Complex 90: Mickey Spillane’s lost thriller (exclusive excerpt)

Below, an excerpt from Mickey Spillane’s lost Mike Hammer Cold War thriller, Complex 90, finished by Max Allan Collins.

Mickey Spillane’s lost Mike Hammer Cold War thriller, completed by his friend and literary executor Max Allan Collins is finally making it to print for the first time. Though the crime novel had been announced for publication in the 1960s, Complex 90 never appeared…until now.

"Mickey Spillane has been a huge part of my private and professional life since childhood. He was the role model that led me into mystery," says Collins. "We became friends in the early 1980s...Over the years, Mickey entrusted me with numerous unpublished manuscripts, including two half-completed Mike Hammer novels. Shortly before his death, he said to his wife, Jane, 'When I'm gone, it will be a treasure hunt around here. Call Max -- he'll know what to do with what you find.'"

“The setting [in Complex 90] is 1964 and the novel is, in part, a sequel to the Mike Hammer comeback novel of 1961, The Girl Hunters, the film version of which starred Mickey Spillane himself. While reading this novel,” says Collins, “you are encouraged to picture Mike Hammer in just that way.”

Hammer accompanies a conservative politician to Moscow on a fact-finding mission. Arrested and imprisoned by the KGB on a bogus charge; he quickly escapes, creating an international incident by getting into a fire fight with Russian agents. On his stateside return, the government is none too happy with Hammer. Russia is insisting upon his return to stand charges, and various government agencies are following him. A question dogs our hero: why him? Why does Russia want him back, and why was he singled out to accompany the senator to Russia in the first place?


The older of the pair of armed M.P.s flanking me opened the door and stood there, waiting. Did they think I was going to try something, here in the heart of the Pentagon? Or was that the bowels?

I grinned at them, as if to say, Not a chance, fellas. Not without my .45, anyway.

Behind me, the general and his aide muttered something back and forth and then I felt the palm of a hand against my back—the general’s hand, which made it an order, not a shove.

He said in that peculiar imperial growl exclusive to the top brass, “Okay, Hammer, let’s go.”

The older M.P.—a Negro with a scarred face and a triple row of ribbons—grinned back at me with his eyes speaking a silent language I’d rarely heard since the war. Not this Cold War, either, but that hot one I’d fought in, in the Pacific.

The other M.P. wore a professional scowl of indignant disapproval that represented a lapse in military discipline. But he was pretty young and had never seen combat and what he’d picked up about this situation might have thrown him off his game.

I shrugged away the hand at my back and stepped inside.

Originally, this smooth-walled, unadorned chamber had been designed for conferences, but from the expressions on the faces lining the huge oak table, this meeting was going to be an inquisition. And I was the guest of honor. The only thing missing was the rack, and maybe a red hot poker or two.

Tony Wale, Head of Special Sections, stood up, and with a barely perceptible nod indicated the chair at the far end of the table, the Prodigal Son’s slot. Wale—tall, pale, dark-haired, looking like a top business exec in his Brooks Brothers number—didn’t like what he had to do at all. Twice we had worked together and I had gotten his tail out of a hot spot, so he probably didn’t relish returning a favor this way.

Eighteen pairs of hostile eyes watched me take the long walk down the aisle. I was a remarkably well-preserved specimen of a creature that should have been extinct a long time ago, but by some queer twist of nature had been instilled with instincts too potent to be erased, managing to survive into their pretty little world of appeasement and concession.

Somehow I knew that the older M.P., guarding the door behind me, was either still grinning or working hard not to, so I didn’t feel too damn bad. Somebody was on my side.

I passed the four United States senators, the State Department contingent, and the high-level military advisors who didn’t need uniforms or insignia to display their rank. They watched me with the cold, unblinking stares of nervous predators facing an unknown if natural enemy they knew inhabited their domain but which they had never encountered before.

One other pair of eyes watched, not hostile but betraying nothing, belonging to a small, quiet, plain-looking individual in a gray suit and rimless bifocals.

I took the seat Tony Wale had indicated and sat down carefully, still sore from the previous twelve hours wedged in behind the crates loaded on the C-121. In one unintentionally comic motion, my audience all swung around in their seats to face me, ready to hang on every word, minds already dancing with accusations at the same time they were formulating their own finely worded excuses.

It was too bad my buddy Ralph Marley wasn’t here to watch the show.

But Marley was dead.

And that left only me to play Scrooge....

Then the general pulled his seat out and, before he sat down, said, “Gentlemen, shall I summarize?”

It wasn’t really necessary, but they all nodded anyway. Another group action. You could find the same shared expression of blank willingness at a Nazi rally or in a lynch mob or any gathering of frightened people who had lost something human somewhere and didn’t know how to get it back.

All but that one little man in gray, however. Him you couldn’t read.

And yet I could.

As he usually did, Senator Willy Asnet—big and beefy and draped in self-importance—took the initiative, a comma of white hair hanging on his forehead, part of that phony folksy persona of his.

“If you please, General,” he said in his practiced Southern drawl. “We would indeed appreciate a briefing.”

The general, who when outranked could take an order as well as any enlisted man, sat down, took a pen from his inside pocket and began to doodle on the pad in front of him. For some reason, the aimless motion of his hand seemed to mesmerize those nearest him and they watched his intricate patterns form while his words made their own patterns in precise phrases, couched in his commanding officer’s growl.

“For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Hammer’s background,” he stated, “I would like to supply the pertinent details.”

His doodling stopped momentarily and he turned to a new page and lined the edge of the paper with numbers from one to ten.

Hell, I figured I was made up of more details than that.

“Name, Michael Hammer. Profession, private investigator licensed to operate in New York State, date of issuance of certificate, November, 1945. Military record exemplary, six citations, Bronze Star recipient, discharged honorably with five years voluntary active reserve duty. No prior criminal record, although numerous arrests for assault, manslaughter, and homicide. No convictions, however, due in every case to assertions, and sometimes pleas, of self-defense. Despite a reputation for vigilante ‘justice,’ his cooperation with civilian and military police and intelligence agencies is noted in his file.”

What the general did not mention, because of its extreme classification, was that I remained attached to one of those intelligence agencies. An agency that served to deal with those matters that the F.B.I. could not handle because of its limitations as a domestic entity and that the C.I.A. could not take on because of its strict international mandate.

An agency that did not officially exist.

Even if one of its top people was seated at this table.

The general looked up from his scratch pad and laid his pen down in a rather grand gesture that apparently had some significance when he was addressing his men. Except that this time he was in the wrong company and nobody knew to be impressed.

“Mr. Hammer was admitted to Russia on a visitor’s visa three months ago,” the general continued. “We know from a tacit admission by Senator Allen Jasper that Mr. Hammer’s role in accompanying the senator was that of a bodyguard.”

Everyone here knew that the senator had suffered physical attacks at home by those objecting to what some would call his ultra-conservative policies. What might happen to him in Russia staggered the imagination.

“Excuse me, General,” Senator Leonard Garris said, his professorial mien clenched in thought. “It seems unlikely that the Soviet government would sanction a visit from a controversial figure like Senator Jasper without providing its own considerable security. And why would the senator want private security when he could have requested Secret Service protection?”

Senator Asnet said, “I would have to concur with my colleague, General. Any violence on Russian soil, whether simple civil disobedience or an assassination attempt, would have created considerable international turmoil.”

Garris picked back up: “Which is why I question how it was Mr. Hammer here, who has a colorful background to say the least, might be granted permission for this trip by either our government or theirs.”

Down the table, between a senator and a state department flunkie, silently sat that little gray man who could have explained. If the agency he represented existed, that is.

“That would appear to be a moot point,” Tony Wale put in from his chair to the general’s right. “Mr. Hammer was given permission, and did make the trip, or we would not be here.”

“Be that as it may,” the general said, barreling on, “Mr. Hammer was arrested by the Soviet police and held in a Moscow prison. He escaped, slowly making his way across the continent to our air base in Turkey, leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake, and smuggled himself onboard a United States Air Force cargo plane to this country... Mr. Hammer, since this sketchy outline of events is all we have, we call upon you to fill in the rest of the details.”

Once more, like puppets on a string, they all turned and looked at me.

I said, “That’s only eight.”

Silence hung in the air.

The general frowned. “What?”

“General,” I said, pointing to his scribbled-on pad, “you have numbers one to ten there. That’s only eight. Or maybe nine. Depends on whether you consider my escape and flight one ‘detail’ or two.”

Senator Asnet took his glasses off in that same deliberate motion he used when his committees were in session and he was about to chastise an underling or challenge a recalcitrant witness.

He said, “The point is, Mr. Hammer, that in the course of your escape, you killed forty-five men. Two were members of the Politburo, one was the warden of the prison, three were high- ranking officers of the Soviet military intelligence service, the others all officially detailed to either maintain your captivity or expedite your capture. Forty-five men, Mr. Hammer!”

“Sorry, Willy,” I said with a shrug. “It was the best I could manage.”

The senator looked as if he might choke, then recovered himself and glared at me. “Mr. Hammer, you will remember that you are addressing a United States—”

I didn’t let him finish. I got up with enough melodrama and floor scraping by my wooden chair to make them all jump. Then I stood there looking down at them one and all, with that seasoned M.P. still grinning at me with his eyes. So there was one guy around, anyway, who would understand what I was saying. Him and the little gray man who wasn’t there...

I made it damn deliberate.

“Willy boy,” I told him, “I’m not addressing anybody. Not anybody at all. Try to keep in your superannuated mind that I am not under oath or subpoena and as far as I’m concerned, this is damn near a kidnapping. You yanked me off an airplane in my own country, and if you want to charge me with anything, try a hitchhiking rap... or using military transport for personal purposes, maybe. Think up any damn thing you like. You should be smart enough for that, or am I giving you too much credit?”

I leaned both hands on the table. I could see all of them and they could see all of me.

“At least somebody has finally asked me what the hell happened over there,” I said. “My own government grabs hold of whatever details the Soviets are willing to hand out, accepts those as facts, and now I’m elected sacrificial lamb.”

Tony Wale wasn’t looking at me. He couldn’t meet my eyes.

“Well, I don’t play patsy for anybody, gents, not even Uncle Sam. I’m not holding still for a public whipping and if you want to try it, then go ahead and take a running jump at it. I’ll bust this story wide open to the press and let them have a field day at your expense. Without any compunction at all.”

I straightened, then grinned at them again. The silence itself was audible as these self-appointed Knights of this not-so- Round Table held their collective breath. You could almost hear capillaries popping under the skin.

The M.P. at the door couldn’t hold back that grin any longer.

Something had gone through them, like a sudden attack of the flu. They all wanted to speak, yet didn’t know what to say. Their eyes were bright little things focused on my face, then they stopped looking and started watching because the contempt I felt showed so plainly I could feel it in the way my mouth was pulled back tight over my teeth.

I was back in the middle of that incredible jungle of stupidity and self-serving calculation that was the political establishment, served by military minds who had never set foot on a battlefield.

These bastards needed a civics lesson.

“American citizens have certain rights, even in Russia,” I said. “I wasn’t given an opportunity to contact my consulate or Senator Jasper, either. Hell, it felt like I was in the middle of a one-man purge. And I wasn’t about to sit in a prison cell learning to love cockroach-laced borscht waiting for diplomatic efforts to spring me. So I did it on my own.”

Senator Willy Asnet seemed to be crouching in his chair, as if ready to pounce. “Mr. Hammer... your reckless actions have created an international incident.”

“Screw it. That was my neck on the line.”

Asnet came to his feet slowly, his face a barely controlled mask of anger. “You, Mr. Hammer, have put this country in an untenably dangerous position. Right now, thanks to you, we are teetering on the precarious edge of hostilities with the only other nuclear superpower on this planet.”

“How about that,” I said.

This time all it took was my tone to make them jump.
There was no respect in it, no remorse for what I had done, and no fear of any reprisals that might hit me. They looked at each other with a peculiar frustration because I was standing right there yet they couldn’t quite reach me.

But they sure were going to try.

Complex 90


  1. I used to love the TV show with Stacy Keach. It was my first introduction to the hardboiled detective trope as a kid.

    1. Hi, Brian.  Your blog link should go on your profile page, not in the comments.

  2. “Sorry, Willy,” I said with a shrug. “It was the best I could manage.” 


  3. I recently heard this anecdote, not sure if it’s true but it should be.

    There was a time when 8 of the top 10 selling novels in America were Micky Spillane books. A reporter who obviously felt this represented a decline in America’s intellectual and moral character asked Spillane how he felt about that.

    Spillane replied, “Shut yer yap or I’ll write two more.”

  4. Collins is a treasure. His original works (including Road to Perdition), his Dick Tracy gig, and now this… All on top of being a key member of the best damned bar and county fair band in SE Iowa, Crusin’.  

Comments are closed.