By 1964, crime fiction heavyweight Mickey Spillane was pushing millions of copies for his hard-nosed detective series 'Mike Hammer'. The 1947 debut, “I, the Jury”, exceeded six-million sales alone. It's no wonder that the magazine Saga, which debuted in 1959, would feature a 1964 issue declaring “New Mickey Spillane Mystery – Mickey at his Best”. The 65-page novella was “The Bastard Bannerman”, which later appeared in the Spillane compilation book “The Tough Guys” alongside “Kick It or Kill” (1963) and “The Seven Year Kill” (1964).
The first-person narrative features the bastard Bannerman, Cat Cay, returning home after two wars and a life better led elsewhere. His family are mobsters and Cay, being born out of wedlock, was the runt of the litter. The story follows Cay's investigative work as he learns more about who his family is tying in with now. Historically the Bannermans have been a strong empire that was feared and respected. Now, the family has fallen on dire straits and conducting business with what Cay thinks are criminals of the lower echelon.
While all of that is engaging, the heart of the story is the death of Cay's friend. Spillane's original idea is brilliant – the knife used to kill his friend has Bannerman fingerprints all over it. However, the family's new business partners snatch the knife from the murder scene before the cops arrive. Now, they want the Bannermans to pay a million-dollars or they bring it to the police. It's a cool blackmail scheme that forces Cay to help his family despite their indifference.
Spillane writes at a slower pace, heavy on dialogue and the obligatory gangster talk like “rods” and “hot”. That seems a little dated even for 1964, but easily ignored. It's a fine Spillane story that delivers the goods. It's certainly entertaining enough to interest any crime fiction fan.
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