To celebrate the hundredth year of Mickey Spillane’s birth, Hard Case Crime has released a collection of two novellas, titled The Last Stand. It serves as a great way to view the man. One written in the fifties at the height of his career, the other his last finished piece, gives us book ends to the career of one the twentieth century’s most popular writers.
The first tale has one of those great Spillane grab-you-by-the-throat titles, “A Bullet For Satisfaction”. It could have easily been a feature or serialized for Manhunt magazine, where many of his shorter works in the fifties were published. The plot is reminiscent of of William P. McGivern’s 1953 novel The Big Heat, with a homicide detective going rogue when an investigation puts him up against the corruption of his city. However, Spillane’s Cpt. Rod Dexter quickly becomes like Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer, going on a bullet ridden hunt for the killers and to drive out the hoods muscling in on his Midwest city. The pace and attitude are relentless and the reveal is in keeping with many of the Mike Hammer novels of the time. Dexter even sleeps with just as many women as Hammer in almost half the page count.
The second novella, the titular The Last Stand, proves to be a much more easy going adventure. Joe Gillian, a retired Vietnam vet, crash lands his vintage plane in a the desert part of an Indian reservation. A resident, Sequoia Pete, discovers Joe after he’s been thrown from his horse. The two take on a hike back to the village that would seem more treacherous if it wasn’t for the the entertaining banter that cements their friendship. Along the way, Joe finds an arrowhead that is connected to rare minerals that a group of bad guys would love to have. When Joe meets Pete’s smart and pretty sister running Fox, we know he’s in for the fight.
You could say The Last Stand is an older man’s book. Joe and Pete don’t resemble Mike Hammer at all. They aren’t completely capable and admit their fears. Yet this makes them more heroic as they hold their own when the chips are down. They also have a sense humor that allows the reader to feel he is hanging out with them, instead of the rage a traditional Spillane character creates a distance with. If the book is about anything it is how a hero finds peace after his adventures, something Mike Hammer or Rod Dexter wouldn’t have the option of or consider if they did.
These two stories are a perfect way to celebrate Mickey Spillane’s career. In “A Bullet For Satisfaction” we get the brash upstart, connecting with the populace, damn the elite, fully engaged with the genre, pulling no stops. In “The Last Stand” he gives us a story that is less about attitude and more about awareness, that only a more experienced writer can produce. They prove at either end of his career, he was a writer who could entertain.