Prepared and published after Spillane’s death by Max Allan Collins, this is more or less Spillane’s swan-song. The plot deals with Jack Stang, a retiring cop whose home street and precinct are being demolished. However, he finds out that his fiance, thought dead in a botched kidnapping, is still alive in a retirement village down in Florida, so he goes to live there as her neighbor. She’s got amnesia, but deep within her mind lies the key to a larger mystery—namely, what her abductors were after when they grabbed her in the first place. At its soft nougat core, this is a love story, buried under the hard-boiled detective shell and the bodies stacked like cordwood.
This is a definitive return to the form for Spillane, and it feels like a modern-day parable for both Spillane and his older readers. While everything is updated to a modern sensibility (a computer subplot, use of cell phones, the killers wield AK’s instead of Tommy guns, etc.), there’s a definite theme of age in here. The older characters, love rekindling at retirement, the fact it also comes as a large-print hardcover, all makes it feel kind of like Cocoon for Spillane’s crime-novel readers. The characterization is surprisingly crisp, even though the plot’s not terribly complex or groundbreaking.
There’s quite a number of hiccups near the end, most of which are related to the fact Spillane died before writing the last three chapters. I can’t blame Collins too much; his prose does fit Spillane’s style, while at the same time it’s notably more literate. It feels like Spillane wrote out notes for three chapters which wouldn’t fit within three chapters, so, it feels a bit uneven, bumpy, and rushed. All in all, it was enjoyable, a fluffy popcorn novel which didn’t push any envelopes and took no prisoners.
Oh, the irony: my first Spillane wasn’t one of his young, youthful, take-no-prisoners novels, but one of his later-years swan songs. Dead Street is packed with echoes of the past, from the worn station house Jack Stang retires from, to the blooming relationship between the aged cop and his former teenage sweetheart in a coastal Florida retirement home. It feels like a reward for the faithful, those dutiful fans who remember picking up I, The Jury off the wire spindle shelf back in their youth. A swan song in form and function.
The novel has more in common with the hardboiled thrillers of today than the older Gold Medal crowd; there’s a lot less crime and investigation going on here. Just a lot of two-fisted action, the scent of blood and cordite wafting off the page, interspersed with the tender romance between Jack and Bettie. Two extremes that I didn’t expect to work together, yet they did. Mickey Spillane was an amazing writer of action scenes, ones that really kicked some ass. The Max Allan Collins parts have a writing style just different enough that I could tell them apart, but he did Spillane proud with his spectacular job finishing the manuscript. He’s owed a great debt for completing Spillane’s literary legacy.
The plot felt more like an ’80s men’s action-adventure novel, and the romance required some suspension of disbelief, but it was still all-around enjoyable.