Hammer Has Onion A Peel

May 25th, 2010 by Max Allan Collins

We had a very high-profile review of THE BIG BANG in a hip spot – the A/V Club, which is part of the Onion.

The review (a B-) is very favorable till the critic does a kind of politically correct left turn at the end. But I’m glad to get it, and the review’s been picked up all over the place. You’ll also note a lively discussion in the comments, and I get in the act, but not in a very argumentative way.

After all these years, there are Spillane haters out there. I admit it’s sometimes been shocking to me, but Mickey always inspired emotional responses, due to the emotion he packed into his work. Interestingly, I have been viciously attacked by both Spillane fans and haters, although a relative handful in both cases.

I’ve always been fairly outspoken, and my son Nate keeps me on a short leash (or tries to) because I have a tendency to respond when somebody disses me on line (or anywhere). The Collins Family Motto is: RUIN MY DAY, I RUIN YOURS.

Democracy is at its messiest on the internet – social discourse had seldom been subjected to ruder behavior. Check out the A/V Club review above for some examples.

Here’s a great BIG BANG review from Vince Keenan. He “gets” it.

And a short but sweet BIG BANG review from Sons of Spade.

Here’s another nice BIG BANG mention.

We got a lot of great attention thanks to the Rap Sheet and Jeff Pierce. The giveaway contest of four copies of BIG BANG and four of THE LITTLE DEATH is over, and I’ll be sending the signed copies out this week. You had to name your four favorite private eye novels to enter, and I’m pleased that both my name and Mickey’s turned up on a lot of lists.


We were happy to help the Rap Sheet celebrate its fourth birthday.

I have finished my draft of the second Harrow novel, but am doing extensive tweaks and tightening this week.

And next weekend I go to Chicago with my actor pal Mike Cornelison to record ENCORE FOR MURDER with Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer (and Mike C. as Pat Chambers). I’ll report back next time!


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11 Responses to “Hammer Has Onion A Peel”

  1. mike doran says:

    I just spent a few vertigo-inducing minutes reading that A/V Club slagfest over Mickey Spillane’s life-and-work.

    As my Irish forebears would say, Oy.

    I suppose the right way to react would be Mick’s way. If I recall correctly, his response to all this – assuming he bothered to read any of it at all – would be to laugh his head off.

    For some reason I was reminded of something I used to see in my Catholic school textbooks: the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat notices on the copyright page, certifying that our readers and grammars and arithmetic books had cleared the Vatican and were free of any scriptural or canonical errors. You can imagine how secure we Catholic kids were, knowing that we weren’t getting the heretical Protestant times tables that the Public school kids across the street were getting.
    Maybe you ought to have Mrs. Spillane and the surviving family members put an Imprimatur on the copyright page. That might shut up the Spillane fundamentalists (or not).

    I’m just being sily here. I daresay most of your tenured fans get a kick out of how you don’t suffer fools gladly. Deep down, we all know that you’re the real deal, and we’re all just waiting for the rest of Them to catch up with us.

    One more little suggestion (off-topic though it may be):
    If Barb should decide to contribute another comment of her own – how about putting her picture at the top?
    (I miss seeing her too.)

    Have fun with your recording and come back for a signing ASAP.

  2. Mike, thanks for being such a loyal and astute fan.

    We have been burrowed in working, but hope to line up a Centuries & Sleuth signing in Chicago this year.

  3. Brian_Drake says:

    I looked at the A/V stuff and that’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Oh, well, I’m at work waiting for a meeting to start so I would have wasted the time anyway, but I could have enjoyed a nice glass of radiator coolant instead of that garbage.

    I suppose the audience needs to compare one writer to another, but I’ve never felt as *gripped* in Chandler or Hammett as I have been with Spillane. Chandler and Hammett are wonderful to read; they put words together nicely and even spelled them right most of the time, but Spillane made you *feel* the action in his story. Hammer had a reason for chasing bad guys; I cringe every time Philip Marlowe does something out of “curiosity”. The Continental Op was a working stiff, and I think that if he wasn’t getting paid, he wouldn’t be a Pink. There’s a distance between them and me. With Hammer I don’t feel that.

    Max, I read the first two chapter of “Angel In Black” the other day, in anticipation of the new Heller, and that has the same narrative drive as a Hammer story (in fact, since somebody mentioned Amelia Earhart, I will add that “Flying Blind” was the biggest gut-slam of a novel I have ever read). All of that to say, Chandler and Hammett may be the better “artists” but Spillane was a better storyteller, and very few can tell stories as well as he did.

  4. Brad Schwartz says:

    That sort of literary snobbery crap has always irritated me. As if simply telling a story is somehow beneath the dignity of a true “artist.” But I suppose being one of the best-selling writers of all time makes Spillane a target for that kind of stuff. May we all have such good fortune.

    And can I second the idea of a Chicago signing sometime this year? You may also, if your busy schedule permits, swing north up to Ann Arbor. I’ve found a small indie bookstore that does only mysteries, and I’m sure they’d love to have you. Not to mention there’s also Borders #1, and the fact that Ann Arborites by more books per capita than about anybody else in the USA. Just a suggestion…

  5. Brian and Brad,

    you guys make great points about Spillane. To me the big three of PI fiction have always been Hammett, Chandler and Spillane. Lumping Mickey with Hammett and Chandler only makes sense in terms of their historic importance in the PI genre. Hammer has more in common with Tarzan, Zorro and Batman than he does with Spade, the Continental Op and Phillip Marlowe. Mickey’s chief influences were swashbuckling novelists like Dumas and Alexander Hope, and Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams stories.

    Brad, we’ll see about book signings. I’m sure we’ll do some, but I know you’d rather I spend my time getting the next Heller written.

    Brian, thanks for the comments on ANGEL IN BLACK and FLYING BLIND. I feel those are two especially strong Hellers, and FLYING BLIND is possibly the best of them all…but a lot of people are fixated on the early trio of books, which is a compliment in one sense but a frustration in another. I’m always kind of bewildered when somebody comes up to me and says how blown away they were by those first Hellers, but haven’t read one since.

  6. Brian_Drake says:

    So if you group Hammett, Chandler and Spillane together for their historical significance, why is MacDonald, by others, considered to be so spectacular? He’s never done anything for me, and I see him as somebody who basically picked up Hammett and Chandler’s ball and kept running without really doing anything different.

    I’ve enjoyed all the Hellers I’ve read (but I still have yet to find Neon Mirage–that’s the only one I don’t have!). It’s hard to name a favorite because each book is so different from the one before that they really stand on their own. You never really know exactly what you’re going to get (outside of Heller as a character), and, especially when I’m familiar with the case, it’s a kick to see who he meets and interacts with. I’m eager to see what you do with the Marilyn and JFK cases, especially after re-reading your short story “Scrap” recently, which includes, as you well know but others may not, a major player in the JFK shooting.

  7. I am not a Ross MacDonald fan — neither was Chandler. He has one theme that he runs into the ground, his characters (including his PI) are unmemorable, and his prose is nothing special except when he’s trying to do metaphor, which is painfully strained. My guess about why he’s highly regarded is that he was (a) not Mickey Spillane and pleasing to more liberal sensibilities, but (b) was faux literary (in this themes and stilted poetry).

    The early books are better, but still nothing great. But, Brian, you and I are in the minority on this one.

    In the ’80s, I was approached about continuing the Lew Archer series…and I turned it down. (Nobody ever took the job.) I felt it was a suicide mission because he was so revered, plus I wasn’t a fan.

  8. mike doran says:

    I’ve always wondered how some artists/writers/performers get to be “Critical Darlings.”

    As a member of the audience all my life, it always seemed to me that Official Critics, whether of books, movies, music, television, or anything, mostly seemed to follow a set of stringent guidelines (details known only to them) on what was Good and Bad, what was Worthy of Notice and what was NOT. The capitalization is deliberate, to reflect the superior attitude involved – as if smply having a byline made their opinions into Holy Writ.

    Over the years, I’ve seen how some writers openly court the higher literati so they may set themselves above the commoners. Their creed consists of the phrase that Evan Hunter said was his least favorite in the language – “Transcends The Genre.”
    But I’ve also noticed that some writers can attract the same kind of notice without asking for it; how they respond to this often determines whether they have longterm careers or wind up as “one-hit wonders”. If they believe the hype, it usually means “one-and-done”. The ones who wear success lightly have the staying power.

    I just realized that I have no real idea where I want to go with this, so I’ll leave you and Barb with the words of Kalmar & Ruby:
    “Just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’ “

  9. Brad Schwartz says:

    I’ve often heard the private eye writer trifecta stated as Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald, but I totally agree with you that Spillane makes more sense in the last place. This isn’t because I have any feelings for or against MacDonald (I haven’t read much of him) but it just seems that Spillane’s work is culturally important, like you said. I would go so far to say that he’s defined the public perception of what a “private eye” is just as much as Hammett and Chandler, if not more. The average guy’s mental image of a private eye probably looks and acts more like Mike Hammer than Spade or Marlowe, even though those two are often held up as the archetypal private eyes. And they are, don’t get me wrong. But Spillane was a populist writer, and so it seems that he’s had more impact on the public than anybody else, even if the literati don’t want to admit it.

    I totally see the continuity between Race Williams and Hammer, but I don’t think I would have made the swashbuckler connection (another of my favorite genres), even though it makes a lot of sense now that I think of it. I take it that’s why you called your book on Spillane “One Lonely Knight.” See, there’s a college dissertation in here somewhere…

    And while we’re speaking of exceptional private eye characters, of course you know I’m awaiting Heller’s return (hopefully the first of many) more than anybody. I know you’re always swamped and don’t at all want to add to your workload. But I do think you’d be a hit up here, and if the new Hellers are going to be about such well-known figures as Marilyn Monroe and JFK I think it’s the perfect time to introduce new readers to your series. I’m just trying to help you do that, but I know it won’t happen if the books themselves don’t take priority.

  10. Mike, Brad — these are wonderful comments. Thanks so much for sharing them.

  11. mike doran says:

    Back again briefly to clarify where I think I was going in the last comment.

    One of the things I’ve often read about Raymond Chandler is how he had little regard for his own work, and for the genre which he came to reluctantly represent. The sense I got from some of his critical writings is one of someone slumming – doing what would make him a living while waiting for an inspiration or something to produce a work of “true significance”. I recall how some writers, like the late William DeAndrea, held this against Chandler, feeling that this percieved snob attitude affected his crime fiction negatively. His opinion, of course, but DeAndrea wore his byline lightly and welcomed debate, unlike so many others who get into the critic game. (God, I miss that guy. I was shocked enough at his death, even more to learn that he was two years younger than I was.)

    Chandler’s disdain for his home genre was obviously not shared by Ross Macdonald; my sense was that Ken Millar rather enjoyed being in a big tent, and took his late-career success as the blessing it was. These days, most writers don’t seem to mind being in the mystery section (or at least they aren’t demanding to be set free from it).

    I’m not sure if I’ve explained this clearly enough, but what the hell, at least I tried.

    Going way off-topic now (indulgence requested):
    I’ve developed a YouTube habit that I desperately need to share with someone. I’ve chosen to inflict it on you because it ties in (sort of ) with the crime fiction world.
    I’ve long had a fondness for German pop music , 60s vintage. Despite having taken four years of high school German and retaining almost none of it, I derive a perverse kind of enjoyment from hearing rock’n’pop auf Deutsch, or perhjaps more accurately “Germlish”, with many English words incorporated.
    Anyway, one number in particular has caught my warped fancy.
    It’s a song called “Ohne Krimi geht die Mimi nie ins Bett”, performed by Bill Ramsey, an American who has been a popular perfomer of Jazz and novelty songs in Germany since the Fifties. My woefully low retention of German permitting, the song is about how the guy singing it is bothered by the fact that his girlfriend (Mimi) likes to read crime stories (Krimi) in bed (Bett).It’s a catchy, swinging melody, and there are at least five different video versions available on YouTube, ranging over many years and different presentation styles. There’s a straightforward front-of- the- band from the 60s, a music-video dramatization from about the same time, a variety show performance from the early 2000s, and my favorite, as part of a medle of German crime-related pop tunes with Ralf Bendix of “Baby-Sitter Boogie” fame. I just can’t stay away from this stuff. I’d link to it if I had the slightest idea how. As it is, I can only send you all to YouTube to look it up yourselves. My apologies in advance.