Monday, April 22, 2013

Hammer is Back - The Twisted Thing

I first read The Twisted Thing, by Mickey Spillane, probably when I was around 16 or 17. It was perfect escapism for a teenage dork like me back then, but I couldn't remember anything about it except for who the villain (among many) was. Now reading it again, after all these years, I was immediately struck by a suspicion confirmed with a little online research. Namely that The Twisted Thing was a "trunk novel" that Spillane pulled out for publication after a brief hiatus from Mike Hammer in the sixties. Apparently it was written around 1948 and submitted under another title about the same time as I, The Jury, or shortly thereafter, and was rejected. Then, after the success of I, The Jury, the publisher wanted another look at it. Spillane offered My Gun is Quick instead, keeping this manuscript in the trunk. Some years later it was nearly destroyed in a fire but Spillane managed to rescue much of it. The dedication reads "To Sid Graedon who saw the charred edges." It stands as an example of perseverance for even a writer as successful as Spillane. Nothing is easy...

September 1966 Signet Books
I could tell almost immediately that this wasn't the same Mike Hammer that I'd experienced reading in The Snake a few months before. No, this Mike Hammer was much more young and brash, full of piss and vinegar, swatting guys in the mug at any opportunity, insulting women, and basically being an all-round dick. But that's what we read Mike Hammer novels for, right?

Technically this is Hammer's 9th caper, coming two years after 1964's The Snake. But gone are the international plots, the communist intrigue, and the murky "federal" status Hammer enjoyed in the previous two novels. Also, Hammer's girlfriend Velda is conspicuously absent. Not even a mention. Not like Hammer would have a twinge of guilt anyway, bedding some floozie while Velda types memos back at the office. But after all the mushy pledges of love and loyalty in the previous novel, her absence here is notable.

This time, Hammer is pulled in to a case of kidnapping. The victim is a fourteen year old genius, Ruston York, only son of millionaire Rudolph York. Hammer's old pal, Billy Parks, is fingered by the local cops as the culprit behind the snatch. Seems that Parks, employed as York's chauffeur, and the only one on the York staff with a criminal record, is the ideal fall guy. Parks spends his only nickel in jail and calls in Hammer for help. Hammer arrives in time to watch Billy Parks dance with a couple of crooked cops, complete with bloody knuckles, broken teeth, white lights, rubber get the picture. Hammer gets tired of the act and busts the chief cop, Dilwick, in the chops. He then goes out to the York Manor where he drops in on a family of ghouls waiting for York to drop dead of the vapors so that they can split the wealth. Hammer immediately slaps a couple of them around, and convinces York to hire him to find the kidnapped boy genius. York insists that he doesn't want the cops involved (beyond arresting Billy Parks?) and hopes that Hammer can find the boy alive.

Hammer goes right to work, interviewing the family, pushing his weight around, insulting the old dames and charming the younger twists with nasty leers. He's surprised to discover that Ruston's governess is an old friend of his from the "flesh circuit in New York and Miami," Roxy Coulter. Roxy gives Hammer the low-down on York and York's assistant, Myra Grange. Seems Miss Grange took a sudden powder on the night Ruston was kidnapped. Hammer finds that interesting, and decides to pay Miss Grange a visit.

Going out to Grange's apartment, Hammer discovers the Dilwick and his goons are tailing him. He decides to let it slide and interrogates Myra Grange at her pad. Myra is one cool babe, Hammer decides, with something definitely off about her. It takes him a couple chapters to realize that she's a lesbian, which is grounds for all kinds of suspicion in Hammer's world. Soon, Grange disappears and someone has decided to  part Rudolph York's hair with a cleaver, leaving his corpse in Grange's digs for Hammer to find.

Things progress; there are some intense scenes of violence and menace. Lots of threats and tails, good old fashioned gumshoeing as well. Lead flies and a couple of thugs get ventilated. Hammer gives as good as he gets and still manages to piece the whole thing together. There is a lake full of red herrings in the novel, and lots of action to keep the plot moving.

Some holes, of course, and an ending that stretches belief, but still, an entertaining outing from Spillane on this one. It's nice to see the old Hammer back again. This is why we love those old musty paperbacks.

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