"Stop! Hammer time!" Susan Omand finally gets some peace to read Masquerade for Murder, the new Mike Hammer thriller from Max Allan Collins, now available from Titan Books...
“Even in color, this was a black and white movie”
That’s the thing that I’ve always loved about the Mike Hammer books, right from when I first started reading them way back when (which was probably at a younger age than maybe it should have been), they are so cinematic. I can hear the noirish voice-over in my head as Hammer tells the story from his own point of view and that voice, especially this time, belongs to the gloriously growly Stacy Keach, who famously brought the character to life on the small screen in the mid 80s. For that is when this case is set:
After Mike Hammer witnesses Wall Street superstar Vincent Colby getting clipped by a speeding red Ferrari, the shaken victim’s stockbroker father hires Hammer to find the driver. But the toughest private eye of them all is soon is caught up in a series of bizarre, seemingly unconnected slayings marked by a forbidden martial arts technique.
What do a lovely redhead, a short-tempered bartender, an exotic call girl, a murdered police inspector and a movie stuntman have to do with a scheme that might have transformed young Colby into a psychological time bomb?
So, basically, we have Mickey Spillane does American Psycho. What could possibly go wrong? In a word, nothing. This is a superb book which hits every mark it aims for, without becoming cliched or feeling as awkward as those later episodes of Columbo on TV did (if you’ve watched them you know what I mean). Hammer himself pre-empts this by acknowledging that he, his PI partner Velda, and the NYPD Homicide Captain Pat Chambers are all from a different era than the high-flying hi-tec world of big money, fast cars, cheap highs and even cheaper women. The world is moving on and leaving them behind but, in a lot of ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Murders, and their motivations, are still the same, and just as plentiful and messy, and there’s no substitute for the hard graft of detective work. The story itself is complex but not tangled, with lots of ideas on the go at the same time and enough intrigue to keep you second-guessing yourself right to the final few pages as you try to decide if the obvious plant is an obvious plant or if it’s classic misdirection. I ended up changing my mind several times over the “whodunnit” how and why, each time being absolutely sure I was right until I wasn’t, the mark of a good detective novel.
With Max Allan Collins, yet again, at the helm, the trademark fedora of Mike Hammer is still in safe hands. The characters are still very much themselves, their voices still work in my head, and Collins has managed to capture the first-person noir story-telling style that is so difficult to plot for, because you can’t step out of the head of your narrator to show something else going on that they don’t know about. Knowing the protagonists so well, I did notice a slightly different tone to them sometimes, but this is to be expected, and indeed welcomed, as it feels like Collins has adapted and adopted the characters to his own style, rather than superficially mimicking the words of Spillane, while still keeping their pulp noir heritage intact.
Masquerade for Murder was published on 7th April by Titan Books
Image - Titan Books