Review by C.J. Bunce
One hundred years ago today, March 9, 1918, mystery writer Mickey Spillane was born. To celebrate his centenary crime novelist Max Allan Collins finalized two of Spillane’s unpublished works, and they will be published later this month for the first time together in one volume as The Last Stand. Spillane was a mentor and friend of Collins, a crime novelist in his own right, most recently known for his Quarry novels, adapted into a Cinemax TV series. Collins put the final touches on both a “lost” 1950s classic Spillane crime story novella with an appropriately two-fisted title, A Bullet for Satisfaction, and Spillane’s final unpublished novel from 2006, The Last Stand, a contemporary adventure tale set on a Native American reservation. Collins includes a detailed introduction to the new volume recounting Spillane’s influence on the post-World War II paperback surge, on crime novels, and on films and books being made to this day derived from his legendary investigator Mike Hammer, including James Bond, John Shaft, Dirty Harry Callahan, Billy Jack, Jack Bauer, and Jack Reacher.
Two tough men: One like you’d expect in a Spillane crime novel, a cop who is too tough for his own good and gets thrown off the force, fighting his way back. The other, a seasoned pilot, someone out of a Louis L’Amour novel who lands in the middle of an Indiana Jones story, complete with the search for ancient artifacts and the guts to fight the toughest guy in town.
A Bullet for Satisfaction, from Spillane’s earlier years, is exactly what you want from a crime mystery, a dreary town with corrupt politicians, mob thugs, a few damsels in distress, and plenty of knives and guns and punches. Ed McBain, James M. Cain, Erle Stanley Gardner, Donald E. Westlake–if you’ve read any of these authors, you’ll want to delve into Spillane’s works, and Satisfaction is a good start.
The Last Stand couldn’t be more different than Satisfaction. It begins with an airplane crash and a pilot of vintage planes named Joe Gillian, marooned in the desert with a few candy bars and some cans of beer. A set-in-his-ways ex-military pilot, he finds himself rescued in the desert and soon becomes blood-brother with Sequoia Pete, who takes him to his reservation. As a treasure hunt ensues with global implications, a local thug jealous of Joe marks him for death. Joe doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to get out of town as the FBI drop in, seemingly to keep the peace, but a lot more is going on out in this tiny desert village. The Last Stand is heavy on banter between Pete and Joe–the relationship is very close to the sheriff and the Native American deputy in Hell or High Water, but “White-Eyes” Joe is not remotely as bigoted and unlikeable as Jeff Bridge’s sheriff in that movie.
The Last Stand will appeal to any fan of Michael Crichton, especially his own final novel, the Old West adventure story Dragon Teeth. A reader could see a film adaptation using Jackie Brown co-star Robert Forster in the lead role as Joe Gillian, someone who may be of retirement age and flying vintage World War II airplanes, although Harrison Ford is also easy to imagine. All sorts of past adventure stories come to mind in this unusual story, including Flight of the Phoenix, Roger Zelazny’s The Dead Man’s Brother and Crichton’s Grave Descend. Despite Gillian’s commentary, the Native Americans are reflected as a sympathetic, college educated people, still struggling to establish their rights in a 21st century America.
A Bullet for Satisfaction is an easy win for readers of past novels in the Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series.