Kill Me, DarlingJust before Mickey Spillane passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, he alerted his wife to the presence of unfinished manuscripts in his office. He told her to “Give them to Max. He’ll know what to do.”

“Max” was Max Allan Collins, veteran crime fiction writer of scores of novels and several successful series. Collins and Spillane had been friends for years, to the extent that Spillane would posthumously entrust the future of the Mike Hammer franchise to Collins. Pretty big stuff, if you ask me.

Turns out there were quite a few unfinished Mike Hammer works, along with copious notes, in Spillane’s home office. Collins got them all and vowed to complete every one of them. Well, he’s kept his word. Kill Me, Darling (Titan Books) is the latest collaboration, due out later this month.

The novel’s opening is eerily similar to that of 1962’s The Girl Hunters, which boasts one of the greatest opening lines in literary history: They found me in the gutter. Mike Hammer has descended into the world of booze and dereliction following the disappearance of Velda, his girl Friday and not-so-secret crush. Life just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore after she walked out on him, so he crawls inside of a bottle, hoping never to crawl out. His friend, NYPD Captain Pat Chambers pulls him back from the brink with the news that Velda has been located in Miami, where she is engaging in, shall we say, questionable activities with an unsavory character. Hammer pulls himself together for an all-out effort to find her and bring her back — if she wants to be brought back.

Based on Collins’ knowledge of the Mike Hammer story arc, he has placed Kill Me, Darling around the year 1954. He wisely stuck with Spillane’s original intent and set the story in that year, and thanks to his exhaustive research, vividly recreates 1954 Miami. He does this while keeping the spirit of Spillane’s writing alive to the extent that it’s impossible to figure out where Spillane leaves off and Collins begins. This is very difficult to pull off, especially when working with an iconic writer such as Spillane, whose style was not only ground-breaking, but readily identifiable.

Spillane fans will spot all the usual mileposts: slimy villains, no-necked goons, hot babes, and lots of Mike Hammer attitude. One highlight is where Hammer solemnly promises one of the characters not to hurt a particular villain. He then reveals to the reader he will merely kill the villain without putting a lot of hurt on him, thereby keeping his promise. I don’t know if this was written by Spillane or Collins, but you know, what’s the difference? It’s Mike Hammer, baby!

Recommendation: A must-read for Spillane fans. And for those who like solid hardboiled crime fiction, you can’t go wrong. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins make a great team.

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