Review by C.J. Bunce
Max Allan Collins is back with another nugget of gold from the files of Mickey Spillane. It’s this month’s first published release of Masquerade for Murder, a Mike Hammer story from the 1980s. Like a few other novels released by Collins I’ve reviewed here at borg, this is the latest published posthumously with the late Mickey Spillane. As Collins discusses in a foreword to the novel, this story came from a story synopsis left behind with many others with express instructions by Spillane for Collins to finish and introduce to the public. Coming from more than four decades across the life of the famous detective, Collins has seamlessly taken over the Hammer stories as if Spillane never really left.
As soon as Hammer takes his next job, his client’s son is clipped right in front of him, a hit-and-run by a red Ferrari. Soon the bodies begin piling up. They all have in common the firm where the son works. And the cause of death is incomprehensible to Hammer and the police: people are found dead whose chests were smashed in as if by a battering ram. Who is behind this, why are they doing it, and how the heck are they inflicting so much damage? Masquerade for Murder is Collins at his best, vintage Hammer, and indistinguishable from classic Mickey Spillane.
Few characters and genres are as easy to sink into as Mike Hammer crime novels. Hammer in the 1980s is a combination of all the great detectives from the then-recent past, some Thomas Magnum, some Jim Rockford, some Columbo, and some Lennie Briscoe from Law & Order to come years later. Of course, Hammer was a major influence behind them all.
Especially because this is a late career story for Hammer, with the character in his early 50s, it’s like a 1940s personality getting by in the modern world–even if modern means the 1980s. And Hammer and secretary/partner/lover Verna are a duo like Earl Stanley Gardner’s Cool & Lam–a male/female sleuth pairing, characters so familiar and easy to fall back in step with.
As with the best writers, the story begins strong and peaks on the very last page. When you read this novel, keep an eye out for contrasts. Collins makes great use of the tool, learning about people and places by what came before and what is in front of you–between then and now, between modern and the classic. Readers will see this as Hammer searches for clues in a modern workout studio with all the amenities, nothing like the grungy old-school facility he is accustomed to.
In the cool trivia department, take note: Collins dedicates this novel to fan-favorite actor Gary Sandy, best known as Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati. Sandy is also known for bringing the Mike Hammer character to the stage.
For great, easy reading, and fast-paced escapist fun, check out Masquerade for Murder, written by Max Allan Collins, one of the best crime authors of our time, from a synopsis by Mickey Spillane. The book is out now in a first edition hardcover, available here at Amazon.