(Publisher’s Weekly Interview with Dick Donahue)
PW: You completed the Goliath Bone from a manuscript that your friend Mickey Spillane left upon his 2006 death. When did you first meet him?
MC: I was writing Mickey fan letters from the age of 13 up through college and never got a response—I didn’t know if he was even getting them. Then in 1973 my first two books were published—paperback originals—and I sent him copies. It was then that he wrote me back, welcoming me into the professional community. Then in 1981 I was approached by the people putting on Bouchercon [the annual mystery writers’ convention] asking me if I would be the liaison between the convention and Mickey, because he was going to be one of the guests of honor. Over the previous 10 years I had written a number of articles about Mickey; he had become a somewhat controversial figure, and I had become sort of this unlikely defender of the world’s most popular mystery writer. I said absolutely, even though I was a little afraid—you know, idols, feet of clay and all that. I was introduced to him in his hotel room, and he said, “Why, I know Max; we’ve been corresponding for years!” And I said, “That’s right, Mickey, 100 letters from me and one letter from you.” He started laughing, we immediately bonded and from then on we were fast friends.
PW: How many more unfinished Spillane manuscripts will you be completing?
MC: We have two more manuscripts that we’ve signed to do, and there are a few more beyond that. I just finished the second, which will be out next year. I had about a third of the book, and notes, plus the ending. The real reason to get these done is that these are all books that Mickey intended to finish. They’re all substantial manuscripts; the shortest is about 120 pages, and some are considerably more than that. Mickey was an incredibly enthusiastic writer, and one of the reasons why there are so many manuscripts is that in his later life he had three offices in his home, and he had a book or two going in each. Whatever office he landed in that was the manuscript he’d work on. And in addition to that puttering, prowling approach he had in his last years he’d also do sort of random first chapters because he was so focused on the beginnings and endings of books. Mickey always said that nobody reads a book to get to the middle. In addition to these manuscripts I found seven or eight Mike Hammer fragments where he had done one or two chapters and an ending. So I feel a responsibility to get these books out there. Oddly, he wasn’t that prolific: there were only 13 Mike Hammer novels. If I could double that list by completing books Mickey began I would be thrilled.
PW: How do you think Mike Hammer has adapted to the post 9/11 world?
MC: I have to admit it was startling when I got to these last couple of manuscripts—the ones he’d been working on in the last five years of his life—to find Mike Hammer using a cell phone— that seemed a little wrong. But the character himself has mellowed, although he’s still very tough. He’s approaching retirement now, and he’s about to marry his faithful secretary. So Goliath Bone was conceived by Mickey as the final novel, chronologically—it’s the last Manhattan book. That’s one of the reasons why in the other books I’m going to keep them in period—the book I just finished, The Big Bang, he wrote in 1965, so I keep that in 1965 and I do the Mike Hammer of that period. I read the books Mickey wrote at that time and those are the ones I draw upon for style, theme, etc. It all depends on when Mickey wrote the book.
PW: What accounts for Mike Hammer’s long-lived popularity?
MC: There are certain characters that burst on the scene and are immediately iconic. You can think about Tarzan, Batman, etc.; the list is long. Hammer was a character who was built on the familiar private eye premise, but when he came along right after WW II the private eye was almost played out. The private eye radio shows had gotten very jokey; there was a Sam Spade radio show that was hardly the Maltese Falcon; it was very much a self-parody. And Mickey comes with Mike Hammer right after the war and captures the feeling of a generation—the veterans of that war and the people who lived through it on the home front. He caught that moment of frustration with the post-war world not living up to as advertised. So you have this urban avenger who is very much a modern-day version of the frontier hero—he really is, on some level, Wyatt Earp in the big city. And that was very attractive. So here’s Hammer, going up against these complex, frustrating modern problems and solving them in a simple, black-and-white way: I’m not gonna bother with the court system, I’m just gonna go kill the guy. That was brand-new. And you can’t point to any of today’s tough, individualistic heroes in popular fiction—Peter Gunn, James Bond, Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, Jack Bauer—that Mickey’s fingerprints aren’t all over them.