The latest collaboration of the late Mickey Spillane and the still living (whew!) Max Allan Collins, King of the Weeds, the "penultimate" Mike Hammer novel, is out now.
A direct sequel to Spillane's last fully completed Hammer thriller, 1996's Black Alley, Weeds is an exciting but complex thriller.
Black Alley wasn't my favorite Spillane novel when I first read it in '96, and having reread it for this post, I haven't changed my mind. The mildest (to put it kindly) of the author's books, it has now middle aged private eye Mike Hammer, recovering from a serious gunshot wound, out searching for 90 billion dollars stolen from the Mob by an old WWII Army pal whose murder puts our hero on the trail.
Honestly, it reads like a slightly R-rated version of the 80's Mike Hammer TV series with Stacy Keach (which was good when it stuck to Spillane's vision and didn't wander off into camp), right down to Hammer's final ho-hum confrontation with the alleged and forgettable main villain. Who gets taken alive at the end! That never happens in any Mike Hammer novel!
Spillane must've realized what a letdown Black Alley was when he began King of the Weeds. With Collins' added contribution, Weeds is a much more energetic thriller that expertly juggles several subplots.
While dealing with the Feds and organized crime figures about the still missing Mob money a year after the fact, Hammer tries to help old pal NYPD Captain Pat Chambers, whose long and honorable career could be toast after new allegations come out that a serial killer he captured with Hammer's help "forty years ago", the nasty and repulsive Rudy Olaf, may actually be innocent.
While working to prove Chambers made the right call on Olaf, Hammer discovers Olaf (whose prison nickname was "King of the Weeds") is somehow connected to both the missing 90 billion, the Mob, AND a series of serial killings targeting cops. Added to this already complicated mix is the unveiling of the real identity of the murderer of Hammer's Army pal (I KNEW IT!) from the previous novel and the very violent disposition of the missing billions that leads to Hammer's final, nasty but characteristically appropriate reckoning with Olaf, all resulting in one heck of a terrific thriller.
I'm not clear if Collins combined different drafts left by Spillane or added a subplot of his own to complete the book, but the narrative of King of the Weeds never feels slopped together. All the plot threads are combined to deliver a satisfying payoff to both Spillane fans like me as well as new readers. Unlike Black Alley, you have a more urgent, intense tone to the storyline and a much more memorable antagonist in Olaf.
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