Friday, January 29, 2010

The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Volume 2: The Little Death by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (starring Stacy Keach and a full cast)

Stacy Keach reprises his most famous role as Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane's most famous creation, in this second volume of The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. At the beginning of The Little Death — a "novel for radio" written by Max Allan Collins from the short story "The Night I Died" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins — Hammer is nearing the end of his search for a reporter friend's killer. Hammer's getting older, but he's still more than capable of chasing a suspect across the rooftops of New York.

After that case is closed in Hammer's signature style, six months go by. Waiting for a client in Carmen Rich's casino, Hammer is interrupted by Helen Venn, mistress and silent partner of the late Marty Wellmann. Venn was there to meet Rich, who didn't show. Hammer escorts her out of the bar, between flying bullets, and she tells him her story: she's thought by Rich to have $10 million that Wellmann supposedly skimmed from Rich, and so she has a price on her head.

Later, Hammer gets a message from "the Captain," a legless, homeless war vet who's seen something important, but when Hammer arrives at the meeting place, the Captain has gone down with his ship. Now Mike's got two murders to solve (including Wellmann's), a gorgeous blonde to protect from syndicate scum, and a couple more murders to commit before he gets to the bottom of things.

The cast of The Little Death (whose title — la petite mort in French — refers to the belief that orgasm causes a loss of vital "life energy") includes Collins regular Michael Cornelison (Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life), and Collins himself is credited with two roles. Cornelison as Pat Chambers more than holds his own with Keach's Hammer, matching his verbal thrusts with equally skilled parries. Also strong is Franette Leibow's three-dimensional turn as Velda. Collins uses his skill with tough-guy patter to pepper the story with a selection of fun wisecracks and puns.

There are enough familiar tough-guy private-eye tropes floating around in The Little Death to fill a P.I.-fiction instruction manual, but since a lot of what may now be seen as cliches originated with Mike Hammer, they become part of the appeal. The ending will hardly be a surprise to anyone familiar with the genre (though Spillane and Collins jump us through a number of plausible hoops in the meantime), but that doesn't take away from the wonderful use of the audio format.

In addition to the high-quality writing and acting, the events are underscored by noirish jazz compositions written and performed by Stacy Keach himself. The realistic sound effects — you can even hear Hammer swallow his beer (and his bouncing bedsprings!), including a gunshot that fills the room with its explosion — round out this "movie for the mind" and put Mike Hammer in a fully realized world that will be revisited over and over again. The Little Death is a terrific addition to the Mike Hammer canon.

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