Book Review : Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins - The Will to Kill (2017)
Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane's iconic private detective, is perhaps the greatest and most popular character in popular culture that no one remembers today. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe ended up surviving him despite being considerably less read at the time. I, myself, had never read a Mike Hammer novel before receiving The Will to Kill via mail, a couple months ago. Would reading one of Mickey Spillane's posthumous, co-author by Max Allan Collins (an author I enjoy) enlighten me on the mystery of Mike Hammer's disappearing fame?
Well, yes and no. But The Will to Kill was quite enjoyable (if a little boilerplate) anyhow.
The novel opens with Mike Hammer taking a night stroll along the Hudson river and finding half the body of Jamieson Elder, floating on a patch of ice. Exasperated by his preternatural propensity for finding tragedies, Hammer is nonetheless brought along for the investigation by his friend on the police force and is introduced to the Dunbar family. Entitled trust fund kids who are each looking to prove their innocence in their own way. That's why they hire Hammer in order to shed light on the bizarre streak of tragedies striking their family.
Whenever you read a novel from a series, there always is an expository recap chapter telling you all the necessary background information on the recurring character. In case the reader decided to start right in the middle. There is no chapter like that in The Will to Kill, so I had little to work with in order to get a good sense of who Mike Hammer is. There was the fact that every policeman in town know him and likes him to a certain extent. Or the fact that he's known and somewhat respected with the underworld. It draws a portrait of an omnipresent figure people don't take seriously, yet should.
But these observations took some inferring on my part. A desire to understand better who Mike Hammer is. The Will to Kill is a fine mystery that shrewdly borrows elements from British cozies, but it's still somewhat of a boilerplate novel. You could insert any private detective in it and it would yield similar results. It would've probably been a better novel without any investigative third party at all, with the Dunbar family members duking it out among themselves Agatha Christie-style. The Will to Kill got the job done at the end of the day. It entertained me just fine, but I will probably forget it exists in six months or so.
I'm still unsure what to tell you about Mike Hammer after reading The Will to Kill. In fact, I've learned a great deal more about him through his Wikipedia entry than from this novel. He is described as a violent and misanthropic man, considerably more prey to his emotions than Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett's characters, but none of that transpires in The Will to Kill. Hollywood's greatest angry man Stacy Keach once played him. There are thirteen Mike Hammer novels ranging from 1947 to 1996 written and conceptualized by Mickey Spillane that probably give you a better idea of who he is. The Will to Kill will get the job done if you're jonesing for a detective novel, but it will not help you figure out this iconic private detective.