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Kill Me, Darling by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Once again Max Allan Collins has turned a fragment from the collection of unpublished Mickey Spillane notes and stories into a winner of a new Mike Hammer novel in “Kill Me, Darling.”  The latest in the series that was entrusted to Collins by Spillane shortly before he died is, in my opinion, the best of the Hammer series.

The settings are very well-researched 1950’s New York and Miami while the great Mafia families held sway over most of the major cities in the U.S.  The Mike Hammer we meet in this installment is older, wiser, and trying to recover from an extended bender.  The four month drinking stint comes about when Mike’s girl friend and assistant PI, Velda, walks out on him.

What motivates Mike out of his drunken stupor is the murder of a cop Velda used to work with on the NYPD. Mike wants to find out who killed the cop and also finally recognizes that Velda’s disappearance may be related to a case the cop was working to bust a gangland drug lord named Nolly Quinn.  When Mike finds out that Velda has become Quinn’s girl friend and companion in Miami Beach he sets out for the southland.  Mike skillfully plays along with the local cops, local press and a bevvy of some of the top mafiosi in the country in order to outwit and out-gun Quinn and save Velda.

The plot and the action are totally absorbing.  The new Mike Hammer is a more likeable guy having dried out and gained a little bit of savvy on how to win friends and influence people.  Despite Hammer’s improved awareness of how to more effectively get things done with and through others he still stays true to the rough, tough and deadly Mike Hammer image.  This is a Mike Hammer who can be equally appreciated by the usually male fan of hard-bitten graphic detective novel  and women who enjoy a thriller built around an interesting  storyline, atmospheric location with a more sophisticated and people-aware protagonist.  Now I can say I actually like this Mike Hammer and don’t just appreciate him academically as a classic icon.

Nice character development, Max!  Keep ’em coming.  “Kill Me, Darling” is highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

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Mysteries by Bill Stackhouse

I have had a couple of Bill Stackhouse mysteries read and ready to review for some time now.  One is “Creature of Habit” a Caitlin O’Rourke Mystery.  The other is “Thin Ice” an Ed McAvoy Mystery.

I read “Thin Ice in the winter of 2013 and just never got around to writing about it.  In honor of the end of the terrible winter of 2014 here’s the review.  After his medical retirement from the Detroit Police Ed McAvoy takes the position of chief of police of the sleepy little Catskill mountain town of Peekamoose Heights, NY thinking life will be a little slower.  He ends up having to solve the murder of the owner of a mobile food truck and the attack and injury of a figure skating champion who is practicing for the annual Peekamoose Heights Winter Carnival.  Shades of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident.  There is also a significant mobster theme in this book, as is the case with the Caitlin O’Rourke  series.  Again, as is typical of Stackhouse novels there are lots of colorful characters to keep the reader entertained–and confused about who to blame for all the shenanigans.

Caitlin O’Rourke is a retired women’s Italian League pro volleyball player who starts a detective agency out of her apartment above the Irish pub she owns with her brother and sister-in-law in Nashville, TN.  She takes on the case of who killed a nun by pretending to be one herself.  This is the perfect disguise for protecting a young autistic girl who attends a convent school who may have witnessed the murder.  It takes Caitlin and the police detectives she works with a long time to realize that the is not just talking gibberish every time she is asked about what happened to Sister Joyce actually is giving her helpers clues.   Before that happens, however, Caitlin and her charges at the convent school are nearly taken out in a bombing to their dormitory.

I have a few qualms about the way Caitlin resolves this particular murder.  She leaves it up to a local mafia boss to police his own.  The longer the case goes on the more lies Caitlin tells the police and everyone else to protect her mafia sources.  Something tells me eventually her consorting with shady types will get her into big trouble.

Aside from having some ethical qualms about how Caitlin gets things done, she is a strong character and one who will appeal to many mystery fans.

Thin Ice” and “Creature of Habit” are b0th recommended.

Liz Nichols


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Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich has served up one of the most entertaining Stephanie Plum novels in recent memory with “Takedown Twenty.”

Things get very serious in the Trenton bail bond business– serious in Stephanie’s usual zany way.  She helps Ranger figure out who is murdering older women and stuffing their strangled bodies in dumpsters.  She also has two dangerous bond jumpers who almost get the best of her.  One is a Mafia wiseguy named Sunny Sunnuchi, a relative of Stephanie’s boyfriend, Joe Morelli.  Stephanie is nearly taken out a number of times trying to capture Uncle Sunny, and she gains the ire of the neighborhood and Joe’s Grandma Bella because Sunny is a favorite son to many inhabitants of the Burg.  Grandma Bella carries out a couple of serious curses on Stephanie and makes our favorite bail bonds enforcer unwelcome around the Morelli family home.  The second bounty hunt is against a young guy who is wanted for murder.  As a result of her attempt to capture the young thug she manages to fracture a finger and break her nose.  Her luck seems so bad on all fronts that she decides to quit the bond business and become a butcher’s assistant for the owner of a deli–until disaster strikes on that brief stint at the deli.

To add a little quirky humor to the plot, Lula keeps seeing a real giraffe loping down the streets surrounding Uncle Sunny’s establishment and she keeps following it just at times when Stephanie needs her help.  The whole mystery behind the giraffe is explained toward the end as Stephanie gets all the story threads tied up.

As usual for an Evanovich novel, “Takedown Twenty” is a funny, fast-paced read that will please the legion of Stephanie Plum lovers.

Liz Nichols

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