The Big Bang is the second of Mickey Spillane's novels left in manuscript form and finished by Max Allan Collins. When the first, The Goliath Bone, was published, Max and I had a discussion (which you can link to here) about the reasons for my dislike of Mike Hammer in a contemporary landscape, and at that time Max suggested I might like this one, set in the Sixties, better. He was right.
In fact, the 1965 in which this novel takes place would seem a perfect setting for Hammer, with the contrast between the nascent love generation and Mike's generation mirroring the tension between fathers who'd been to war and sons opposed to Vietnam, between parents and children over the concepts of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Mickey makes the most of it--better here, I think, than my dim memory of his 60s Hammers, or indeed the Tiger Mann books, neither of which I liked as much as those first six Hammers, the ones that seemed to have been written in a white-hot post-war rage.
The Big Bang is full of Mickey anticipating trends that had yet to manifest themselves in 1965. It starts off as if it will be another of those somewhat lighter 60s version of Hammer, the ones that seem to anticipate the Stacy Keach Mike. There's a scene where Velda sets Pat Chambers up with a retired stripper that is amusing in a very 50s way. But it contains that element of self-parody that you don't get in the early Hammers, which are relentless in their self-belief. Soon Mike finds himself caught in the middle of a battle for control of New York's drug trade, and after he gets his digs in at LBJ you wonder if he would have been comfortable, just a few years in the future, to join Elvis in Nixon's War On Drugs. But it is, in fact,very funny at times; Mickey's comic touch is much underrated. It also opens with graphic up front violence, almost as if Mickey were anticipating Bonnie and Clyde, Sam Peckinpah, The Man With No Name and the rest--but perhaps he always did. It wasn't so much that society caught up to Mike Hammer's violence, it's that they accepted it coming from anti-heroes, and the point with Mike Hammer is that, violent as he is, he is a hero, just one willing to make pragmatic decisions.
The first clue that Mickey might be moving in more dangerous directions was some extremely poignant description of the decay of the city--at one point he describes 'architectural dentures', an accurate and direct metaphor which suggests the way the changing world meets the old world at just the wrong time. From that point the story changes, and Mike, the great revenger, finds himself being used a part of someone else's bigger revenge. There is another bravura scene in which Mike takes an LSD trip: one which taps deeps into his psychopathology. Again there's a slight element of self-parody here, but mostly it's Mickey getting back to that sense of story being released from the driving need of his character which made those early Hammers so great. I'm not giving much away, because the basics of the plot are fairly obvious, and don't need the denoument scene to explain them, but where Mickey takes them is absolutely incredible, as Mike in the end makes a decision which is pure Hammer, and the book's final lines are as jaw-dropping as the close of I, The Jury, and almost as apocalyptic as the movie version of Kiss Me, Deadly. It's as if, in one bravura moment, Mickey tapped into the basic Mike and gave him his rein again, and it's hauntingly powerful.
The Big Bang by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins
Quercus, ISBN 9781849160414, £19.99