Sunday, 21 February 2016


I've followed Max Allan Collins' completion of unfinished novels left behind by Mickey Spillane, and Max and I have even discussed/debated our interpretations of Mike Hammer and his character on my blog after a couple of my reviews. Which is why my first thought about Murder Never Knocks, the latest of Max's collaborations with Mickey, was that it was to my mind the best of the novels set after the classic Fifties Hammer milieu. It may not be the best novel, but Mike, Velda, Pat and even Hy Gardner are all drawn as characters who have moved on from some of their tropes, and they have all moved into the mid-Sixties gracefully. It's New York after the close down of many of the great newspapers, after the twist craze has come and gone, and the newsstands now sell Marvel comics with the Fantastic Four, so you can date it pretty well.

And Mike seems totally in place. He's been the target of two hit-men, come after him for reasons he can't figure out, when he's hired to guard the shower for the young bride of a shlocky movie producer who's getting into Broadway theatre; the bride's father is a top producer. And when there's a seeming robbery attempt, which turns out to be another hit, Hammer discovers that he's the target of someone who sees him as the ultimate gunfighter.

The two stories mesh nicely, though I have to confess I had a different ending in mind, one that would've been, to my mind, more classic Hammer. But as I say, we've moved on from those days. In his intro, Max mentions this is another of the shorter manuscripts Mickey left behind, though most of the story, including the ending, was outlined, so it's as Mickey planned. But there's also a bit of humour that I find very much like Max's work, and in the context of Mike Hammer easing into the Swinging Sixties, that humour makes perfect sense.

There are a couple of classic set-pieces, the best of which is an encounter with a mob guy and his bodyguards at the Peppermint Lounge, already in its post-Joey Dee decline and now a tourist trap, and another worth noting is Mike's encounter with the young fiance. It flows well, and if anything the ending smacks of later Spillane.

And I even think I caught an anachronism, where someone refers to the Village Voice as a freesheet. It may be now, but in those days it was a weekly that you paid for. I'll wait to hear from Max about that one. In the meantime, this is one of the best of the Max and Mickey Mike Hammers.

Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Titan Books £17.99 ISBN 9781783291342

NOTE: This review will appear also at Crime Time (

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


My college football teammate, and Wesleyan classmate, Dave Revenaugh, died recently. Rev was, to me, a force of nature: and there's a nice photo from our 30th reunion in 2002 that to me captures our essences just as they were in 1968-72. I saw Rev once or twice after that, but we never really got the chance to talk with as much relaxation as that night: though I also recall he ducked out of the reunion dinner just afterwards. We shared one other thing: he had his final child even later than I had my first, and we both named the boys Nathaniel. 

Rev was probably the best football player on our undefeated team. I'd managed to get Herb Kenny, one of our coaches, to be a guest speaker at the dinner, and talking with him he told me what a coup getting Rev to come to Wesleyan was. 'He was a legit Div One player, Herb said, 'and we didn't get those guys usually'. Of course Herb got another one, Rev's friend Jim Akin, for his basketball team that year too. I knew his reputation from Fairfield Prep, and playing both ways with him on our minescule freshman team, I got to see first-hand what an explosive, fully committed 6-1 225 pound force he was. I also came to understand, talking with him, that he had chosen Wesleyan because he wanted to be challenged in other places than the football field.

We went undefeated and won the Little Three in 1969. I'm present in the pictures of Rev making the game-winning TD catch against Williams that year, doing my best celebration leap having cleared the zone out for him. My claim to football fame.

I remember two Rev stories, both from our senior year. That year Bill MacDermott decided to switch our offense to an I formation. As the tailback, Ed Tabor lost his ability to gain yardage by his quickness through the hole, and wasn't great at taking the option pitch. As a fullback, Rev had his vision and foot-quickness taken away: he could dance through a hole and outrun people, even though he was one of the biggest guys on our team. The previous year we'd set some sort of New England record for rushing yards per game. It wasn't broke.

During the football season, I timed a trip badly, and when I went to practice I was still psychedelicizing. Calesthenics were proving a challenge. At one point, trying desperately to get my situps right, I looked over at Rev, lying next to me. He smiled. 'You too?' he said.

That spring Rev decided to play lacrosse. We were on our preseason southern tour, playing our southernmost game at Princeton. As we walked out to the field (where, as I recall, we drew with the Ivory Leaguers, as Mac would call them) we passed the Princeton Cyclotron. Rev looked at it, and at me. 'They even have a bicyling team here?' he asked, and to this day I'm not convinced he was putting me on.

There was no better competitor, no one you'd rather have as a teammate. It was a joy and a privilege to have played with him, gone to school with him, and to have known him. RIP Rev.

Monday, 15 February 2016


Josephine 'Joe' Flannigan grew up in Hell's Kitchen. Her mother was what they might have called a floozy. Joe tried to raise and protect her younger sister Shelley, made money stealing and worse, and by 20 was a junkie. Now straight, but still shoplifting for cash, she keeps a scrapbook tracking the modelling career of the sister she rarely sees, and keeps clean of junk. Then she's offered a job searching for a missing Barnard co-ed, who's been lured into the world of dope by a slick pimp. Her search takes her back into the lap of temptation, and back into a world where nothing is the way it seems. She may be tough, but she may not be quite as tough as she needs to be.

It's New York City in the early 1950s, and Sara Gran's 2006 novel pulsates with the stacatto beat of the sleazy underworld and the sometimes sleazier straight world as well. The book is structured like Dante's Inferno, a descent into ever more vicious circles of a sort of hell, but at the same time it's a hell that offers some freedoms from the hypocrises and shackles of the bright world outside those circles. Dope reads like a cross between the William Burroughs prose of Junky and the pulp crime novels of Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich and maybe most of all David Goodis, with its emphasis on disfunctional family values.

Gran gets the tone both of the times and the pulp novels that themselves represented a kind of underbelly of that world we often associate with Disney, Beaver, and Mad Men. She also keeps her own tone steady, gathering speed on the downward descent, and preparing the reader for a remarkable twist at the end that literally had me going back to check and see how well prepared it had been. This doesn't seem to have published in the UK, which might explain how I missed it, but I do regret that now. A first-rate piece of neo-pulp, with enough of a modern sensibility behind it to be knowing comment, but not so much as to be ironic. I love it.

Dope by Sara Gran
Berkeley Books, $14.00, ISBN 9780425214367

Friday, 12 February 2016


I've been away for a week covering the Super Bowl for the BBC and then enjoying three days with friends in sunny and summery San Francisco. I became the first TV commentator to get Noam Chomsky's name into Super Bowl coverage, but I didn't mention that in my wrap-up column for nfluk. I case you missed the coverage, you can read the wrap here:

Thursday, 4 February 2016


When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't matter if he didn't like him, he's supposed to do something. That was the kind of thing Sam Spade said when Miles Archer got bumped off, and it's sort of what Josh Blake feels when his partner Del Gilbert is murdered in their office, leaving an open safe behind him, and a missing contract that could be the reason why there's a corpse.

Because Gilbert and Blake aren't detectives; they're literary agents specialising in selling bulk to the pulp magazine market. But the pulp market is drying up, replaced by the westerns that proliferate on TV. And the missing contract is with a top western novelist who'd catapult them into a whole different territory. But first, Blake has to figure out who bumped off his partner.

Cut Me In was originally published more than 60 years ago, with Ed McBain writing under a different alias, Hunt Collins. And at times it's very funny about the world of publishing, because like many of the last generation of crank-it-out pulpsters in New York, McBain himself worked at the Scott Meredith literary agency, who specialised in just the sort of stuff Josh Blake is peddling. The sort of stuff this novel is.

It's fast-paced and superficial, and it's hard to tell the dishy dames apart: there's the secretary who was having an affair with Gilbert; there's his new widow who seems to find Blake the answer to her problems; there's a woman who comes as a big surprise; and there's a woman Blake wakes up with and has no idea who she is. All very Hefner-esque, just about the time Hef was getting the idea for the Playboy philosophy. There's also a frustrated pulp writer who needs an agent, and a dogged cop who really does remind me of one of the 87 Precinct cops, as if McBain already had the prototypes in mind. It's all a lot of fun, even though you'll be sure you've spotted a few holes in the plot big enough to drag a corpse through.

There's also a bonus short story featuring the disgraced detective Matt Cordell, who has a lot in common with Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (and Block was part of that Scott Meredith crowd)

. Although it's a slight story, and McBain's drawing character in with a broad brush, I was wishing that he'd given this more serious theme more time--it would play better today--and it reminded me that McBain got better the darker and deeper he got.

Cut Me In by Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime/Titan Books, £7.99 ISBN 9781783294459