There are few literary characters like Mike Hammer. He’s often been imitated and it would be difficult not to see his influence in the various detective characters that’ve come after him. But there’s never been anyone quite like Hammer. At times he’s tough and mean, with the fury of a caged animal that’s just been freed, unleasing violence and mayhem in his wake. Other times, he’s smart and even a bit sweet, with a charm that could bed any broad (if you’ll pardon the expression) he comes in contact with. More like a force of nature, he’s nearly indestructible and always finds a way out of fatal situations. At least that’s the legend, right. The truth is that Hammer, along with his creator Mickey Spillane, mellowed over the years and became almost a down to earth private dick, with an old soul and the scars and bruises to prove it. No longer a Superman who can walk away from everything, he began to show his mortality and in turn, his humanity. This is the Mike Hammer that graces the pages of King of the Weeds, a Mickey Spillane manuscript finished by another legendary crime novelist (though from a different era) Max Allan Collins. Taking place in the late 90s, this book was conceived to be the final Mike Hammer story and a sequel to Black Alley, which was released back in 1996. Spillane never finished the book as he put it aside to address the 9/11 attack in The Goliath Bone. Much like that book, this Mike Hammer novel was completed by Collins and is now available for reader consumption of which I was lucky enough to get a copy.
As stated earlier, the story is a direct sequel to Black Alley but it’s not necessary to read that book to understand this one. Everything you need to know is laid out between the covers of this tale of old men playing at a young man’s game. King of the Weeds starts out of the gate strong and forceful with an attempt on Hammer’s life by an unknown assassin. You would think that after decades in the business that all those who tried to take Mike out the picture would stop trying, thinking he was unstoppable. But that’s not the case. Hammer’s got a secret that both the mob and feds are dying to find out – one involving a missing 89 Billion dollars that belonged to the Ponti Crime Family. Only Hammer knows where it’s been stored and now there’s many who want to find its whereabouts. There’s a target on Hammer’s back in a time when things should be nice and mellow for him. He and Velda, his partner and the love of his life, are finally planning to tie the knot and are considering calling it a career. Meanwhile, Mike’s good friend Pat Chambers may be forced into retirement from the NYPD to smooth over a possible false arrest he made years ago. There’s also a string of unfortunate accidents and killings that are taking out a number of cops on the force. The question is, “How are all these things connected?” Needless to say, Hammer will get to the bottom of all three mysteries no matter what the cost.
When I say that Hammer has gained more humanity, I mean that he now feels like a real person as opposed to a fantasy character. When you go back to the original Mike Hammer stories, he tends to do everything a guy would want to do with no fear of the consequences. Whether it was a brawl in a bar, a shoot out with no cover, or jumping out of a building onto a car, Mike Hammer always walked away from it…..and was usually making love to a woman ten pages later. In this story set later in his career, Hammer is now more realistic with his mortality. He still has a golden horseshoe up his ass and luckily walks away from some situations that put a lesser man in the grave, but now he carries his wounds with him. He’s not as spry as he once was. He can still take a licking and definitely dish one out. He just has to actually deal with reprocussions that he never did back in the day. Hammer also appears to have progressed with the times, showing more prescense of mind to respecting others. That’s not to say that he’s become uber politically correct. He’s just more grown up than before. Spillane and Collins managed to bring more depth to a character that was not originally designed as such. In my opinion, it’s not a real stretch as it can be argued that this presence of mind was always there but now we’re actually seeing it. Where before the highlights of a Hammer novel were in the action sequences, now it’s in the quiet moments where he’s using his smarts. Again, something that was always there, but is better represented now than before. Hammer’s also not a runaround anymore, another sign of a maturity that progressed through the books.
The greatest thing about this book was the slow unravelling of the story. The reader is not 100% sure how Hammer and Velda will resolve each of the mysteries or if they will at all. But all comes to an exciting conclusion and the final page of the story does not dissappoint. A great ending to an intriguing tale that keeps the reader guessing.
If you’re a fan of the Mike Hammer novels, you will most likely enjoy this “final” tale. If you’ve never read a Mike Hammer Novel before, this is a fun and interesting mystery that shows that you can always rely on an old dog to bring out a few new tricks from time to time. Check out King of the Weeds wherever books are sold.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!