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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Once again Max Allan Collins has turned a fragment from the collection of unpublished Mickey Spillane notes and stories into a winner of a new Mike Hammer novel in “Kill Me, Darling.”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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The Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Lovers of hardboiled crime and detective mysteries or the TV show “Dexter” will love Max Allan Collins new offering in the Hard Case Crime Novel series, “The Wrong Quarry.”

The “anti-hero” of this Collins series is a semi-retired contract killer with the alias Jack Quarry.  Quarry is not a psychopath in the sense that he does not have a psychological need to kill; his expediency is more economic than anything else, and a sense of vigilante justice that he is ridding the world of people who deserve to die.  Quarry has a rather unique way of finding his prey now that he is semi-retired.  He acquired the contact file of a former contract middleman with about fifty names of killers on it.  Some of the people on the list Jack knows to be the people in a two man team who stake out the quarry to be killed and then pass along the information to the trigger man.  The other names on the list are people who generally carry out the contract.  Quarry used to work as the hit man in these two person scenarios all the time, and now he is gradually taking out the list of contract killers and their surveillance people by following them, finding out who is the person to be killed and getting hired by that person to take out the contract team.

The case in “The Wrong Quarry” involves taking out a team contracted to torture and kill a small town dance instructor and in the process finding out who took out the original contract and offering to also get rid of the originator of the contract, if possible.  The dance instructor is accused of raping and killing the teenage granddaughter of the patriarch of the wealthiest family in Stockwell, MO.  No one can pin this crime to the instructor and make it stick because no body has ever been found.  There is no physical evidence linking the dance instructor to the crime and he has an alibi for the time the girl disappeared.  The grandfather is convinced the man is guilty.  Enough about the plot.

While the hardboiled crime novel is usually not my cup of tea, Collins is the reigning master of this genre and he creates such entertaining and interesting characters that it is a pleasure to read his novels.  “The Wrong Quarry” is no exception.  I’m addicted much as I was to the “Dexter” TV series.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.  This book is scheduled to be published January 7.

Liz Nichols

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“Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is due to be released May 7.  Collins was designated by the Spillane estate to finish several novels Spillane had in the hopper when he died.  Collins has stayed true to the hard-bitten Spillane style in this Mike Hammer novel.  This is not a detective novel so much as an espionage thriller.

The setting is 1964 Russia where Hammer, who secretly has a side gig as a black ops agent for the U.S. government, has accompanied a Senator on an international mission.  When he gets involved in a plea by their Russian translator to defect Hammer is detained by the KGB and thrown into a Russian prison.  He manages to escape at the expense of the lives of 45 Russians who try to stop him.  Some American officials are ready to disavow Hammer and send him back to Russia to answer for the deaths during his escape all in the name of detente.  What may keep him out of the hands of the Soviets is if he can identify the whereabouts of some major Soviet spies then the U.S. will have the trading power to keep Hammer out of Soviet hands and to bring home a few other detainees in Soviet prisons.  Hammer walks into the middle of a conspiracy to sell space technology secrets that nearly gets him killed.

Complex 90” is a bit dated in the sense that this is clearly a Cold War novel completed long after the Cold War has ended.  Still, there is no question that espionage still goes on between East and West.  Hammer is still his macho-man self in this thriller, but now instead of viewing women just as sex objects he seems to hold women who are beautiful, smart and accomplished in high regard.  One of those beautiful women is almost Hammer’s undoing. He also works with a black Army MP who is also held in high regard and becomes a real hero in this story.  These are modernizations of the Hammer character that I think Max Collins may have included.

Hammer fans will be glad to see him back in the skillful hands of Max Allan Collins.

Written from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Where were you when JFK was assassinated?  I was in a high school class room. We watched on TV in horror as Walter Cronkite relayed information from the hospital confirming that Kennedy had died.  After class was dismissed we went home and continued to watch as the film of the motorcade and the assassination were played over and over.  That evening my parents and I, numbed by watching the same thing on TV over and over always with the same horrifying result, decided to go bowling for the evening. It was the first and only time family went bowling together and was a respite from the depressing task of watching the horror of the assassination of Kennedy, then of Oswald, and the funeral service all played out on TV over several days.

Max Allan Collins sent me a galley copy of his latest thriller, “Target Lancer,” due for publication November 2012.  Lancer is the name given to JFK by the Secret Service.  Extensive research has shown that JFK was a target throughout the month of November 1963 pretty much proving that there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy that was ignored by the Warren Commission Report.  I had never been convinced by other conspiracy theory accounts; I am convinced now after reading Collins’ fictionalized but fact-based account of what happened in Chicago early in November in a plot to assassinate Kennedy during his planned visit to that city.

Now, I usually try to avoid a lot of detail in my reviews so as not to give away any spoilers.  I feel this book is so meaty and so important that the review needs to contain a few details from the book to illustrate.  Use this as a spoiler alert!  I assure you there is so much in this book that a few details now will not spoil the plot for you.

In Collins’ afterword he explains that, while the characters of the A-1 Detective Agency, led by his protagonist, Nathan Heller, are all fictional, most of the other characters in the book are real people, or composites of real people. Most of the events that are documented are real; Collins simply inserted Heller into them as a detective hired on a temporary basis to help protect Kennedy during his visit to the Army-Navy game at Soldier Field on November 2, 1963.  Kennedy’s open car motorcade was expected to run 11 miles from O’Hare into the city and to make a slowed-down turn on West Jackson Blvd. in the city.  That was where Heller concentrated his attention on potential snipers who had been traced to Chicago using intelligence from Bobby Kennedy.  There were two white guys involved and a couple of Cuban immigrants.  He found a sniper nest in the office building of a letter press operation on Jackson and another sniper on the roof across the street.  One of the men who worked at that operation had been a former Marine and U-2 pilot just like Lee Harvey Oswald and a check of his apartment revealed he had a stash of high powered rifles and thousands of round of ammunition.  Nothing could be done other than to set up surveillance because it was not illegal to have those armaments.

Early on in the book Heller is hired to be the bodyguard for an accountant he had done work for before.  The accountant delivered an envelope with $10,000 in it to a known mobster, Jack Ruby, the owner of a number of strip clubs in Dallas and the one who everyone saw take out Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV. It turns out that both Ruby and Oswald were in the Chicago area just shortly before Kennedy was expected to make an appearance in that city.  Later when the accountant dies under suspicious circumstances the widow hires Heller to find out what happened.  Heller traces back the death to thugs associated with any one of a number of mob figures including Jimmy Hoffa, Giancana and others.  Collins explains in the afterword that while in reality the accountant was not killed, the hand-off of cash to Ruby in Chicago actually happened.  Something similar happened as money was changed hands in Dallas shortly before Kennedy was actually shot.  There is also evidence that a plot to kill Kennedy was stirring in at least one other city where Kennedy was also scheduled to appear during November 1963.

Collins does a masterful job of putting his fictional character right in amid the actual people involved in protecting the president in the Secret Service, actual gangland figures, and assassins like Ruby and Oswald (who may or may not have been the actual killer and just a patsy for the real conspiracy).  The settings of the 1960s are spot-on and really take the reader back to that era.

There is enough circumstantial evidence and major coincidences to make it obvious now that there was a conspiracy leading up to the killing of Kennedy.  The exact players and their roles may remain a mystery.  Collins puts out his conjectures based on what happened in the little-known Chicago incident where Kennedy’s death was narrowly averted by his suddenly cancelling his visit.  What mystifies me is, with all that Bobby Kennedy already knew about the failed plot in Chicago, why would he not either contain things better in Dallas, or insist that his brother cancel that visit as well?  Perhaps politics and JFK’s overwhelming need to be seen and loved by the masses trumped his handlers’ arguments of what had to be done to protect the president.

Perhaps nothing could have saved him because the plot had actually infiltrated to some of his handlers within the FBI, CIA and/or Secret Service as well as to mobsters who had contacts with the Kennedy family and also people within the Cuban exile community.  Someone would have gotten Jack Kennedy sometime– it was a matter of when and not if–if the conspiracy theory is correct.

Target Lancer” may well reinvigorate the conspiracy theory arguments around the assassination of JFK.  It’s another winner for Max Allan Collins and his Nathan Heller series and an important historical novel about the Kennedy era.

Liz Nichols


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