Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Big Bang by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins: The Big Bang
Penzler/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00

Ed here:

As I've mentioned before, it was Jack London and Ray Bradbury whose stories inspired me to start writing in the fourth and fifth grades. But it was reading four novels by Mickey Spillane in seventh grade that taught me how to put scenes together. Reading him also showed me how important it was to create an atmosphere for the scenes. I was terrible of course but Spillane gave me my first inkling of how fiction really worked. I still reread my two favorites of his, Kiss Me, Deadly and The Long Wait, every few years. Because of the violence (tame by today's standards) and politics he was dismissed as a goon. It took decades for his considerable talents to be identified and appreciated. He was a master of the hardboiled; his vision of post-War America was every bit as serious as other writers preferred by the literary establishment. Most of those writers have long been forgotten of course.

So, needless to say, I'm happy that the Spilllane name is once again on the cover of brand new novels, this time shared with that of Max Allan Colllns.

The Big Bang, the second novel produced in the collaboration, takes me back to the dark and gritty first novels of Mike Hammer. The narrative urgency, the world viewed as a corrupt hellish sink-hole, and the single most important rule of the road--neither believe nor trust anyone.

Here we have Hammer on the mean streets of the city breaking up a mugging. But what kind of mugging involves three men beating a bicycle messenger? Hammer doesn't have time for questions at this point. Collins is a good as Spillane at creating bravura fight scenes. The thugs die for their trouble.

But as Hammer soon learns the mugging was no isolated incident when somebody tries to stab him. And there's a gung-ho assistant D.A. dogging Hammer's tracks. Why? What has Hammer stumbled into?

All this is classic Hammer as he penetrates the midnight secrets of a corrupt city. Collins keeps the Spillane legend fresh and lively with his consummate craftsmanship. This was a two-sitting book for me. I couldn't wait to get back to it. And you won't either.

This should be a book club selection. Those of us who grew up reading (and learning) from Spillane are glad to be back in his definitively rnumber one bestseller world wide.


Max Allan Collins (from his blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins)


Jon Breen reviews The Big Bang in Ellery Queen:

*** – In New York of the 1960’s, Mike Hammer confronts the counterculture and battles the drug trade. The tough private eye is sent on an unusual journey late in the going. This one is vastly better than the first posthumous Hammer, The Goliath Bone (reviewed here in March/April 2009), probably because Spillane’s part was written when he was closer to his prime and collaborator Collins was left with more to do. There’s a clever concept at the center of the plot, a fine finishing twist, and plentiful humorous examples of the older writer’s influence on his younger acolyte, a far superior writer.

From the blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins

Max Collins:

I have to point out that Jon Breen is not a Spillane fan. He has been a huge booster of mine, for many years, but he has never, ever warmed to Mickey and Mike. Getting a three-star review out of him for THE BIG BANG means that both Mickey and I did something very, very right. Or that I have finally worn him down….

While I like THE GOLIATH BONE (the previous Collins-Spillane collaboration) a lot, I agree with Jon that THE BIG BANG is much better – it is probably the best ‘60s Hammer after THE GIRL HUNTERS (I exclude THE TWISTED THING, because it was written in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s and withheld for publication until 1966). But I also think KISS HER GOODBYE (the third posthumous Hammer, the “lost” ‘70s novel, out sometime next year) is probably the best of the trio. This shocked me, because I was so happy with THE BIG BANG. But ultimately I think KISS HER GOODBYE is even better.

It’s very important that anybody caring enough to read this update buy THE BIG BANG, and if you haven’t picked up THE GOLIATH BONE, please do so in August when it hits mass-market paperback. It’s crucial that you support these books, and encourage others to buy and read them. I make this plea because there are three other substantial Hammer manuscripts that need completion, and for me to be able to finish those three remaining Hammer novels, these first three have to sell very well. Right now we’re doing okay, but just okay…bewilderingly, foreign publishers have not picked up on GOLIATH BONE or BIG BANG (with the exception of the UK). Considering that Mickey was the most widely translated American author of the 20th Century, that one has me shaking my head.

I’ve discussed this several other places, but here are the three remaining, as yet-to-be-completed Hammer novels:

COMPLEX 90 – a cold war thriller, a sequel to THE GIRL HUNTERS, started around 1964. Mike Hammer goes to Russia and kills lots of Rooskies. Amazing stuff from Mickey in his prime.

LADY GO DIE! – the second, never-completed Mike Hammer novel, written between I, THE JURY and MY GUN IS QUICK (and the postponed TWISTED THING). Mike and Velda vacation in a small town, where a killer is slaying left and right, and Velda gets kidnapped. Written in 1948, the year I was born! A major discovery in the Spillane files.

KING OF THE WEEDS – a book begun in the ‘80s by Mickey, a sort of response to the TV show. It’s a serial killer novel and deals with the impending retirement of Pat Chambers. Mick intended this to be the final Hammer, until 9/11 inspired him to set this book aside and start THE GOLIATH BONE. The lost ‘80s Mike Hammer novel.

All three of these are substantial manuscripts – 100 finished pages or more, with plot and character notes. Some people have the idea that I am writing these by myself, maybe working from scraps of paper or something. Bullshit. These are novels that were well under way when Mickey (for various reasons) set each aside, in every case intending to return to them.

Why is this so important? So what if Spillane left half a dozen half-finished Mike Hammer novels in his files?

Mickey’s first seven novels were the bestselling American mystery novels of all time. In the 20th century, he outsold everybody – from Erskine Caldwell to Stephen King, from Jacqueline Susann to Dean Koontz. In mystery fiction, only Agatha Christie has outsold him worldwide. In America, during Mickey’s heyday, only Erle Stanley Gardner came close.

But the difference is this: Christie wrote 33 Poirot novels and 54 Poirot short stories; Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels and stories. The great Rex Stout wrote 33 Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels and dozens of Wolfe/Archie novellas.

Mickey wrote no formal Mike Hammer short stories (there are a couple of exceptions that I helped find their way into print) and a mere 13 Mike Hammer novels.

For a fictional detective of Hammer’s fame, popularity and influence to have appeared in such a relative handful of books is remarkable in itself. That another six stand to be added to the canon – completed by the writer Spillane chose himself, in his final weeks – is unique in the genre.

It’s particularly interesting (if merely coincidental) that Spillane made his fame and fortune based on six Mike Hammer novels, published between 1947 and 1952 – I, THE JURY; MY GUN IS QUICK; VENGEANCE IS MINE!; ONE LONELY NIGHT; THE BIG KILL; and KISS ME, DEADLY. The entire private eye novel revival of the fifties and the TV show craze it spawned grew out of the success of those half dozen novels.

Now we have six more to add to the canon. Three are a done deal. Three more will not happen unless readers step up to the cash register and sign up as Mickey Spillane’s favorite kind of human: customers.

As a postscript to the above, I must note that there are a number of smaller Hammer fragments in Mickey’s files. I have already turned one of those into a short story, “The Big Switch,” for The Strand Magazine, and just fashioned another Hammer story for The Strand, “A Longtime Dead,” plus the audio Hammer novel in progress, ENCORE FOR MURDER, derives from a one-page novel outline of Mickey’s.

I have four or five potential Hammer novels beyond the six mentioned above, but these would be based on a chapter plus plot notes, in most cases. Not the truly substantial half-dozen manuscripts mentioned. There are several other interesting manuscripts in the files – a rough draft of a Mike Danger novel from the ‘80s; one hundred-plus pages of a second Morgan the Raider novel; a third young adult novel about his Josh and Larry kid characters; and several completed screenplays (all non-Hammer) that could be novelized.

So if Spillane got hot again, there could be ten or fifteen years of wonderful new/old material. But making that happen is not my primary goal.

Adding six more real Mike Hammer novels to the canon is what this effort is about. Three have been done. Readers, help me build enough support to get the other three finished, as well.



Max Allan Collins said...

Thanks for these great comments, plus sharing my behind-the-scenes stuff.

I disagree with only one point -- as I re-read Mickey in preparation for my work on these collaborations, I am shocked by how potent the violence is, even all these years later. It is still brutal and vivid and startling -- as in KISS ME, DEADLY when he shoots a bad guy in one eye and reports the expression in the other. I don't think anybody ever wrote better violent action scenes.

On the other hand, that the sex in these novels ever qualified them as "dirty books" is hard to fathom.

Anonymous said...

Personally I'm content with the books Spillane wrote, finished and saw into print in their time and place. Same goes with Rex Stout, Ian Fleming, Raymond Chandler. There is always something missing in these post-mortem collaborations or continuations, whether they are heartfelt or hack jobs. Even a major writer like Robert Parker couldn't make it work with his two Chandlers.


MP said...

I was a teenager when I read those first seven Spillane novels in the late 50s. What impressed me more than anything else in these early books and in a few of the later ones was the relentless momentum. I'd never encountered anything like it, and don't think I ever did again.

Max Allan Collins said...

T.J., try reading THE BIG BANG before you dismiss it.

These are books that Mickey had in progress, and in the last week of his life, he asked me to finish them.

There is no precedent for this.

Dan_Luft said...

Collins is every bit the writer Parker was and nine times the plotter.

Ed Gorman said...

Al when I mentioned that the violence seems tame by today's standard I wasn't just thinking about hardboiled crime I was thinking of all the serial killer stuff which is like reading an autopsy. And I agree with Daniel... you're the best plotter I know of. Even better than the late Charles Wilson, who was amazing as well.

Max Allan Collins said...

Charles Williams, you mean? Or is Charles Wilson somebody I missed (and I missed plenty).

You know, T.J. pissed me off. Dismissing my book without reading it. Calling me a minor writer by implication, when Robert B. Parker (an important writer) is not a writer I at all admire...and his Chandler sequels were, frankly, lousy. Parker, like Mickey, changed P.I. fiction and I owe him a debt for making editors buy private eye novels again. But I don't like his Yuppie P.I. who lets a black guy do his dirty work in lightly plotted, underwritten stories that do nothing at all for me. Many disagree with that, including plenty of people whose opinions I admire. So I'm probably just jealous. But being put down in comparison to him, by somebody who hasn't read the book he's panning, irritated the hell out of me.

Ed Gorman said...

I think T.J. just might like your collaborations with Mickey S. if he gave them a chance. I pretty much agree with you about Parker though I do think his early books were excellent.

As for Charles Wilson...he wrote a number of books for Carroll & Graf in the eighties then switched to St.Martin's in the 90s. Charles Champlin of the LA Times told me about his books and he was right. You and he are the best plotters I've ever read. I think Charles Wilson died.. Shortly after I got cancer he called one night and we were talking and he said he'd been feeling bad physically and was going to the doc the next day. I never heard from him again and I tried various means of contacting him with no success. He'd had a very successful two night TV movie made of his novel Shark and his career was just starting to take off. He wrote two kinds of books-suspense novels with a few horrorific tinges and later on he switched to techno-thrillers.

Max Allan Collins said...

I will track his books down.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really anonymous, just too lazy to figure out how to do it with my name. It's true that I never got Spillane's appeal, though quite a few people whose opinions I respect, Ed and Max among them, think highly of his work. I hope those other Hammers can get completed and published, and it surprises me that big as Spillane was there is any question about it.
Jon L. Breen

jrd said...

While I am not one of Spillane's biggest fans his original seven were outstanding (after that he started down hill though I will admit I do look foward to the new Morgan the Raider novel) Collins is absolutely right that Spillane cleared the way for everybody including Parker that writes a private novel today Hammett and Chandler may be the originals but Spillane made it hugely succesfull I read the Goliath Bone it was good I think the Big Bang was much better and ranks up with Spillanes best Also while Collins may not be on the New York Times Best seller list with every book that he writes I would rank him as my favorite author going today in crime fiction the Quarry and Nate Heller novels are classics and should have a better following than they do on wikipedia when they mention novels based on the famous crimes in the Heller series the Heller novels are not mentioned at all its a crime! Just for the record Gorman is the best western writer going and my second favorite of all time behind the late Luke Short