Lady, Go Die!, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Unusually for any writer, death has actually made Mickey Spillane more prolific. All but retired in his twilight years, releasing just three books between 1989 and 2003, Spillane will have posthumously released nearly triple that by 2014. The story behind this post-mortem productivity is a touching one, recounted in the Co-Author’s Note to Lady, Go Die! –
“A week before his death, Mickey Spillane told his wife Jane, “When I’m gone, there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max – he’ll know what to do.” I can imagine no greater honor.”
Lady, Go Die! is, remarkably, the sequel to Spillane’s debut, 1947’s I, The Jury. Still reeling from the events of the first book, New York PI Mike Hammer seeks out rest and recouperation outside the Big Apple, in a sleepy backwater called Sidon. A tourist town, Sidon is all but deserted out of season, but trouble still finds Hammer and secretary Velda, in the form of police engaging in the ferocious beating of a vulnerable young man named Poochie. Ever the knight in a shining sport coat, Hammer wades in with customary aplomb. Between the bully-boy local cops and the discovery of a murdered woman, naked and splayed across a town statue, Hammer and Velda’s holiday is swiftly hijacked by the kind of mayhem that’s followed them around in print for nearly seventy years.
Sex and violence: it’s a combination that has served Mickey Spillane well these last seven decades, and Lady, Go Die! has plenty of both. The 1940s, if Mickey is to be believed, were a simpler time, when all women were anatomically implausible Mae West types, and problem solving was possible through the medium of the fist or the handgun. As is par for the course, a procession of women hurl themselves at Hammer, making for several scenes which are lightly titillating by today’s sexually-liberal standards. Similarly, Hammer assaults rivals with impunity, stretching even his own eye-for-an-eye ethics to the limit.
Indeed, there is little that can be said about Lady, Go Die! that could not be said about the rest of Spillane’s oeuvre. A quote from the New York Times on the rear cover tells us that “Mike Hammer is an icon of our culture,” and he is. Here, Hammer is as he ever was, an uncompromising crusader for a bloodthirsty but attractively simple morality. Jurisprudence is a long word for bleeding-heart liberals; justice for Mike Hammer is when the bullets end up in the bad guys, nothing more, nothing less. Dated though his exploits may be in terms of shock value, Hammer represents a culture that was still rampant in the White House less than five years ago under Bush Jr.
Mickey Spillane is arguably the finest ever example of a writer writing to market. He took full advantage of a successful formula, and that formula is very much in evidence in Lady, Go Die! While his market may be dwindling due to old age, and the yearning of the cappuccino classes for a more refined, complex crime fiction experience, there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had between his covers.