Survival..Zero by Mickey Spillane (1970)
Mickey Spillane. Love him or hate him. I love him. Usually.
Let's get this out of the way: Survival...Zero is a lousy book. Sadder yet, it's a lousy Mike Hammer book.
Spillane's Hammer career can be viewed in three stages. First, from 1947 to 1952, when Mike Hammer exploded onto the scene with I, the Jury and continued for another five novels. Second, from 1962 to 1970, when Hammer reappeared in The Girl Hunters and blazed his way through four additional novels, ending with Survival...Zero. And finally, Hammer returned for 1989's The Killing Man and 1996's Black Alley. I suspect by the time Spillane was writing Survival...Zero he was just phoning it in. And, perhaps, he was trying to come to grips with the sea change in societal norms during the mid- to late-Sixties.
Spillane's writing chops were honed on comic books, where he wrote an uncounted number of stories for such titles as Captain Marvel, Superman, Captain America, and Batman. Hammer himself was first conceived as a comic book character. In the novels, Hammer lives in a two dimensional fantasy world, one where there is good and there is bad and no in between. Hammer himself is the hammer of God, punishing evil with death from his .45 with no remorse. Hammer is a Walter Mitty fantasy, a tough guy who brooks no nonsense, who always comes out on top, and who always incites sexual yearnings in beautiful women. All this and a porkpie hat.
Survival...Zero has all the earmarks of a Mike Hammer story. A friend of Hammer's is brutally murdered and Hammer vows vengeance. Along the way he crosses paths with a big-league gangster and the head of a giant conglomerate, rubbing elbows with the high and the low. We, as readers, know that somehow this case is tied into the murder of another mob boss and the unexplained death of an unknown person in the New York subway. There's also an Stalin-era Soviet plot to destroy America that has recently been put into play and neither the Russians or America can do anything to stop it. Worse yet, those who originated the plot did not realize that it put the entire world at risk, not just the United States. And for sex appeal, we have the ever-beautiful, ever-faithful Velma, a beautiful, drug-addicted actress with an eye tattooed on her navel, and a beautiful, thrill-happy corporate accountant. Two these women keep stripping down, trying to seduce our hero. The language -- particularly as it relates to sex -- is more liberal than one expects from a mike Hammer novel. A reaction to the changing times, perhaps? Long-haired hippies are always dirty. Again, a reaction to the times?
The plot doesn't move along as much as it stumbles, going from point to point in a rather lurching manner. The action seems minor; even a major gun battle is quickly forgotten. Hammer's detecting seems to be minimal, relying on half a dozen or so denizens of the varied NYC streets to do the work for him. The most Hammer does through the first 90% of the book is grin at various lowlifes who quiver and quake under the grin. (He does spend a lot of time with the naked ladies, though, leading them on while heroically resisting them. Ho hum.)
Spillane could have -- and has -- done much better.