April 2018

Max Allan Collins

A crime fiction legend

For 10 years, Max Allan Collins has skillfully and loyally acted as literary executor for pulp mystery master Mickey Spillane, who left behind a number of unfinished manuscripts after his death in 2006.

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Honoring the centenary of Spillane’s birth, The Last Stand presents something special for fans: one of Spillane’s earliest unpublished novellas, completed by Collins, paired with Spillane’s last completed novel.

How do these two stories encompass Spillane’s career?
The novella, A Bullet for Satisfaction, dates to the early 1950s, the time of his first great success. It represents all the controversial elements that made Mickey such an innovator and superstar, specifically the level of sex and violence, but also his mastery of fast-paced narrative and first-person. Mickey mellowed as he grew older, and the rage and frustrations he brought home from military service in World War II—which were infused in Mike Hammer and his other early protagonists, and are so apparent in Bullet—were muted in The Last Stand. But he remained interested in male bonding, male-female relationships and strength of character. There’s also an element of vengeance, but not coming from the hero this time.

The Last Stand is a very different kind of Spillane novel. It’s quieter, with an emphasis on adventure over mystery. In your introduction to the book, you describe it as a “barely concealed rumination on coming to terms with aging.” How would you describe Spillane at this point in his writing career?
Mickey, I think, viewed himself as semiretired. He only wrote when he felt like it, more for fun than commerce—which I think was always true, though he liked to say his inspiration was “an urgent need for money.” On the other hand, at the same time he wrote The Last Stand, he was working on his final Mike Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone (2008). He portrayed Hammer as an older man preparing to marry his longtime secretary and partner, Velda.

Spillane frequently spun stories of vengeance. Why?
Vengeance is the specific theme of I, the Jury (1947)—Mike Hammer swearing revenge over the corpse of an army buddy who’d saved his life in combat. That so resonated with readers that Mickey realized this theme could separate him from run-of-the-mill mystery writers—he brought emotion into play.

The crime fiction landscape has changed quite a bit since Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel, I, the Jury, was published. Where do you see Spillane’s (and Hammer’s) legacy in contemporary thrillers?
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is an obvious descendant, just as in Spillane’s day James Bond and Fleming were his. You see Mickey’s fingerprints all over everybody who followed him and Mike Hammer, from Peter Gunn and Billy Jack to Mack Bolan and Jack Bauer. Shaft was a black Mike Hammer, even initially advertised that way. Fleming was sold as the British Spillane. Any tough hero with emotion who breaks the rules can point back to Mickey and Mike.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Get the Book

The Last Stand

The Last Stand

By Nathaniel Philbrick
Viking
ISBN 9780670021727

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