The Big Bang is the second Mike Hammer novel collaboration between Mickey Spillane and crime writer Max Allan Collins. The book, as stated by Collins, is a labor of love, one that didn’t happen till after Spillane had passed away. They’d talked about finishing this book as well as The Goliath Bone, but somehow hadn’t gotten around to it. Now it’s finished, and Collins has rendered a sturdy Spillane/Hammer story mired in the drug-running days of the 1960s.
A lot of years have passed since those days, and it’s harder to connect back to those times. Collins does a good job of it, and part of that is because part of the novel was written back then by Spillane. However, those were the days that Collins was setting up to create his Quarry, Mallory, and Nolan books, and the author seems to love the time periods. Maybe that’s because Collins is a musician, and eras work differently for them, coming back in tunes and explosive words underscored by a driving beat or a crooning voice.
Collins’s Quarry novel from last year, Quarry in the Middle, was set in the 1980s, and he brings the past back with song titles. Those aren’t present in The Big Bang, but readers get it in the lingo, in the everyday man on the street in New York.
The novel starts off with a bang, too, and I loved seeing Hammer in action against three junkies. The cold, dispassionate way Hammer/Spillane/Collins describes the violence can be chilling even in these days. After all the medical shows that we’ve seen on television, it’s all too easy to imagine the kind of havoc Hammer unleashes.
The relationship with Velda is jarring, but true to form. She knows Hammer’s not exactly faithful, but she hangs onto him anyway. And every woman with a pulse hits on Hammer while he remains the crude bad boy.
The case is straightforward and relatively simple. Watching Hammer work through the investigation while dodging gunmen and the cops provides the entertainment. The one-liners are harsh, and I sensed that someone (Spillane/Collins) tried to show that the violence did demand a price of Hammer. But this is Hammer, and he doesn’t back off once he’s started.
The novel is a good Hammer story, and anyone that enjoyed Spillane’s original take on the character is going to find a lot to like. But to the uninitiated, Hammer may come on too hard and too crass. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels refined the hard-boiled detective into something that was more palatable.
But when it comes to actually showing the guys in the street handling the violence and the despair over lost innocence, Mike Hammer comes closer to the truth than any detective I’ve seen. Good guys simply don’t do that kind of work. It takes a hard guy with a sense of honor, and Hammer has that in spades.