REVIEW: “MURDER NEVER KNOCKS”

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When you love a great series character, and the author dies, a little of you dies with him, because you know that your beloved character will visit you no more. Many millions of crime fiction fans felt that way when Mickey Spillane passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, because with his departure, Mike Hammer, it was thought, went with him, never to be seen again.

Fortunately, Mike got a last-minute reprieve. Before Spillane died, he alerted his wife to the presence of unfinished Hammer manuscripts and other material in his home office. “Give them to Max,” he said. “He’ll know what to do.”

“Max” was Max Allan Collins, formidable author in his own right, having birthed scores of novels over a decades-long career. Collins and Spillane had become close friends, and upon Mickey’s passing, Collins picked up the standard when he received all the unfinished material and vowed to complete every remaining Mike Hammer novel.

And so we have Murder Never Knocks (Titan Books, 2016), the eighth (or is it the ninth?) Spillane-Collins posthumous collaboration. According to Collins, Spillane began the novel in the mid-1960s, so Collins made sure it was set in the correct period, as he has done with all the novels in this series. And like the others, this one kicks off very nicely.

Mike Hammer, hardboiled private investigator and a magnet for trouble (much to the chagrin of New York police captain Pat Chambers), is hanging around his office after hours one day when a man walks in, pointing a gun at him. The man admits to Mike this is a contract killing, sort of one killer wasting another. Mike disposes of him in short order, but it doesn’t end there.

Pretty soon, everywhere he goes, he finds people around him are being murdered: in front of a newsstand, at a bridal shower … no matter where Mike is, someone’s getting clipped. Is there a revitalized version of Murder, Incorporated on the loose? And if so, why do they keep missing Mike if he’s the one they’re after?

The story expands from there, taking in Broadway producers, Mafia figures, Greenwich Village types, even New York gossip columnist Hy Gardner makes an appearance. The body count continues to rise as Mike looks for answers while he moves among shady suspects and gorgeous dolls. Who is behind all this? And why?

As with all of the other Spillane-Collins books, it’s hard to tell which has authored which passage. Collins has Spillane’s style down so thoroughly, it’s almost as if Mickey himself was doing all the writing.

Score another winner for Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins.

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