Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dead Street by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

When Mickey Spillane died, he left behind several unfinished manuscripts. Lucky for us, they were left in the care of his good friend (and most vocal proponent) Max Allan Collins to prepare for publication. Most will require so much work to complete, however, that Dead Street is the only one that will be printed under Spillane's solo byline.

It's more than somewhat appropriate that Hard Case Crime is publishing Dead Street, since the publisher whose tone HCC is trying to recapture — Fawcett Gold Medal Books — was created to tap into the hardboiled paperback market that Mickey Spillane's work unearthed all on its own.

Twenty years ago, police captain Jack Stang lost his fiancée when she was abducted and the vehicle carrying her subsequently fell off a bridge into the Hudson River. Now retired, Stang learns that the love of his life is still alive — though blind and with complete memory loss of the period before the incident.

Stang is hired by someone who knows of their previous connection to protect her from people who still want what they think she knows. But can Jack stand being so close to her and falling in love all over again, when she doesn't even know who he is?

Dead Street has all the Spillane hallmarks: deep characterization, a fast plot, realistic dialogue (peppered generously with tough-guy slang), and a great deal of sensitivity. Anyone expecting an exclusively hardboiled experience is forgetting what a romantic Spillane was (Mike Hammer more than once let his heart rule his head to the detriment of a case, at least temporarily), and this book is, above all, a love story.

According to Collins's afterword, eight chapters of Dead Street were already complete. Collins wrote the final three based on Spillane's notes and Collins's own discussions with the author. The transition is definitely noticeable, but perhaps only to a Collins fan like myself. Nothing against Spillane, but Collins is simply a more literate writer. He uses more complex sentences and includes more information in them. (This probably comes from his extensive comics work, having to put as much story as possible in those little boxes.) But he retains the tone of the rest of the book (as well as Spillane's signature knockout ending), so it hardly affects the book's impact, and the average reader probably won't notice the difference.

In fact, there's very little at all wrong with Dead Street. The atomic-bomb subplot feels a bit dated (even when you consider that the book took ten years to write), but one doesn't really expect a Mickey Spillane novel to be grounded in the present day. Even though he is writing about the last quarter of the twentieth century, it's the 1950s all over again. Whether writing about Mike Hammer or Jack Stang (incidentally, the name of one of Spillane's best friends), his stripped-down prose harks back to the great old days of classic crime fiction — and that's always a trip worth taking.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails