Though midcentury publishing phenom Spillane died 10 years ago, his notorious hero Mike Hammer lives again in these eight reprints of short stories completed by his latter-day collaborator Collins (Kill Me, Darling, 2015, etc.) and published, mostly in the Strand Magazine, over the past eight years.
Though the stories take hard-boiled Hammer from the 1960s through the ’90s, extending his engagement to his girl Friday, Velda Sterling, into record territory, both Hammer and the plots that feature him are as consistent as Miller Lite. Following a violent opening tableau (a third attempt on Hammer’s life in “Fallout,” a horrifyingly mutilated corpse in “Skin”), Hammer either gets hired to investigate or, more often, vows revenge on his own (“The Big Switch” and “Grave Matter”). Leading with his .45, Hammer identifies the criminal as either his own client or the only suspect he’s taken the time to question and, in his trademark end run around the vicissitudes of the justice system, executes the malefactor himself, as in “A Long Time Dead.” Variety is provided, for those readers so inclined, by the heartfelt opening of “So Long, Chief,” in which Hammer’s farewell visit to the dying retired cop who set him on his career path when he was a child makes him the target of every criminal in Gotham; the pitch-perfect final line of the otherwise routine story “A Dangerous Cat”; and the piquant setup of “It’s in the Book,” which Collins rightly identifies as the best of these stories: first the cops (in a delicious scene) and then the crooks hire Hammer to recover a late mobster’s little black book.
But you didn’t really need to read a word of this, since Spillane is by any measure the most review-proof name in the genre, and you’ll have known perfectly well from the get-go whether or not you want to plunge into these not-quite-new adventures.