Hard-nosed private eye Mike Hammer returns in the long-lost sequel to “I, The Jury.” The new detective novel “Lady, Go Die” is based on a lost partial novel found in the papers of writer Mickey Spillane, who died in 2006. It's been completed by Spillane's frequent collaborator and award-winning mystery novelist Max Allan Collins.
Collins has written fictional detectives, including Dick Tracy and Batman, and was the creator of the “Road to Perdition” graphic novel that was the basis of the Academy Award-winning Tom Hanks film.
Collins helped bring to fruition three previous posthumous Spillane “Hammer” novels, but this one is the earliest found in the Mike Hammer timeline.
“Of the half-dozen substantial unfinished novel manuscripts in Mickey Spillane's files, this was perhaps the most exciting find,” Collins said in an email interview with The Oklahoman. “It's the second Mike Hammer novel, begun in 1945 shortly after he completed ‘I, The Jury.' It's unclear why he set it aside, but he may have been told by an editor that until ‘I, The Jury' came out, there was no need to finish a sequel. And when it came out, ‘I, The Jury' was not initially successful — in hardcover, it was a disappointment. But when the paperback came out, Mike Hammer was suddenly a sensation.”
Collins read through other Hammer novels of the era in distilling this early take on Hammer.
“I studied the Hammer novels Mickey had written in the same period — ‘I, The Jury,' of course, but also the second Hammer, ‘My Gun Is Quick,' and another early novel, ‘The Twisted Thing,' written in the late '40s but not published till the 1960s,” Collins said. “Between the chapters I found of ‘Lady, Go Die!,' and another chapter from what may have been a later unfinished take on the same story, I was able to plot where Mickey was headed. I don't pick up where he left off, rather I treat the material as rough draft and expand and extend it, which means Mickey's writing appears deep, deep into the book.”
One problem that arose was the found partial manuscript of “Lady, Go Die” was missing the opening chapter.
“Extrapolating what happened in that chapter wasn't hard, because I had several subsequent chapters,” Collins said. “But Mickey is justly famous for great opening chapters, and living up to that standard was not an easy task.”
Collins worked with Spillane — who began as a writer of comics — in bringing “Mickey Spillane's Mike Danger” to comic books in the 1990s, and Collins' “Ms. Tree” comic-book series was inspired by Mike Hammer.
“The basic concept was that Mike Hammer's secretary/partner Velda — a tough, beautiful, guntoting brunette — finally marries her boss,” Collins said. “But he's murdered on their wedding night, and she takes over the agency and her husband's murder is her first case. That was the basic idea and we never strayed from it.”
Collins and artistic partner Terry Beatty (artist of the “Phantom” Sunday comic strip) may again visit the world of Ms. Tree, who last appeared in a Hard Case Crime novel in 2007.
“Terry Beatty and I are going to do a new Ms. Tree graphic novel when we can find the time,” Collins said. “ ... Also, First Comics plans to do the complete ‘Ms. Tree' in reprint collections.”
Another of Collins' best-known series, the Nate Heller historical fiction detective series, has recently been rereleased by AmazonEncore.
“In the e-books world, Heller is suddenly a star,” Heller said. Much of Collins' backlist is now available in e-book, with more coming by the end of 2012.
Nate Heller gets involved in one of the most famous crimes of the 20th Century — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — in two upcoming novels from Collins, “Target Lancer” in November, and “Ask Not,” which Collins will write later this year.
“I have a very different take on this famous case,” Collins said.