Reviewed by Mike Dennis
When Laura Knapp blew her brains out in the finale of Mickey Spillane’s The Girl Hunters (1962), everyone figured that was the end of the Commie ring that was threatening our treasured American way of life. Little did they know that uber-villain Comrade Gorlin, who Mike Hammer left with his hand nailed to a table waiting to be picked up by Art Rickerby’s Federal “agents”, would survive to revisit our shores two years later. And therein lies the crux of Complex 90, a Cold War novel begun by Spillane, who had fully intended to complete the story of the insidious Communist conspiracy to take over America, but for some reason set it aside. When he died in 2006, all his notes and partial manuscripts were delivered to his longtime friend and collaborator, Max Allan Collins, who has since been on track to complete every Mike Hammer novel Spillane had begun. Complex 90 is the latest to see the light of day. And not a moment too soon.
The year is 1964. During the previous three years, the US has gone through the Bay of Pigs invasion, the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, and the JFK assassination. The Cold War can’t get any colder. That is, until Mike Hammer is summoned to a top secret meeting deep in the bowels of the Pentagon.
Present are various military and espionage types, all of them demanding answers. Seems Mike accompanied a US Senator as a bodyguard on a fact-finding visit to the USSR several months earlier, during which time he was arrested by Soviet authorities under mysterious circumstances. The Senator was unable to free him, so Mike escaped and blazed a three-month-long trail of death across the Soviet Union, killing forty-five men before he crossed the border into Turkey and stowed away aboard a US-bound Air Force cargo plane. Needless to say, the Commies are pissed and they want him back.
Trouble is, the Americans are about ready to agree to it. A big international incident is brewing over this and the last thing the US wants is egg on its face during our decades-long staredown with the Soviets, who, it turns out, are planning to rub Mike out in New York if the US doesn’t give him up. Mike promises to capture a KGB agent on American soil in return for getting his life back, and the game begins.
Hammer has to tread carefully through this book, as treachery awaits at every turn. Who’s a Commie and who’s a loyal American? Velda and Pat Chambers are around to help, but it’s really Hammer’s battle all the way, as he has to fight not only the slimy Reds, but spineless American authorities who are inclined to send him back to the USSR. Throw in a supersecret scientific formula and the fate of the world hinges in the balance.
Once again, Collins has seamlessly woven his own writing around Spillane’s partial manuscript, so there are no real tipoffs as to who wrote what. The pushy writing style and Hammer’s forceful character never let up throughout the novel, so the reader gets the feeling it could have been Mickey’s book all the way, especially the Hammer-esque ending which seemed to come from the darkest extremities of Spillane’s soul. As with many other Hammer novels, there are enough Commies to fill up a Mayday parade, each of them lusting for conquest over the American capitalist dogs. Filled with action and tight, relentless tension, Complex 90 is easily one of the best Hammer Cold War tales. You will want to turn the page every time.