Over the course of the last several years, Max Allan Collins has been engaged in a labor of love and art by preparing and presenting the remaining works of Mickey Spillane, which had been unpublished at the time of his death. This task, undertaken with the blessing of Spillane’s estate (not to mention the man himself, who delivered the manuscripts to Collins before his passing), has resulted in the gradual completion of the Mike Hammer mythos, supplementing the mortar between the bricks of one of genre fiction’s most enduring iconic characters.
COMPLEX 90, one of the so-called “lost” Mike Hammer novels, had been announced for publication in the 1960s but mysteriously never appeared. Spillane, however, presented a significant portion of the manuscript to Collins in the late 1980s. After some careful and respectful stewardship under Collins’s guiding hand, the book is now seeing publication for the first time; the result is one of the best installments in a superlative canon.
"COMPLEX 90 is a historical hard-boiled novel, but Collins ably infuses a contemporary sensibility into his seamless posthumous collaboration with the immortal Spillane."
The events in COMPLEX 90, as Collins advises, takes place in 1964 and is a nominal sequel to Spillane’s classic hard-boiled novel, THE GIRL HUNTERS. The narrative jumps back and forth in time for a bit, but the gist of the story is that Hammer, through a series of events, finds himself retained for bodyguard duty, protecting a United States Senator who is on a fact-finding mission in Soviet Russia during the height of the Cold War. As one familiar with Hammer and his history might expect, putting Hammer in Russia is like touching a burning torch to gasoline. Hammer is arrested on trumped-up espionage charges, but does not stay incarcerated for long. During the course of his escape from a Soviet prison, and from Russia itself, he takes full advantage of a target-rich environment and leaves a trail of bodies behind in piles.
Unfortunately, Hammer is not accorded the hero’s welcome he would seem to deserve when he returns to the United States. The Soviet government is angrily demanding Hammer’s return to the USSR to stand trial for his actions, and there is a vocal faction in the US government that is all too eager to throw someone (in this case, Hammer) under the bus in an effort to go along to get along. However, as should be manifestly plain to anyone who has read even a page or two of a Hammer novel, Hammer is disinclined to submit meekly to authority when it is against his own best interests or desires. The Soviet Union is aware of this and already has agents in place in New York when Hammer returns home. This places him and Velda, his primary (but by no means exclusive) love interest, in extreme danger.
As Hammer dodges agents from both the USSR and his own country, he begins to realize that he may have been set up from the drop, and that his initial foray into the Soviet Union was not the result of coincidence but rather a series of carefully orchestrated events. All too soon, he finds himself outnumbered, outgunned and with his back to the wall: It’s just the way he likes it; getting older for him means getting better and more dangerous.
COMPLEX 90 is a historical hard-boiled novel, but Collins ably infuses a contemporary sensibility into his seamless posthumous collaboration with the immortal Spillane. It demands to be read by anyone with even a passing interest in detective, mystery or espionage fiction as a newly published work from the source; it is Spillane and Collins at their very best.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 31, 2013