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The Will to Kill: A Mike Hammer Mystery


The Will to Kill: A Mike Hammer Mystery

Private eye Mike Hammer is taking one of his customary midnight insomniac strolls along the frigid Hudson River waterfront when he spots a body on a chunk of ice. Upon close inspection, it turns out to be half a body --- the upper half. The rest, which probably carried his wallet, is missing. This being the mid-1960s, only gumshoe work will discover his ID.  Hell of an opening scene.

Quick synopsis: Accident or murder? Always the first question by the police, with accident being the easy answer. Hammer, at this stage of his career, is by now a celebrity known for sniffing out murders from sketchy details. The top half is finally identified as the butler for the wealthy heirs of a Hudson Valley tycoon. The cops stubbornly stick to an accidental death theory of both men, but Hammer forges ahead to find the killer. When he takes a closer look, it begins to smell more like murder, but he’s on his own. After learning that the butler is in the tycoon’s will along with the three grown offspring, he sets out to prove that both men were murdered. In classic noir style, everybody has a motive, so everybody is a suspect. Hammer is pulled into a convincing web of deceit, leading to a thrilling ending.

"Collins has done a masterful job of sticking to the [old-school hardboiled] form and treating modern readers to this mid-20th-century style of American mystery writing."

Mike Hammer, whose bellicose name perfectly reflects his nature, is a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of guy. He was created more in the Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe mold, and post the Damon Runyon school of writing where women were described as dolls and dames. In the 1950s and ’60s, women still appeared as sex objects and Mickey Spillane was well known for his descriptions of long-legged, buxom blondes. He made one notable exception with Velda, Hammer’s voluptuous partner, a licensed detective who could clear off her desk for recreational sex.

THE WILL TO KILL is another of the nearly 10 recovered novels adroitly pulled together from the massive collection of unfinished manuscripts left by Spillane to award-winning mystery writer Max Allan Collins shortly before his death in 2006 at age 88. The publication of the “lost Mike Hammer” thrillers is a treat for us old-school hardboiled detective fans, and the story behind their resurrection is almost as interesting as the books themselves. Collins has done a masterful job of sticking to the form and treating modern readers to this mid-20th-century style of American mystery writing. He has admirably filled in the blanks from Spillane’s massive collection of notes, incomplete first starts, jottings of plot ideas, clippings and minutiae bequeathed to Collins. Spillane had served as a mentor to Collins in his early writing days and entrusted him with this treasure trove of material.

I wasn’t into the noir, hardboiled genre when it first came out eons ago. My reading habits ran to bestsellers, such as PEYTON PLACE, MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY, THE GODFATHER (who doesn’t remember turning to that shocking page 22? Or was that PEYTON PLACE?), largely holding my nose at required readings in lit class.

My memory of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer is connected to a teenage broken heart.  Bob, that guy who looked cute in jeans, was known for his direct quotes from I, THE JURYand his party imitations of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. He scoffed at my reading habits, then threw me over for Suzie, whose father owned a local chain of movie theaters. I don’t recall Suzie's reading choices, but free movie tickets trumped whatever charms I may have offered. I later grew out of using the New York Times bestseller lists for reading selections and turned to noir thrillers, but by then he was long gone. Wonder whatever happened to old Bob Whatsisname?

Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 28, 2017

The Will to Kill: A Mike Hammer Mystery
by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins