Like superhero comics or James Bond movies, private-detective stories are a form of wish-fulfillment. The main character, generally a ladies’ man with a code of ethics buried under a lot of snappy banter, serves as the innocent’s last hope for salvation in a world of violence and corruption. The police are at best a nuisance, at worst an actual hindrance in the pursuit of justice, and the detective has to endure persecution on all fronts before finding his way to the truth. He suffers and strives, but cause and effect still follow rational, easily detectable trails. The fantasy isn’t merely that a lone man can withstand the tide of social decay, but that life can be boiled down to an endless series of mysteries with starting and ending points. Philip Marlowe isn’t just a rumpled crime-fighter, he’s a bulwark of sanity, holding chaos at bay.
Detective Mike Hammer lacks Marlowe’s finesse, but he makes up for it in violence, screwing, and more violence. The Big Bang, the 15th in Mickey Spillane’s Hammer series—and the second to be finished by Max Allan Collins after Spillane’s 2006 death—starts with Hammer breaking up a mugging by killing two men and hospitalizing a third. When it comes to wish-fulfillment, Spillane likes to stick with the basics, battles and broads, and there are ample opportunities for both here. Big Bang’s plot is all about drug deals, hospitals, and so forth, but the real story is Hammer two-fisting his way through thugs and enraptured femme fatales.
Though it came from two authors, Bang has a clear, consistent narrative voice. It reads roughly like a 12-year-old boy’s wet dream, a power trip with only dim understanding of consequences. Hammer obsesses over boobs, leers at his secretary (who loves him desperately in spite of his infidelities), and complains about the addicts and pushers who are ruining New York. The mystery here is easy enough, and the pace clips along, as conversation leads to assault leads to conversation leads to sex. The ending, inevitable as it is, is bold enough to be memorable. This isn’t a good novel; it’s too self-serving to be taken straight, and too mean-spirited to work as self-parody. It has a certain charm, but only for those willing to choke down a fair share of vinegar.