Wednesday, 18 March 2009

HEROES NEVER DIE: WESTLAKE AND SPILLANE IN THE AMERICAN EYE

Yesterday's essay on the Watchmen film was the 100th post on Irresistible Targets. Thanks for all the feedback--leave it on the site if you can (rather than emailing me) so it too can be shared.

Meanwhile, my January (!?!) American Eye column has finally been posted at Shots, a double review of and tribute to Donald Westlake's last Richard Stark Parker novel, Dirty Money, and the first of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer mss to be finished by Max Allan Collins, The Goliath Bone. As the link to it at Shots no longer works, you can now find the whole piece reprinted at IT here. Mickey and Goliath. Sounds like the title of a biography. That's Mickey and Max above on the right, and Westlake and Stark together on the left.

9 comments :

Max Allan Collins said...

Mike, a handful of reviews of THE GOLIATH BONE view it in a distressingly literal way -- namely, doing the math on how old Hammer would be. How old was Poirot? How old was Nero Wolfe and for that matter Archie Goodwin? How old is James Bond? Or Robin Hood or Tarzan or Batman? When exactly did Mike Hammer become realistic?

You know very well that the young, intense crazed-avenger Hammer appears only in those early books and, spottily, in the 1962-1970 novels. (THE TWISTED THING is actually a late '40s novel.) The Hammer of GOLIATH BONE is a much tougher extension of the young Hammer into mature age than the Hammer of THE KILLING MAN or BLACK ALLEY (the latter uses recovery from gunshot wounds as a substitute for old age).

In GOLIATH BONE, Mickey was reacting to 9/11 through Mike. He was a contemporary author, responding to current events, through his signature character, with whom he strongly identified. It frustrates me that some reviewers miss the nice resonance that the "murdered friend" Mike is avenging this time around is Manhattan. And that they can't relish a story that provides a classic character with a final adventure (as was the case with Poirot and Morse, for example), one that resolves Hammer's relationships with both Velda and Pat Chambers.

Your entire heroes-never-die premise is clever but flawed, since of course this book is not about the death of Hammer at all. I'm proud of GOLIATH BONE and find it disappointing that some Spillane fans carry so much baggage along that they can't enjoy the ride.

Michael Carlson said...

Thanks for the feedback, Max. The reality for me is I never really enjoyed the 62-70 Mike Hammers as much as the first ones, nor the Tiger Manns; even as a youngster my sense of his being out of place was present.

I have a similar problem with the post-Fleming Bonds (although the most recent have also changed the character--from a sophisticate who plays chemin de fer to a yob who plays hold em, but that was another review)while accepting Fleming would not have taken Bond that way.

But Poirot or Wolfe exist in a
world that is atemporal and unchanging--Holmes transfers rather poorly to anywhere but Victorian London, Robin Hood could be aged, in a sweet elegaic film at least,
and Batman's aging was part of the Dark Night and then he was reborn as it were.

I do take your point about avenging the city, but in the end that's not quite what he does. But it just didn't take me where it wanted to go. Maybe that is my fault, but I think it's more the supreme energy Mickey brought to those original books.

I understand that Mickey was writing them seriously, and I can see no hint in what I wrote that you can't be proud of completing his work, or that readers couldn't go along for the ride--and if you felt there was it surely wasn't intentional.
best
Mike

Max Allan Collins said...

Thanks for the response, Mike.

But Poirot did not live in an unchanging world -- the books took him through two wars and into the Beatles era (he would have been around 117 years of age). Nero Wolfe and Archie began with bootleg beer and in late books were dealing with J. Edgar Hoover's corrupt FBI and Watergate -- and never aged a day. I don't think this is a case of a book not taking you where it wants to go -- I think it's a book not going where you want it to.

Mike Hammer's noir Manhattan -- always changing yet somehow timeless -- is a part of every one of the Hammer books, including GOLIATH BONE. I don't think it's asking too much not to expect Mickey to stay rooted in 1952, either in attitude or in response to the times; nor is it asking too much to request that readers meet a book on its own terms and not theirs.

Michael Carlson said...

When I said the Wolfe world was a temporal I meant precisely that Nero and Archie dont change--but there's a bigger question here: I agree you have to approach a novel on its own terms, but that is not the same as accepting its terms unconditionally or without making value judgements, or else why review at all (and dont point the many good reasons why not review at all!) In this case, however, the terms almost by definition include the historical Mike Hammer. I can read the book on those terms, I dont see how I cannot,and if I still think it's not what the original Hammers were, I suppose that is my problem. I was having a bit of fun with the aging thing, but I just am not convinced the character worked in the post 911 scenario--not because Mike would be in his 70s but because the people around him arent.

I think we're going round in circles somewhat here but the good part is, as I said, I'm looking forward to the others...

Max Allan Collins said...

Thanks for the discussion, Mike.

I hope you will like the next Hammer, THE BIG BANG, which Mickey started around 1965 and which I have kept very much in Swinging Sixties period. The Mike Hammer on display is a pretty rough customer. It will be out about a year from now.

Michael Carlson said...

I already like the title! Thanks too for your input, it's appreciated, and
your points are taken.
Best
Mike

Max Allan Collins said...

Not trying to get the last word in here, but thank you, Mike, for being just about the only critic (in film or comics) to note that Rorshach in WATCHMEN comes from Spillane/Hammer. Almost nobody noted SIN CITY coming entirely from Spillane (and Miller did not list Spillane among his influences in the otherwise effusive "tribute to influences" end credits!).

Michael Carlson said...

There's probably a good little essay to be done on Mickey's influence on Steve Ditko...though I suspect Ayn Rand or someone may have been even more of an influence on him. And you could probably use passages from those early Hammer novels to describe Miller's settings with no translation.

And feel free to have the last word as long as it doesn't inspire me to more thought!

Alexander Simon said...
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