Review: ‘King of the Weeds’ by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

KingWeedsShortly before his death in 2006, author Mickey Spillane left instructions for his friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins, to complete the various unfinished manuscripts he anticipated he’d be leaving behind. Among them were six novels in various stages of completion featuring Mike Hammer, Spillane’s famous private investigator character. Eight years later Collins has completed that portion of his task with the publication of King of the Weeds, the book Spillane conceived as the last Mike Hammer novel.

King of the Weeds is a sequel to Black Alley, the last Hammer novel Spillane finished and published in his lifetime. Collins assures readers in his opening note that a familiarity with Black Alley is not necessary, and as someone who has not read Black Alley, I can attest that this is true. Spillane and Collins do a good job of filling in the important details so that this novel stands on its own just fine.

At this point in his career, Hammer has made a lot of enemies, so he’s not exactly surprised when someone takes a couple of shots at him as the story opens. It seems as though there’s about $90 billion (yes, billion) in mob money that’s been hidden away, and a few people have an idea that Hammer might know its whereabouts. As Hammer tries to fend off interest from a variety of groups, including the U.S. Government, he begins to suspect that his current troubles have roots going all the way back to a series of murders from 40 years ago – murders that have suddenly been thrust back into the spotlight. Topping things off is a series of accidental deaths involving police officers, each of which looks less and less accidental as the body count begins to climb. These disparate threads could become a convoluted mess in less sure hands, but with Spillane and Collins at the helm what you get is a tightly wound page-turner that continues to build steam chapter by chapter.

Confession: this is my first time reading a Mike Hammer novel. As such, I can’t really comment on how true to the series – and to Spillane’s voice – Collins’ contributions are. Other reviews I’ve read are largely complimentary in that regard. I can say that this does not feel like a novel written by two people; if there are seams, I can’t see them. I can also say that this has been a good enough introduction to the character that I’m eager to go back and read the rest of his adventures. If the tough and resourceful guy I read about here is in the twilight of his career, then I can’t wait to see what he was like when he was just starting out.

King of the Weeds is out now from Titan Books.

Review: ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ by Max Allan Collins

SOTIFrom its lurid cover (another stellar effort by Hard Case Crime regular Glen Orbik) to its over-the-top title and scandalous premise, Seduction of the Innocent would appear to be a book as extreme as the comics that figure heavily in its plot.

It’s not. And while that may be something of a letdown it’s a forgivable one, because what you get instead is a solid murder mystery and a fascinating peek into one of the most controversial and misguided smear campaigns in American history.

Author Max Allan Collins uses Dr. Fredric Wertham’s 1954 crusade against comics as the framework for this novel, which he named after Wertham’s own book. (That book, mocked for decades, was recently thoroughly debunked and discredited.) Many of the more sensational elements of Collins’s story – congressional hearings on the evils of comics, mob ties to the funnybook business, drunken brawls and suicidal creators – are based on actual events that took place during that time, and many of its characters are based on real-life players in that saga.

In addition to these historical figures, Collins brings in a couple of his own creations – Jack Starr and his stepmother, Maggie, previously featured in the novels A Killing in Comics and Strip for Murder. Like Seduction, the previous Starr books lift their plots from real stories of the early days of comics (think ripped-off artists and feuding creators), making this the third chapter in a loose history of the medium.

The Starrs aren’t in the comic book business; rather, their company, Starr Syndicate, places comic strips in newspapers all over the country. Maggie runs the company, but Jack’s job may be the more difficult one – given that the artists are a moody lot, it’s Jack’s job to head off trouble when he can, and to extricate his talent from their messes when he can’t.

The Starrs’ comic strip business is deeply intertwined with the comic book business, so when a prominent player in the growing controversy stirred by Dr. Werner Frederick’s book Ravage the Lambs ends up dead, Jack finds himself embroiled in an investigation that encompasses several of his associates. The death doesn’t occur until halfway through the book, but Collins uses the ample lead time to flesh out the characters and lay out some of the fascinating and complicated inner workings of the comic book industry. The rest of the novel is spent shadowing Jack as he tries to find out who committed the murder and how he might minimize the effect it has on his company and the business overall.

While you don’t have to be a fan of comics or a student of that particular era of the business to enjoy Seduction, those who meet that criteria are going to find an extra layer of goodness in its pages. It’s hard to imagine society reaching that level of hysteria in today’s climate (well, in relation to comics, anyway, since comics, like all things geek, are in vogue these days), but Collins draws a vivid portrait of the uproar the country was in at the time – an uproar efficiently whipped up by one man and a handful of carefully manipulated “facts.” Into this he mixes an intriguing murder mystery and a colorful cast of characters. The result is thoroughly entertaining page-turner, and another win for Hard Case Crime.

Hard Case Crime plans February 2013 ‘Seduction’

Hard Case Crime seems to have settled comfortably into its new home at Titan Books, where it continues to publish some of the most intriguing and exciting titles out there for lovers of crime fiction. This week, HCC announced they will continue their long and fruitful relationship with author Max Allan Collins by publishing their eighth book together, Seduction of the Innocent.

The title may sound familiar; it’s also the title of the infamous 1954 tome by Dr. Frederic Wertham, in which the good doctor laid the blame for the “corruption” of America’s youth squarely at the door of comic book publishers – particularly publishers of violent horror comics like EC Comics. Collins’ tale is inspired by the real-life witch hunt that Wertham’s inflammatory book unleashed. Here’s the synopsis from HCC’s press release:

“Written by best-selling novelist Max Allan Collins (author of Road to Perdition and long-time scripter of theDick Tracy newspaper comic strip) and featuring 16 pages of interior illustrations by comic-book artist Terry Beatty (BatmanThe Phantom), SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT tells the story of comic book industry troubleshooter Jack Starr and his investigation into the death of a moralizing crusader out to get violent comics banned. “

If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first time a Hard Case Crime release will feature interior illustrations. The cover manages to capture both the pulp detective feel of all HCC books and the flavor of those EC Comics covers, and the HCC website states that the illustrations will be in “the classic EC style.”

I’m excited any time Hard Case Crime announces a new book, but this one feels like something special. The movement against comics that Wertham incited is a fascinating period of our country’s history, and I’m sure Collins is going to use that as a backdrop for a great detective story. The book is set for release in both paperback and digital formats in February 2013, and it can’t get here soon enough.