Written by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins — As the creator of the iconic PI Mike Hammer, hardboiled author Mickey Spillane needs no introduction. Nor should Max Allan Collins. The latter’s original series about Quarry, the hit-man who targets other hitmen, is about to become a TV series. At the same time publisher Titan continues to release the Mickey Spillane books that Collins has been completing since Spillane’s death, as his literary executor.
Despite their stylistic and political differences, the pair became friends after Collins interviewed Spillane in 1980. The Mike Hammer manuscripts Collins has completed include The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90, King of the Weeds and now Murder Never Knocks. The novels haven’t been released sequentially, so Collins has helpfully included an index in Murder Never Knocks, placing them in the correct chronological order. This latest novel is set in the late 1960s, and occurs between the events of Complex 90 and The Big Bang.
Murder Never Knocks begins with Hammer braced in his office by an assassin. He should be begging for his life because he’s sitting helpless at his desk, his .45 hanging useless in a shoulder holster out of his reach. But not many people live to underestimate Hammer a second time, certainly not those looking to kill him, and the complacent hitman is dispatched with a flying ashtray.
Hammer’s friend, Captain Pat Chambers of NYPD Homicide, takes the case but not even friendship is enough to make the archetypal lone wolf PI cooperate fully. With Chambers’ warning not to mix himself up in police business ringing in his ears, Hammer decides to do exactly that and begins his own investigation with Velda, his fiancée and partner in the detective agency. A lead from Chicago reveals that the dead man was a Mr Woodcock, who apparently has plenty of mob hits to his name. Hammer’s conclusion is that the contract on his life originated in New York, and that Woodcock was outside help, hired to keep the identity of the issuer secret. Hammer’s problem is that he can’t think of anyone in particular who wants him dead.
Meanwhile, Hammer and Velda have taken on a referral from another agency. Up-and-coming film producer Leif Borensen needs security staff for his fiancée’s bridal shower. His future wife, Gwen, is the daughter of successful Broadway producer Martin Foster, who recently committed suicide while in the throes of advanced lung cancer. The shower will be a high-society affair with lots of valuable jewellery on show. Earning $1000 for babysitting a room full of beautiful young women sounds like a good gig to Hammer, but things go south when he is again targeted for death. This time the killer is disguised as a hotel waiter, and it is only Velda’s quick reactions which save him from a bullet.
When Hammer finds out the hitman was another out of town killer, he decides it’s time to brace the mob. His investigation leads him to an exclusive medical facility doing research on rare neurological conditions and he uncovers a link between other assassinations and large, anonymous donations to the foundation. It appears that his enemy may be facing a death sentence of a different kind and has decided to go out with a bang, pitting his wits against the biggest game of all, Mike Hammer! But what could be the possible connection to Borensen, and the murky world of Hollywood and the mafia?
Collins is a very experienced writer, and has been down this road many times before. He knows Hammer inside out and his love for the two-fisted investigator is obvious. It seems pretty likely that Mickey Spillane will have left him a well-structured plot to work from and some ingenious ideas. Reading about a character that says and does exactly what he thinks, even if we ourselves wouldn’t be too proud of those thoughts, is great fun. Collins doesn’t hold back or try to smooth over any of Hammer’s rough edges. The end result is exactly the kind of slick and exciting read I would expect from two seasoned pros.
Murder Never Knocks might not be high on the list for fans of introspective Nordic noir, but readers looking for old-fashioned thrills and spills – 50s style – won’t go far wrong.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars