by Mickey Spillane
Review by Christopher Friesen
Mike Hammer is back.
Only this time it's from the grave -- or almost. In Black Alley (the last Hammer novel published during Mickey Spillane's lifetime), the legendary private eye is holed up in Florida, far from his beloved New York, recuperating from multiple gunshot wounds. Fortunately for him, the alcoholic former doctor who is treating him is a very capable physician.
Then the phone begins to ring, which is unusual since no one is supposed to know where Hammer is. Captain Patrick Chambers of the NYPD, his old pal, is on the line with the bleak news that Hammer's war buddy Marcos Dooley has also been shot and the prognosis isn't good. So against medical advice, Hammer returns to the Big Apple to face his long-suffering partner/fiancee Velda, his enemies in the Ponti crime family and to see his friend through to the last minute.
But instead of going gently into that good night, Dooley serves up a deathbed confession -- that he managed to steal $89 billion dollars from his former mob bosses. Before he dies he gives Hammer a clue to its whereabouts. Now Hammer must fight off the mob while keeping the feds and the local District Attorney at bay and Pat Chambers in the dark, at least until he can find the money.
With Velda by his side, Hammer -- still contending with the belly full of injuries -- charges through the streets of New York City and the countryside of upstate New York following the trail of clues left by Dooley. In the end, Hammer exacts revenge (now there's a surprise!) for the death of his friend and solves the case of the missing money and in the process chops the head and the head-in-waiting of the Ponti crime family off.
Published in 1996, Black Alley is Spillane's last Hammer novel and you can feel the growl and grit in his writing that is the hallmark of good hardboiled detective fiction. From all the hype about Spillane's work, you might expect his novels to contain cover-to-cover sex and violence and although the entire story certainly simmers with Hammer's aggression and attitude, there is no sex and the most violent episode occurs at the end and the scene is hardly more graphic than a modern Saturday morning cartoon.
In fact Spillane's language is almost genteel at times -- some might even consider it censored -- but definitely from a different era, when people took a different view of appropriateness. Take the following example from when Hammer meets Marcos Dooley's son:
What did the old man leave me, Mr. Hammer?
An urn full of ashes, kiddo. What did you expect?
Don't give me that crap, buster. You didn't come all the way down here to tell me that. He left me something and you need me to get it.
I need you like I need a hole in the head, I said.
"Kiddo"? "Crap"? "Buster"?
All we need is a Dame or a Doll face to round out the corny dialog. In today's climate of rampant F-word use, this comes off as an almost-farcial throwback to hardboiled's heyday, making for,perhaps, a less-honest telling of the story.
On the positive side, Spillane's language use, honest or not, doesn't actually hinder the story, nor dilute the tension and pace, nor does it diminish the always imposing figure of Mike Hammer. This is proof -- if any were in fact needed -- that it can indeed be done, that a good rough-and-tumble story can be told without resorting to (or relying on) profanity and that it can be done so in a dignified way without sacrificing attitude. It's also, of course, a testimony to the late Spillane's skill as a writer, his narrative and the development of his characters outside their dialog.
Black Alley is a modern book with vintage styling, fast-paced, filled with action and boasting a gripping plot. Any fan of hardboiled, detective or crime fiction should make an effort to find a copy.
By: Mickey Spillane
Signet, 1st edition; November 1996
Review respectfully submitted by Christopher Friesen, November 2006.
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