SKIN is one of the Mike Hammer story fragments that Mickey Spillane left incomplete at the time of his death. His final instruction was that his unfinished work be delivered to mystery author extraordinaire Max Allan Collins, who, in his words, would “know what to do.” As Collins has demonstrated time and again, that trust was well-placed. Such is displayed again with SKIN, which is one of those rare shorter works that is infused with the satisfying heft of a novel-length work.
"...one of those rare shorter works that is infused with the satisfying heft of a novel-length work.... The ending is generally predictable, yet has a unique and ironic twist with respect to the manner in which Hammer administers his style of rough justice."
The book takes place primarily in upstate New York. It is said that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. The converse holds true here, when Hammer, returning from a Police Academy event, makes a particularly grisly discovery on the side of a rural highway. What appears to be road kill is the aftermath of a killing, but the remains are human and have more than one source. It is ultimately determined that the decaying matter is what is left of a long-missing woman; the hand that rests next to it belongs to Victor King, a Broadway producer who left his office for an upstate meeting and never returned.
The narrative concerning the discovery of the remains and the crime scene investigation is loaded with the grim dark humor upon which Spillane’s and Hammer’s reputations were built. Hammer is left to do with what he does best, which is to color outside the lines, whether such is called for or otherwise. Naturally, there is a beautiful young woman involved, in this case a television newscaster named Melodie Anderson, who is impressed with Hammer’s reputation and relatively youthful good looks. When Anderson herself goes missing, however, Hammer’s buttinski style of investigation is ratcheted up a level or two. The ending is generally predictable, yet has a unique and ironic twist with respect to the manner in which Hammer administers his style of rough justice.
In his Author’s Note, Collins classifies the story as one of Hammer’s last cases before retirement at the end of THE GOLIATH BONE. He also infers that there are two more novels to be completed, as well as three shorter novel manuscripts and several shorter manuscripts in various stages of completion. If the quality of what is to come is anywhere near that of SKIN, Hammer may well be on the verge of enjoying the popular comeback he deserves --- as if, of course, he ever really went away.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 28, 2012