his breast pocket.

At the same time, Hammer’s lifelong friend Captain Pat Chambers of the NYPD has his own worries. Back when Chambers was a rookie cop walking his beat he made a bust, with Hammer’s help, that made him famous. The Bowery Bum Slayings were a series of nine murders where homosexual men were lured out of bars into alleys then robbed and shot. Chambers caught Rudy Olaf and, despite his denials, he went to Sing Sing for life. Only the fact that the police couldn’t find the murder weapon saved him from a death sentence. And there he has remained ever since, by all accounts a model prisoner running the library.

However, new evidence points to Olaf’s innocence and soon he’ll be pardoned. A new man, Wayne Dooley, who is dying of cancer, has come forward and claimed responsibility. Ordinarily he would be considered just another looney with a confession complex, but he has produced the gun which killed those nine men. Olaf stands to sue the city for millions in compensation for false imprisonment and the situation requires a fall guy. Chambers is being measured for the suit.

But what does all of this have to do with the notorious King of the Weeds – the mysterious top dog of Sing Sing who is rumoured criminal power-broker and whose reach extends far beyond the prison walls –  and a series of police killings cleverly disguised as accidents? As the federal government takes an interest in the missing loot and Hammer only just survives another attempt on his life, he knows it is time to pick up his old 45 to save Chamber’s reputation and his own life.

I came late to Mickey Spillane. He had been dead several years before I read one of his books. As a crime fiction fan I was of course aware of Mike Hammer, and his reputation as a kind of right wing avenging angel had put me off. There is some of that here, though less than in earlier books. Reading the titles that Max Allan Collins helped complete has been a pleasure and a revelation. Spillane was certainly no hack, developing over his career a distinctive, rapid-fire hardboiled style which has actually aged well. King of the Weeds, whilst not as good as the effervescent Complex 90, is another riveting read which starts off at full pelt and never lets up.

Titan Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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