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Hammer in a post-9/11 world
on January 21, 2009
"Do we need an attorney, Mr. Hammer?"
"No," I said. "You need me."
Mike Hammer is back! Twelve years after his last appearance in print (1996's Black Alley), America's best-selling private detective adapts to a post-9/11 world, complete with Islamic terrorists on his tail.
The Goliath Bone is the 14th in the long-running series that has spanned over 60 years. Mickey Spillane was never what you would call a prolific writer. Probably because he didn't write because he had to write: he only wrote when he needed money. Thus, for there to be years, even decades, between books was not unexpected. In fact, the 12 years since the last entry doesn't seem quite so long when you consider the nearly 20 that passed between #11 (Survival ... Zero!, 1970) and #12 (The Killing Man, 1989).
A little backstory: After Spillane's death in 2006, his friend and sometime collaborator Max Allan Collins (still the most vocal supporter of Spillane's influence on the crime genre) was given the task of finishing some of the incomplete works found in Spillane's files, with the most excitement focusing on a handful of unfinished Mike Hammer novels.
Though a standalone novel called Dead Street was published by Hard Case Crime under Spillane's sole byline, a Mike Hammer novel called The Goliath Bone was actually closer to completion when Spillane died. The job required Collins to do a combination of editing and writing throughout, getting his fingerprints, so to speak, all over the book.
Therefore, Collins's influence is felt throughout The Goliath Bone, where in Dead Street it was mainly in the final three chapters. Collins does a masterful job at matching Spillane's terse style, but his own more literary tendencies are likely to be noticed by a Collins devotee (such as myself).
The story is a little odd by usual Hammer standards. Two stepsibling grad students (the children of Nobel Prize candidates) possess a valuable artifact presumed to be the femur bone of Philistine giant Goliath ("that champ who went down for the count with an underdog's creek rock in his forehead") wrapped in brown paper. On their way down the subway stairs, someone tries to kill them, and Hammer (who just happened to be exiting a nearby bar when his Spidey-sense tingled) steps in just in time, making himself their bodyguard in the process.
Unfortunately, this new case comes at a very inconvenient time. Hammer and his long-time secretary/girlfriend Velda were just about to head off to Las Vegas and get married, and this puts that off for a little longer. But Velda knows who she's dealing with, and so doesn't put up much of a fuss, offering her own exemplary mental and armamentary services in addition.
No longer the lone wolf, Hammer is surrounded by the other characters for much of The Goliath Bone. The modern Mike Hammer is a man in love: he holds hands with Velda often and discusses the options with her, respecting her input. This is the Hammer of the 21st century, a man who doesn't live in the past, though he certainly talks about it a lot ("I was in all the papers").
Readers used to the tight pacing of the classic Spillane novels will notice instantly that The Goliath Bone has a great deal of talk in it. The exposition -- including lengthy discussions on the history and origins of the bone, the intentions of the different factions concerned (handled with some degree of sensitivity), life in a post-9/11 world, and especially far too much of "here's what might happen and here's what we're going to do about it" -- takes up over a third of the novel. But once it gets going, the book offers international intrigue on the level of Eric Ambler and John LeCarré.
More Hammer novels are slated for the next few years, but The Goliath Bone is meant to be the last chronologically in the Hammer "timeline" (much like Collins's own Quarry series "ended" with 2006's The Last Quarry, with The First Quarry coming two years later). With a final-chapter reference that ties back to I, the Jury, the series comes full circle in a satisfying way.