Book Review: Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Review by: Prof. Jenn


Complex90Mike Hammer is the original detective badass, and reading a Mike Hammer detective story is like plunging into a familiar, classic noir hot tub–settling in to the abrupt cadence of Hammer’s inner monologue as the lights dim.

Mike Hammer was the first womanizing, seasoned and sarcastic investigator that inspired the likes of Fleming’s James Bond. He’s the original hard-boiled detective, and the stereotypical “film noir” voice-over you hear when you think of this genre came from Spillane’s thrillers.

In Complex 90, Hammer breaks free from the KGB after having been framed and unofficially arrested. Upon his return home, he finds that a mysterious Russian faction (including a spy from his past with a grudge), are after him, But for what? Oh, for a McGuffin, of course, and the race to find out what the McGuffin is and where it is moves along at breakneck speed.

It’s delightful to read the classic Hammerian narrative, and we get all the noir detective tropes from a story set in the ’60s that we could possibly want. The dames are beautiful and dangerous, and the fights are gritty and violent. What surprised me, though, is how Lawful Good Hammer is. I mean, he’s against the law most of the time–laws and law-abiders get in the way of justice in his stories, but according to his own very high moral code, he is exact. He’s not your bitter, jaded, cynical hero, but a paladin, fighting for justice even when justice isn’t doing so. Perhaps especially then.

I was also surprised at how strong the female characters are, especially Velda, Hammer’s partner. Every single woman in this book is interesting, round, mysterious, strong, and acting on their own vital objectives. Not only that, but even though Hammer is a womanizer, his emotional world surrounding that is complex and not misogynistic at all. What a fantastic team Mike and Velda make. Now let’s make this into a movie, stat.

Max Allan Collins has adapted several of Spillane’s manuscripts for publication, and I have to say his work is smooth as butter, i never got jolted between the two authors in style, tone, or anything else, the book is seamless (though there were a couple typos).

Bottom Line: This book is so very much fun! Too much sex and violence for kids who enjoy detective stories, though. This one’s for grownups. Very highly recommended.

Image from Titan Books