Friday, June 30, 2023

Mickey Spillane’s The Snake

The Snake, published in 1964, is the eighth of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. It is a kind of sequel to The Girl Hunters and you absolutely have to read The Girl Hunters before reading The Snake.

Some further explanation is however required. Between 1947 and 1952 Spillane wrote six Mike Hammer novels which were huge bestsellers. For the next ten years he wrote very little, and he wrote no Hammer stories during that period. In 1962 he revived the Hammer series with The Girl Hunters.

At the beginning of The Girl Hunters Mike is a drunken bum living on the streets. After a case went very badly wrong he crawled inside a bottle and stayed there for seven years. Mike is convinced that he made a terrible mistake that got Velda killed. Velda was more than just his secretary. She was more like a partner. She had a private investigator’s licence herself. And she was the great love of Mike’s life. With Velda dead he had nothing to live for.

Until the day he discovered an extremely interesting fact. Velda may be alive. If she is then Mike has to find her, which means he has to pick himself up out of the gutter. Which he does.

At the beginning of The Snake Mike is reunited with Velda. But she’s not alone. She’s taken in a girl. A young woman actually, named Sue, but she seems more like a girl. A very frightened girl. She thinks her adoptive father killed her mother and is trying to kill her. Sue has run away.

Her adoptive father is Sim Torrance and he’s running for governor.

Within minutes of being reunited with Velda there’s a shoot-out which leaves two men dead and one badly hurt. It’s clear that it was an attempted gang hit, but the identity of the target is the first puzzle Mike will have to unravel. Was he the target, or was it Velda, or was it Sue?

And there are more murder attempts.

Mike figures he needs to know a bit more about the Torrance family. Sim Torrance seems squeaky-clean but Sue’s mother, now long since deceased, had an interesting history.

There’s also the possibility that someone wants revenge on Torrance, possibly as a result of his activities as D.A. years ago. There are a few possible suspects. Mike is also interested in the history of the guys he shot.

Mike is particularly interested in a robbery that took place many years earlier. The robbery went badly wrong, but Mike is curious about the circumstances. He suspects that that bungled robbery may have started a series of events that are now bearing fatal fruit.

It’s a pretty decent plot. What’s interesting is that Hammer is far from infallible, and has several narrow escapes which are due more to luck than anything else. Hammer isn’t quite as quick as he used to be. But he hasn’t lost any of his steely determination.

The Mike Hammer of The Girl Hunters and The Snake differs slightly from the Hammer of the early novels. He is now a man out of his time. The world changed during his seven years of alcoholic oblivion and to some extent it’s passed him by. He’s out of touch with the way the rackets operate in this new world. A lot of the people he used to know are no longer around. He now finds himself in the 1960s and he’s not entirely comfortable. He’s also a bit more interested in the idea of finding emotional stability. It’s a realistic change and it makes this new variant of Hammer rather interesting.

The Girl Hunters is a kind of redemption story, and in The Snake Mike is still trying to put the pieces of his life back together. He is also very concerned not to make mistakes, since he still believes that it was a mistake on his part that led to seven years of nightmare for both Velda and himself. Hammer is now a man more aware of consequences.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that if you’re new to Spillane you must read the first six Mike Hammer books before attempting to read the later books. You have to understand the man he was in order to understand the slightly different man he becomes.

The Snake is a fine hardboiled mystery and is highly recommended with the above caveats in mind.

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