Friday, March 11, 2011

The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Volume 3: Encore for Murder by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane

This third volume of The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is the second to contain a "novel for radio" by Max Allan Collins (after 2010's Audie Award–nominated The Little Death). Collins continues to pore through the files of the late Mickey Spillane for gold nuggets, and this one, Encore for Murder, is expanded from a one-page outline.

Mike Hammer is hired to play bodyguard to ex-flame and former diva Rita Vance. Rita is taking a ride down nostalgia lane in the revival of her biggest success, playing George M. Cohan's wife in Mrs. Doodle Dandy.

But now she's receiving death threats, and she wants Mike and Velda to find out who is sending them. Mike's bodyguarding duties require Velda to do most of the footwork in this case, while he focuses on a more close-up investigation, so to speak. However, as always, things get a lot more complicated than they first appear.

Actor Stacy Keach once again takes the mantle and shows why he is Mike Hammer to many people. His line readings are effortless — all the right notes of righteous anger and sly humor seeming to slide out unbidden. Keach also executive produced this time around and, as he did with the previous outing, composed and performed the very noirish jazz score (with, of course, the exception of the Hammer "theme," Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne") .

The terrific support from the The Little Death is back as well, with Michael Cornelison reprising his powerful turn as Pat Chambers and Franette Leibow serving up another three-dimensional Velda. Sometimes, in the novels, Velda seems a little hard to grasp, but Leibow makes you feel like you know her.

Collins himself also puts in a cameo appearance that just oozes creepiness, but it's in the writing that he really makes it count. Collins offers up some of his best work yet in Encore for Murder. On his blog, Collins noted that Stacy Keach "said I'd provided him with the best Hammer voiceover he'd ever got," and long-time fans along with new initiates will understand why: Collins really understands Hammer.

Max was a fan of Mickey's long before he was a writer, and it is this penetrating insight that gave Spillane the confidence to pass on his legacy. As Spillane reportedly told his wife Jane, "When I'm gone, there's going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max — he'll know what to do."

And here Collins again uses the audio format to its full potential, creating a fully realized "movie for the mind" that offers more than just simple escapism for two hours. Encore for Murder is yet one more fine addition to the Mike Hammer canon that shows not only was Max Allan Collins a good choice to carry on the legacy of Mickey Spillane, but also that no one could have done it better.


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