Monday, 10 June 2013


The good thing about Complex 90 is that it reads like vintage Mickey Spillane, which shouldn't be a surprise, as Max Allan Collins, who has finished the book for Mickey, explains in the introduction. The title had once been announced for publication in the early Sixties, and Mickey gave him a partial manuscript to safeguard. It's set in 1964, with a new president in Washington and a new leader in Moscow, and Mike Hammer is hired as a bodyguard to accompany a straight-shooting (in the non Hammer sense) Republican senator to Russia, after helping said Senator survive an assassination attempt that killed his primary bodyguard. The novel opens with Hammer having got himself back to America after escaping from a Russian jail, and leaving a trail of (coincidentally enough) 45 Commies behind, meaning he's now an international incident.

Hammer then tells the first part of the story to the panel of US intelligence bigwigs, in flashback. This is always a dangerous thing, because you'd think he'd edit a few of the more lubricious details out of what he says (as opposed to what he tells us, the readers). This is the best pure Hammer in the book; his prison break is fast action set up by his hard-boiled resistance to his captors. As I said, vintage stuff.

Back in America, the question becomes why the Russians went after Hammer with such zeal. A question of revenge, against him and/or Velda, his former secretary and, as it turns out, an agent of the same top secret agency that employs Hammer? Or is there some other motive? Hammer investigates, Russians try to kill him, and he must beware of the motives of people who may appear to be friends, or, as always with Mike, potential lovers.

The story moves quickly, moved by its actions, as you expect from Spillane at his best. It's denouement is somewhat complicated, relying on an awful lot of engineering complicated plots which don't always seem necessary, and there's far more time spent on Hammer's head-butting with authority, establishing his own freedom to use his own methods, than there is on fleshing out (so to speak) some of the characters who are potentially villains. So when the truth is revealed, it's nowhere near as much shock as it ought to be.

My problem with the book is that this isn't a vintage of Hammer of which I'm particularly fond, although I thought The Big Bang, another of Mickey's posthumous collaborations with Max, set in 1965, was superb in many ways (you can read my review here). I remember liking The Girl Hunters (1961), but in Complex 90 the concept of Mike and Velda as secret agents gets carried to retrospective extremes—going back to the OSS during WWII for Velda—and Sixties spy excess. If the agency Mike and Velda work for really is so secret, why is Hammer carrying its ID around in his wallet, and how would anyone else know what the ID meant? I know this was the era of James Bond and Matt Helm and Man from UNCLE, but Mickey had Tiger Mann, and to me Mike Hammer is far more interesting as a private eye than a secret agent, especially since a good portion of his secret agency, as I mentioned, involves him arguing his bosses into letting him be a private eye. Call me conservative (which is what a Mike Hammer fan ought to be).

There is also an interesting private scene with Velda, which details her torture when she was trapped behind the Iron Curtain on a mission, which ends with something less than tender, but does go a long way into explaining why Mike and Velda never felt the need to marry—an issue in 21st-century set Goliath Bone. When I reviewed that book, it prompted a spirited exchange with Max Collins about what he called my 'distressingly literal' take on the book—and you can find that exchange here. I'm also going to reprint the original Shots review, as it doesn't seem to be up at their website any longer. And post the Telegraph version of my 1999 interview with Mickey. Meanwhile, enjoy...

Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins
Titan Books £17.99 ISBN 9780857684660 

Note: This review, in slightly different form, will also appear at
Crime Time

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