Wednesday, June 16, 2010
From the introduction by Max Allan Collins
(Thanks to Max for letting us use this--and thanks to Lynn Meers for making this book a reality)
As a teenager running out of Mike Hammer books, in my unceasing effort to find methadone to replace the heroin of Spillane, I found two writers who did the trick. One was Ian Fleming, whose James Bond was originally sold to the American public as a British Mike Hammer, and the comparison was apt; in fact, the first paperback publisher to successfully do Fleming and Bond was Spillane’s – Signet Books, who used artist Barye Phillips (who had done the most recent Spillane covers) to further make the sale to Mickey’s audience.
Among the American writers, only one caught Mickey’s magic – only one managed to create a fever-dream world of sadistic gangsters, willing women and larger-than-life tough guys. Only one was able to match Mickey’s speed, and race to a shocking conclusion that brought each tale to a quick, satisfying halt – with nothing of Perry Mason’s final-scene nonsense, explaining to Della why he’d sent Paul Drake out searching for a buffalo or whatever-the-hell.
No, an Ennis Willie novel – particularly the ones about his former mobster, Sand – brought you to the finish line and let you fall breathlessly to the cinders on your own. He didn’t help you recover. He just retreated to smile and laugh to himself and concoct another outrageous yarn.
For many, many years, and in many, many conversations, the topic of "Who was Ennis Willie?" was explored by Steve Mertz, Ed Gorman, Lynn Myers and myself, among others. I wrote about Willie a few times, notably in a book edited by Bill Pronzini in which I discussed the wonderful 1964 Sand novel, And Some Were Evil. The common theory was that he was African American; I believe a black poet named Willie Ennis was a prime candidate. A few floated the notion that this had been a deep-cover Spillane himself, publishing under the radar to avoid criticism from his fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I never bought the latter, because Willie was one of those rare imitators who was ultimately his own man – his vision was out of not just Spillane but his own vivid imagination, and his third-person approach to this kind of intensely personal narrative was uniquely his.
Now, delightfully, thanks to the Internet, Ennis Willie turns out to be alive and well. Back in ‘65, he went into another field, most successfully, and his fabulous run of pulp novels lasted less than four years, a creative flame that burned quickly and bright. One hopes he’ll get back to the typewriter (or computer keyboard) soon and, if so, one hopes the world will be smart enough to know how lucky it is.
Excerpt from Max Allan Collins' introduction to SAND'S GAME by Ennis Willie