Though some things never change for the hard-boiled dicks, especially when they prowl the mean streets down by the waterfront in the early hours of a cold winter morning. Mike is catching a smoke and catching up with his thoughts when a body, or half a body to be precise, drifts past him on a slab of ice. Some men attract trouble, and Mike Hammer has always been one of them.

But this is a different sort of trouble, and a different sort of story Max Allan Collins has finished working off pages and notes from Mickey Spillane. It turns out the body belongs to a butler, who worked for the Dunbars, a wealthy family up the Hudson near Monticello. And it turns out the late Mr. Dunbar was a friend of Captain Pat Chambers, Mickey’s buddy. Dunbar’s been dead three years, and his four children all still live on his estate, await an inheritance that won’t kick in until they reach 40. When the state poilice rule the butler’s death is ruled accidental, Pat’s not so sure, but there’s nothing he can do officially. So the man who can do more unofficially goes up to Monticello to look into things on Pat’s behalf.

The butler didn’t do it, but the fact that it was done to the butler ought to signal you that this is in not a typical Mike Hammer. In fact, it’s more like a cozy who-dun-it, with a raft of suspects worthy of Agatha Christie for Mike to sort through, and soon more bodies are dropping. There are a couple of Hammer set-pieces; the most interesting at a casino, which plays a bit like Bogart as Marlowe at Eddie Mars’ place. And though there are only two women to find Mike irresistible (Velda is also back on the scene) and Mike only is able to resist one, it’s far less violent and less steamy than it might have been.

In Agatha Christie who dun its, the puzzle revolves around someone who is not who or what they say they are; often these characters are disenfranchised nobility trying to get or sometimes innocently getting their just desserts. Hammer’s world isn’t quite so predestined as the English, but it will not be a spoiler to say that, as with Christie, the story hinges on people who are not quite what they are supposed to be; sometimes this makes things clearer when Mike figures it out, sometimes it gets figured out for him. And there is a nice little twist at the end, where Hammer’s sense of justice rears its head unexpectedly.

As I said, this is a mellower Hammer in some ways. He’s more erudite, and actually corrects people with some unlikely facts. The changes in society brought on by the Sixties are just offstage, for now Luckies and Pabst are not quite declasse. Watching the way Max has worked to finish Mickey’s work, and had to adjust to Hammer’s changing world, I’ve sometimes questioned things: for me the Hammer with a deep-down rage will always seem the most authentic Mike. But this novel is intriguing precisely because, in the setting of a who-dun-it, a different side of Hammer that makes sense in terms of age and changing times suggests itself. It really seems like the kind of thing Mickey would have come to had he finished his original idea.

The Will To Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Titan Books, £17.99, ISBN 978178329142

NOTE: This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets www://irresistibletargets.blogspot.com

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