Book Review – THE TWISTED THING (1966) by Mickey Spillane

THE TWISTED THING (1966) ****
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 178pp (524pp) with The Girl Hunters (1962) and The Snake (1964)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6
      Blurb: This is some household. The kid is a genius, the father a scientist of international repute. Money is a problem. Not a shortage of money, but the opposite: too much. The sort of money that brings the envious and the scheming clustering like flies around offal: nieces, nephews, cousins … a family of mean minds and gross appetites. The staff has its peculiarities, too: the chauffeur is an ex-con; the governess formerly a featured act in strip clubs from New York to Miami; and the secretary has a well-developed taste in other women. Yes, it’s some household – and not all that welcoming of PI Mike Hammer, not when the kid has been kidnapped and everyone’s a suspect.
      Comment: This ninth Mike Hammer novel from the pen of Mickey Spillane seems to hark back to the noir mystery thrillers of the 40s and 50s. There’s a reason for that. This was in fact the second Mike Hammer book Spillane wrote (after I, the Jury – published in 1947). It had initially been rejected by Spillane’s publisher who was looking for something tougher, more violent, sexy and vengeance-driven after the success of the first book. So, Spillane obliged with My Gun is Quick and shelved The Twisted Thing for 18 years.  It’s easy to see why the book was initially passed as it tends to blend into the more traditional field that surrounded it at the time. That said the book is not without its moments of violence and sex. The main difference is Hammer is less driven by vengeance and his two-fisted ways of obtaining his leads and works more as a detective in the Chandler or MacDonald mode. Indeed a softer side to his character is shown in his attachment to the kidnapped boy. As such, the book is refreshing with its complex kidnap/murder plot built around a large dysfunctional family and has distinct echoes of some of the classics of the genre. Excepting one or two fanciful advancements of the plot, Spillane keeps the reader engaged throughout and his writing is often impressive as Spillane sticks with the tried and tested first-person narrative until its twist ending. The setting is mostly a small town in New York state, so the change of environment also serves to freshen up the formula. One of the best of the later published Mike Hammer novels, this is worth seeking out.

Book Review – THE SNAKE (1964) by Mickey Spillane

THE SNAKE (1964) ***
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 158pp (524pp) with The Girl Hunters (1962) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6
      Blurb: New York PI Mike Hammer has traced his lost love and secretary, Velda, who went missing seven years ago. In a race against time, Mike has to move her to another location, but she is sheltering a young woman who fears for her life. Finally safe once again, Hammer devotes his time to helping the young woman, who is being threatened by her stepfather. But as Hammer investigates some leads on the seedier side of town, he finds himself caught up in a three-decades-old mystery involving a great deal of money that’s gone missing. And just who is The Snake? Mike is going to have to figure that one out, or three lives – his, Velda’s and the girl’s – are in danger.
      Comment: Mickey Spillane had returned to his most famous creation, New York PI Mike Hammer, with 1962’s The Girl Hunters. In that book, we saw Hammer come out of a 7-year drinking bender when he learned his secretary and love Velda, who he had assumed dead, is still alive. That book ended before Hammer and Velda were reunited. The Snake picks up immediately where The Girl Hunters left off and pitches Hammer into a new case. Whilst rescuing Velda, Hammer also rescues a young blonde girl on the run from her stepfather, who is a high-moving politician. The girl believes her stepfather killed her mother. It becomes clear the case is linked to a robbery that took place more than 30 years earlier, which the girl’s father prosecuted as a DA. The Snake is a less successful novel than its predecessor and feels a little lacking in inspiration. The plot is familiar to genre fans in its exploration of themes around familial disharmony, trust, power and greed. Many of the plot progressions that lead Hammer to the eventual solution are incredibly contrived and coincidental. The “when will they” dilly-dallying between Hammer and Velda also becomes a little tiresome and irritating. That said it is a quick and easy read and will broadly entertain fans of thick-ear hard-boiled mysteries. Its lack of sophistication may hold it back from other stronger examples in the field, but there are moments when Spillane captures a rhythm with his prose that suggests a stronger book could have emerged if more time had been spent ironing out some of the plot difficulties which led to the writer taking the easy way out. The Snake sits in the lower rankings in the Mike Hammer bibliography but is a required read for those wanting to tie the outstanding threads from The Girl Hunters.

Book Review – THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) by Mickey Spillane

THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) ***½
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 171pp (524pp) with The Snake (1964) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6
      Blurb: Seven years of hitting the hard stuff have taken it out of PI Mike Hammer. That’s how long it’s been since he gave his beloved secretary the job from which she never returned. Now he’s back with a vengeance. Velda is alive, if only he can reach her in time. But New York’s toughest investigator still has friends in the right places. And his long-neglected .45 is definitely one of those. Piecing together the puzzling deaths of a senator, a newsagent and an FBI man, Hammer finds the missing link in a murderous network of international spies. One that turns out to be Spillane’s kind of beauty – and who knows a good deal more than she should.
      Comment: There was a 10-year gap between Mickey Spillane’s sixth and seventh Mike Hammer novels (Kiss Me Deadly and The Girl Hunters).  During this period Spillane semi-retired from writing and had become a Jehovah’s Witness. The Girl Hunters addresses the absence of Mike Hammer novels during this period by introducing a plot element that has Hammer’s secretary Velda missing in action for the last seven years. Hammer believing her dead has turned to drink, lost his PI licence and his friendship with NYPD captain Pat Chambers. But when a dying man gives Hammer hope Velda is still alive, he sobers up and resolves to find her. The mystery elements are blended well as the dying man is linked to the murder of a US senator and these events, in turn, are linked to the case Hammer and Velda were working on before her disappearance. Meanwhile, Hammer has become involved with Laura, the senator’s widow. The plot may be fanciful with its mix of espionage and hit-men, but Spillane manages to keep the reader from dwelling on the absurdities and emboils us in Hammer’s search for Velda. Whilst the early passages are slow as we become re-acquainted with Hammer and learn of the nature of Velda’s disappearance, once this set-up has been explained the pace quickens and the action is tough, sexy and intriguing. The finale is pure Spillane and will satisfy his loyal fan base. Written with tough-guy dialogue and in a spare first-person narrative prose, Spillane hits his stride once more and would enter a second prolific phase of writing, which could have been written ten years earlier.  A year later the book was adapted into a movie, in which Spillane played his own creation.

Film Review Round-up – INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008); MY GUN IS QUICK (1957) and M*A*S*H: GOODBYE, FAREWELL AND AMEN (1983)

IJatKotCS_TPBIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008; USA; DeLuxe; 122m) ∗∗∗  d. Steven Spielberg; w. David Koepp, George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson; ph. Janusz Kaminski; m. John Williams; ed. Michael Kahn.  Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine, Andrew Divoff, Alan Dale, Dimitri Diatchenko, Ilia Volokh, Emmanuel Todorov, Venya Manzyuk, Pavel Lychnikoff. Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Good to see Ford back as Indy in this belated retread. Highly choreographed action sequences give the movie a manufactured feel, but at times it recalls the spirit of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. [12]

My_Gun_is_Quick_PosterMy Gun is Quick (1957; USA; B&W; 90m) ∗∗½  d. Phil Victor, George White; w. Richard Collins, Richard Powell; ph. Harry Neumann; m. Marlin Skiles; ed. Frank Sullivan.  Cast: Robert Bray, Whitney Blake, Patricia Donahue, Donald Randolph, Pamela Duncan, Booth Colman, Jan Chaney, Genie Coree, Richard Garland, Charles Boaz, Peter Mamakos, Claire Carleton, Phil Arnold, John Dennis, Terence de Marney. Private detective Mike Hammer helps a prostitute being assaulted, and notices that she is wearing a very unique ring. She is later found murdered and there is no trace of the ring, which turns out to be part of a cache of jewellery stolen by the Nazis during World War II and smuggled out of France after the wary by an American army colonel. Bray delivers a one-note performance in this flat and loose adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel. [PG]

51hG7Ro-+1LM*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen (TV) (1983; USA; DeLuxe; 120m) ∗∗∗½  d. Alan Alda; w. Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Dan Wilcox, Thad Mumford, Elias Davis, David Pollock, Karen Hall; ph. Dominic Palmieri; m. Johnny Mandel (theme), Lionel Newman (supervisor); ed. Larry L. Mills, Stanford Tischler.  Cast: Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, Loretta Swit, David Ogden Stiers, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Allan Arbus, G.W. Bailey, Rosalind Chao, John Shearin, Kellye Nakahara, Jeff Maxwell. In the closing days of the Korean War, the staff of the 4077 M*A*S*H Unit find themselves facing irrevocable changes in their lives. Mixes drama, comedy, pathos and sentiment in an expert way that echoed the strengths of the series. This became the most-watched television broadcast in American History. [PG]