THE CONSUMMATA is a terrific mystery novel that Mickey Spillane began in the 1960s. It has finally been finished by Max Allan Collins five years after the great writer’s death and published by the re-launched Hard Case Crime with a brilliant cover painting by legendary paperback cover artist Robert McGinnis. This is a book that would have been lost forever if not for Collins and Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime. It is a must-have for mystery fans.
"Like all [Spillane's] books, you can sum it up in one word: fun. Make that two words: incredible fun."
When people rather naively ask me about the writing life, I tell them that the writing life is great, but the writing business stinks. And that is putting it mildly. THE CONSUMMATA is a perfect example. By 1967, the Mike Hammer novels had made Spillane an international legend. He was well on his way to selling 225 million books worldwide. So he decided to introduce a new series featuring a master criminal called Morgan the Raider. The first entry, THE DELTA FACTOR, came out in ’67.
So far, so good. Then the business intervened in the form of Hollywood, which decided to makes a movie out of the first Morgan book. But the experience left Spillane so upset that he stopped work on the already announced second installment of the series called THE CONSUMMATA. He put it in a drawer unfinished and promptly forgot all about it until the 1990s, when he took it out, handed it to his friend, Max Allan Collins, and told him, “Maybe someday we can do something with this.”
Spillane died in 2006 at the age of 88, but for his legion of fans, this is an important literary document and a wonderful addition to the Spillane canon. Like all his books, you can sum it up in one word: fun. Make that two words: incredible fun.
Early in his career, Spillane was often knocked by critics for the amount of violence and sex in his books and his tough guy demeanor, which he maintained and exploited his entire life. But the public disagreed. To them, he was the people’s choice. Spillane was a genius at taking something very hard --- writing --- and making it seem almost effortless. And he was brilliant at hinting at one thing and then giving people exactly what they wanted: pure entertainment.
Take the mysterious title, almost echoing the dark conspiracies of The Illuminati. But you do not come to Spillane for explorations of deep, dark secrets, or to find the meaning of the universe. You come for old-fashioned, hard-boiled paperback diversion and excitement.
And THE CONSUMMATA delivers. We start with Morgan the Raider, again not so subtly invoking a modern-day pirate. Morgan was imprisoned for allegedly stealing and hiding $40 million when the government (read CIA) recruited the thief for a secret mission on a remote Caribbean island (read Cuba). With the mission completed, the government was in the process of hauling him back to jail when Morgan escaped.
THE CONSUMMATA begins with Morgan literally racing down the streets of Little Havana in Miami with the Feds hot on his heels. Spillane and Collins write: “I had one thing going for me, anyway --- this was a capture operation, not a hit. They’d have orders to go all out bringing me back alive, even risking taking on fire themselves. Your life carries a high premium when they think you’re the only guy who knows where a forty-mil payday got buried.”
The action in Spillane’s books is nonstop, which is a major reason why they are so much fun. Morgan escapes from sure capture when he is rescued by some exile Cubans in an anti-Castro cell. They seek his help in recovering $75,000 stolen from them that they need for their insurgency.
Morgan soon finds himself being hidden in a “house extraordinario,” which, as he points out, is a “delicate way to refer to a whorehouse.” And his rescuer is, of course, a beautiful young woman. She says, “The world is in a state of, how do you say it? Flux. Of change. There is much trouble ahead. Not long ago, my people were promised that Castro would be gone and Cuba ours again --- then your president was shot like a dog in the street, and where are our dreams now?”
And Miami in the late 1960s was ripe with Cuban exiles feeling betrayed, CIA men, assorted spies, turncoats, and wild rumors of plots and conspiracies. In real life, some of those exiles were recruited to break into the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. and launch a scandal that would topple another American president.
Spillane and Collins capture the paranoia of that time and mix in a good dose of sex. Also arriving on the scene is a legendary dominatrix whose clientele includes the most powerful men in the world, the Consummata. Who is she? Nobody knows. And what role does she play in the whole mess involving the $75,000 and the CIA?
Collins finishes this project seamlessly. It is impossible to tell where one great writer left off and another begins. And indeed, Collins has done a wonderful job completing other Spillane books, such as the lost Mike Hammer novels THE BIG BANG and KISS HER GOODBYE. Consider this classic scene in the Spillane tradition from THE CONSUMMATA:
“…so I glommed onto his gun hand before he could get his pain in check, and twisted my grip on his wrists, thumb slipping under the butt of the gun into the fleshy palm, digging my thumbnail in, hoping to make his grasp go away, but instead in the struggle I again heard that little phut and a bullet angled up and into him, his sob whistling into a throaty rattle that had bubbles in it.”
It does not get more hard-boiled than that. Longtime fans of Spillane will love THE CONSUMMATA. And while we can be thankful for this book, we can’t help but wonder what would have happened with the character of Morgan in future installments of the series if the business had not interfered, as it often does in the creative process, and frustrated Spillane.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on October 13, 2011