Sunday, November 05, 2006

Just a Couple of Hard Cases

Both Mickey Spillane and Cornell Woolrich are expected to make comebacks in 2007. The fact that these two authors are deceased should not be considered an impediment.

Spillane, you’ll recall, passed away last July at age 88. At the time, there was considerable speculation about the novelist having left behind unpublished volumes, including an 18th Mike Hammer book, in which, according to Jiro Kimura of The Gumshoe Site, the fictional New York City private eye “is supposed to marry [his secretary/partner] Velda.” However, no word was forthcoming about the existence of such novels, much less their pending release.

But now, Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai has announced that his company will be bringing out a “brand-new book” by Spillane in November 2007. “It’s called Dead Street,” Ardai reports, “and it’s the last crime novel Mickey ever wrote.” Although Ardai didn’t tell much about this standalone work in a note he e-mailed to members of the Hard Case mailing list last evening, I followed up with some questions earlier today, addressed to both Ardai and to novelist Max Allan Collins, Spillane’s longtime friend and sometime editor.

As Ardai explains, “Mickey wrote Dead Street over the past five years, and was still working on it at the time of his death.” The author had plotted out most of the story, and had composed “extensive notes on the whole book, but,” adds Ardai, “[he’d] only written the first eight of 11 chapters. I’ve worked with Max Allan Collins”--to whom Spillane’s wife, Jane, turned over her husband’s unfinished tomes after his death--“to copyedit those eight, and Max worked with Mickey’s manuscripts and notes (and memories of their many conversations about the book) to produce the last three. (The book will be credited to Mickey, as seemed appropriate, but will say ‘Prepared for publication by Max Allan Collins.’) ... Max really did an extraordinary job piecing things together and crafting the final chapters in a way that’s true both to Mickey’s plan for this particular book and his style in general. The plot comes together so tightly and so well that I can’t imagine Mickey having ended the book in any other way--but that’s to Max’s credit as much as it is to Mickey’s.”

In a separate note, Collins describes Dead Street as “a worthy first posthumous work.”

Note that he says “first.” That implies there are more Spillane books to come, as indeed there are. Several more, according to Collins:
In the last four or five years of his life, Mickey was working on multiple novel projects. He seemed to have one going in each of his offices (downstairs, upstairs, and outside his home in a small shack on stilts). The last published novel, Something’s Down There [2003], he finished a few years ago but had been working on it, on and off, for over a decade.

He had two Mike Hammer novels going--
King of the Weeds and The Goliath Bone--and both of these had substantial work done on them at the time of his passing. The former is about two-thirds finished, plus the ending and notes. The latter is in similar shape, although it’s made more interesting by the existence of variant versions of the opening four or five chapters--Mickey mislaid the novel in progress, started over, then later the missing chapters turned up. I will probably do a synthesis of this material. And in Goliath Bone, a case is getting in the way of Mike and Velda’s impending marriage--whether they marry or not, well, like Velda, you’ll just have to wait. ...

[When he died, Spillane] had just finished a novel called
The Last Stand, which is not a crime novel, more an adventure novel in the Something’s Down There vein. It’s a good book but not typical Spillane in content (although typically Spillane in theme), and we--Jane and I--did not want this to be the first book to appear after Mickey’s passing. So Dead Street, which is about a tough cop in retirement, seemed perfect.
(Ardai explains that The Last Stand is “about a pilot whose plane stalls while he’s flying over a patch of desert out west; he’s forced to land near an Indian reservation, where he becomes embroiled in a hunt for two types of treasure, one that’s being sought by a ruthless criminal and one that’s being sought by government operatives.”)

In addition to the aforementioned works, Collins says Spillane left behind a young adult novel called The Shrinking Island, “the third ... book in the series begun by The Day the Sea Rolled Back [1980] and The Ship that Never Was [1982]. It will no doubt be submitted somewhere before too long.”

He also left Collins, who’s probably best known for his hard-boiled, mid-20th-century novels featuring gumshoe Nate Heller (Angel in Black, Chicago Confidential, etc.) with a hankering to inject some new life into quintessential tough-guy shamus Mike Hammer. “It’s my hope to relaunch Hammer,” Collins confides. “In addition to the two books in progress I mentioned, there are two Hammer novels from the ’60s where Mickey stopped at about the halfway point, which I hope to complete. Beyond that, Mickey left an unusual number (and this sounds like B.S., but I swear it’s true) of first chapters of Hammer books, often with notes and endings--meaning another five or six Hammer novels could be done with substantial Spillane content. I hope some publisher out there will understand what an incredible opportunity this is. And I am thrilled and honored that Mickey and Jane selected me to be their literary point man.”

Would that all novelists had such friends or colleagues to carry on their legacies well beyond the cold embrace of the grave.

And speaking of posthumous publications, Charles Ardai has also announced that Fright, a novel put out in 1950 by that “great, tormented pulp writer” Cornell Woolrich under the pseudonym “George Hopley”--and which has been “lost” for the last half century--will be released in a handsome new Hard Case paperback edition in August 2007. This will be the first time Fright has appeared under Woolrich’s byline, Ardai points out. The Fright cover (seen at left) is the work of artist Arthur Suydam, who will also be painting the book jacket for Spillane’s Dead Street.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mr. Spillane " Mickey" you wrote some good stuff. I'd swear it was at my house in Austin Texas 4808 Enchanted Lane,78745.. I respect you for the ability to assess a situation and put it into a story...( however true it is ) GOD Bless ya Mickey..I'm a new fan...