It is a year after the killing that ended Mickey Spillane’s first novel, I, The Jury, and a depressed Mike Hammer has been talked into laying off the booze and taking a few days vacation with his secretary Velda. They have gone off to a Long Island beach town, and no sooner do they arrive than they bump into one of the locals being beaten by a bunch of thugs. Mike, of course, in true Lone Ranger fashion, intervenes, and when the thugs turn out to be local policemen, one of whom is an ex-New York cop with an unsavory history and an old Hammer nemesis, vacation plans take a back seat to looking into what’s going on in the beach town.
Thus begins Lady, Go Die!, a newly released sequel to the first Hammer novel begun by Spillane some 70 years ago but left in fragmentary form, now completed by his literary executor, Max Allan Collins. Back in 1947, when Mickey Spillane began writing about his two-fisted shoot first and ask questions later detective, he was on the cusp of what was permissible in popular fiction. There was sex. There was violence. His work was risqué and sensational. Today, there is still sex; there is still violence, but by now it has become the one thing needful. As a matter of fact, Spillane seems fairly tame when you look at the exploits of some of the other hard boiled types peopling today’s thrillers, types more than likely spawned from Hammer. You have to wonder what were they thinking, that a books like I, The Jury and Kiss Me Deadly could have created such a buzz. And Lady, Go Die, though it didn’t see the light back then, is of the same ilk.
In some respects it shows its age. There are those elements in Lady, Go Die! that you wouldn’t be likely to find in the 21st century thriller, most the result of contemporary political correctness. Although even here, despite Spillane’s objectification of women, he and Collins do allow for a larger role for their blonds and red heads. Velda, after all, does have a private detective’s license, and Hammer is willing to send her off to the local watering hole in search of information. There may be an ethnic epithet or two no longer acceptable in the contemporary lexicon, but they are few and far between and not usually the most egregious of those terms.
Collins has mastered Spillane’s voice. His contributions fit so seamlessly with what Spillane has written, at least as far as this reader was concerned, it was impossible to tell the difference. They had collaborated often on projects before Spillane’s death in 2006, so Collins does have some insight into the way the author worked. Clearly he profited from that insight. As to why Spillane set aside the story and never finished it himself, there doesn’t seem to be any information, but as Collins says in a note at the beginning of the book, “it was a yarn worth finishing.”
I would agree. Lady, Go Die! is a tale worth telling. There is a mysterious disappearance of a rich black widow operating a gambling casino who turns up naked draped over a statue of a horse, leading to a somewhat cringe worthy pun, and extremely dead. There are corrupt cops and city officials. There are fights and shoot outs. There are serial sex murders. Everything a thriller reader could want is there, if not always in the kind of detail he’s come to expect.
At a time when graphic sex and violence have become almost a staple of the thriller genre, Spillane may seem almost tame, his talk of booze and broads almost archaic. True enough, there is a sense in reading Lady, Go Die! that you are reading a relic of what is now a fairly distant past. It makes sense that the story is set back in the 40s. Mike Hammer is a figure that belongs in that world. He is an important link in the chain between the Sam Spades and the Jack Reachers, and it would be a mistake to turn him into something other than the toughest of tough talkers, shoving a Lucky between his lips and lighting up as he tosses down a highball with a blond with plenty of curves in all the right places.