Tag Archive: Mike Hammer


Masquerade for Murder

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.

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of any character or universe love their fandom and often can’t get enough of it.  It’s why writers keep writing new versions of Frankenstein 201 years later and new stories featuring James Bond 66 years later and Sherlock Holmes 132 years later.  Fans of writer Mickey Spillane′s Mike Hammer novels (or the Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach television series) have not just the 13 novels Spillane wrote beginning 72 years ago, but now a full two dozen thanks to Spillane’s co-conspirator of hard-boiled crime and his successor, Max Allan Collins.  In last year’s centenary of Spillane’s birth, that meant the release of the unpublished first Mike Hammer novel Killing Town (reviewed here at borg).  Using the combined talents of Spillane and Collins, it’s a crime story as good as they get.  With the latest team-up of Spillane and Collins, Murder, My Love, Collins proves he has mastered the voice of the famous cop-turned-private eye.  This book is 100% end-to-end Collins, as the writer says he worked from Spillane’s notes but all of the prose is new material.  And that’s fabulous, because this book is all Mike Hammer at his best.

As with Killing Town, Collins’ Murder, My Love is a shorter Hammer novel and a quick read.  Personally at 200 pages I find it the ideal length–all pulp novels, classic paperback mysteries, true crime novels, etc. should be able to be gobbled up in a single trip (like on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati or a train from Omaha to Denver).  I soaked up Murder, My Love in two sittings, and it was an entirely satisfying read, complete with Hammer and his assistant/also cop-turned P.I., Velda, who Collins writes cleverly here first person in a few pages of “off-camera” playback that is some of the best material in the book.

Max Allan Collins signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018.

It’s a story set later in Hammer’s career, with Collins establishing a perfect picture of New York City from a few decades ago as he takes a U.S. senator on as a client, a senator with White House ambitions.  Unfortunately he and his wife have a history of extramarital affairs and now someone else knows, resulting in blackmail.  Hammer and Velda embark on the detective work, interviewing the subjects of the senator’s liaisons.  Once they find the schemer behind the blackmail, that’s when the body count begins.  One-by-one the possible suspects end up dead, and Hammer isn’t exempt from getting in the line of fire.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is he a superhero?

A character who gives of himself to save lives, repeatedly, using his unusual mental and physical abilities–that’s pretty much our definition of superhero.  If The Punisher is a superhero, if Batman would be a superhero without the costume, then you have the The Equalizer Denzel Washington is back again, in the sequel to the surprise 2014 reboot of the 1980s television series, and if you missed Washington as this character in 2014, it’s time to catch up, as The Equalizer 2 makes its way to several steaming platforms, including Vudu and Amazon Prime, and it’s now showing on Starz.

And what a sequel!  It is another one of those rare films that surpasses its predecessor.  More intrigue, more action, and even without the origin story from the first movie, The Equalizer 2 proves audiences don’t need it to jump into a finally crafted story of spies and revenge.  Washington is back as Robert McCall, and he’s The Saint, Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and The Shadow all rolled up into one.  This time he’s started a new life in Boston, and learns about the city through his job as a Lyft driver.  Diehard film fans really only need to see the one other name on the marquee with Washington to know what they’re in for: Antoine Fuqua.  Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Magnificent Seven) directs the film like he does all his others, like he has something to prove.  The Equalizer 2 is worthy of its popular and critically acclaimed star, and Fuqua adds to the character with a spectacular setting for the film’s finale: a hurricane pummeling the coast of Massachusetts.

If you’re looking forward to the new Star Wars television series The Mandalorian, you have another reason to catch The Equalizer 2, as the series star Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Great Wall) plays a former team member of McCall in his CIA days.  The subplots may even be better than the main story, and in one McCall mentors a young neighbor played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight).  Other supporting roles are filled by some familiar faces, including returning actors Melissa Leo (Homicide, Oblivion, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and Bill Pullman (Deceived, Independence Day, Spaceballs), plus the always versatile Sakina Jaffrey (Heroes, Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Max Allan Collins has so far completed ten novels featuring detective Mike Hammer, novels that were started by Mickey Spillane but never finished.  That tenth novel is Killing Town, and not only is it one of many from the stack of unfinished Hammer novels Spillane left behind upon his death in 2006, Collins put it aside to release this year in celebration of the 100th centenary of Spillane’s birth.  For fans of Mike Hammer, it’s an even bigger celebration, as Killing Town is Spillane’s very first Mike Hammer story, set in the character’s first days of opening his own detective agency.  Most of the world knows I, the Jury as the first work to feature private investigator Mike Hammer and the debut novel of the celebrated crime fiction writer.  But in Spillane’s later years, according to Collins, on one of his many visits to Spillane’s house, Spillane handed him a copy of Killing Town and Collins read it while sitting across from him, having no idea one day it would be he who would complete it and release it to the world.  Collins asked, “Is this what I think it is?”  Spillane nodded and smiled.

Written around 1945 and now available for the first time ever as part of Titan Books’ series of noir novels, Killing Town is as defining of noir crime pulp novels as anything you’re likely to have ever read, by Spillane or anyone else.  It has the hardboiled, put-upon, would-be shlub detective trying to get himself out of big trouble with the mob, it has a mysterious femme fatale (more than one actually), it has the smoke-filled diner (with pie), the smoke-filled bar (lots of booze), the police station stacked with crooked cops, and it takes place in a crappy little town nobody could possibly want to visit, let alone read about.  It has loads of crime, a few fist fights, a con or two, some ugly people and some pretty people, some poor people and some rich people.  And it has a murder (or two or three).  That’s really all you need to know.

Author Max Allan Collins signing copies of Killing Town at the Titan Books booth at San Diego Comic-Con last month.

A little more?  Okay.  When we first meet Mike Hammer (and as Spillane first puts Hammer’s origin story into type) he’s sneaking into the little burgh called Killington hanging underneath a train with $30,000 in his pocket and a job to carry out.  From his first steps into the town he should have known nothing was going to drop in his favor.  You might not think his position could be any worse when only a few hours after his arrival the police arrest him and charge him with the rape and murder of a local secretary of the owner of the big local mill.  But it does get worse, as Spillane drives Hammer deeper and deeper into despair to the point that the reader is going to ask:  “How can you possibly get out of this one, Mike?”

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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.

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