Written by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins — As Mickey Spillane’s literary executor, Max Allan Collins has been doing a great job finding and completing manuscripts by the late author. In fact, this is the fourth such book we’ve reviewed, following on from Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90 and King of the Weeds. The books feature Mike Hammer, the original two-fisted, womanising private eye. In Kill Me, Darling he has lost his nerve and hit the bottle. And over a woman, no less. There you have it, Mike Hammer heartbroken. Who would have believed it? But it’s true.
The year is 1954 and Hammer is four months into a drunken phase. It’s been this way ever since his assistant and fiancée Velda Sterling walked out on him without any warning. Hammer’s been so deep into the bottle he didn’t even know that Velda’s old boss when she worked vice, Wade Manley, had died in a violent mugging in a seedy part of town he had no business being in. He only gets the details when his old friend, Capt Pat Chambers of NYPD Homicide, has him brought to his flat. Figuring that Hammer is more likely to respond to a kick in the pants than a hug, Chambers gives it to Hammer straight. Firstly, Manley’s death looks suspicious, and secondly Velda has been seen in Miami on the arm of Nolly Quinn, playboy and mid-level gangster looking to move up to the big leagues. Chambers thinks Manley’s murder and Velda’s move south could be connected. Had Manley persuaded Velda to do one last job for him? With Manley dead, and no one watching Velda’s back, Chambers challenges Hammer to sober up and get down to Miami whilst he works the case at the New York end.
Hammer drives down to Miami and it’s not long before he’s bracing Quinn at his night club. Enraged with jealousy at the sight of Velda on another man’s arm, Hammer starts a fight with the club’s bouncers which end badly for him, but not before he spots Quinn talking with Mandy Myers, the brains behind New York’s five families’ gambling rackets. The case has suddenly got complicated. Myers is right at the top of the mafia tree, and Miami is supposed to be a semi-legitimate city, a popular winter destination for the mob bosses who don’t like their holidays spoiled by business. When Hammer discovers all the bosses are in town it seems possible one or more of them could be planning to break from the old agreements and take the city for themselves. Hammer might just have found himself (and Velda) in the middle of a mob war.
Kill Me, Darling is an old school pulp thriller that can’t be described as great literature – Hammer’s black and white worldview lacks the moral complexity for that – but it is great fun. Of all Max Allan Collins’ efforts with Spillane’s original material, only Complex 90 has been more successful. This has a charismatic protagonist, exotic locations, a twisting but propulsive plot, and great action. The midnight boat ride into shark-infested waters and Hammer’s escape is the kind of scene Lee Child would be jealous of. Spillane and Collins make Hammer just vulnerable enough to make his fall into the gutter believable but reassert his alpha male status as the story continues. By the end the old Hammer is truly back. It is expertly judged by a couple of masters. Collins hints that we should expect more collaborations and I look forward to them with some anticipation.
Kill Me, Darling is released 3 April.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars