Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 1, 2023


 The Last Cop Out by Mickey Spillane  (1973)

Mickey Spillane burst on the literary scene in 1947 with the first Mike Hammer novel I, the Jury.  Spillane had previously been hiding in the shadows writing for comic books and (he claimed) pseudonymously for the slicks and pulps.  Hammer, a hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners PI with a sense of justice and an active trigger finger, caught the imagination of the American male just back from the War when the book was released in paperback.  Spillane was soon one of the top-selling writers in America and Mike Hammer became an American icon.  Spillane took the violence of such writers as Carroll John Daly, added more than a hint of sex (which became more and more graphic as time passed and cultural attitudes changed) and created a new style of crime novel.

Spillane was criticized for the crudity of his style and subject but he knew his audience and he wrote to them, often disguising his true literary talent.  Spillane refused to be catgorized as an author, preferring instead to call himself a writer.

Spillane did not limit himself to Mike Hammer.  He wrote other novels, westerns, juveniles, short stories, articles, scripts.  When he died, he left behind a trove of drafts, uncompleted stories, and notes for Max Allan Collins, his literary executor, to complete.  Much of Spillane's published work had the same intensity as the early Hammer novels.  Some, however, were duds.

Which brings us to The Last Cop Out.

The mob in America is run by the "Big Board," nearly two dozen gang leaders who control all the syndicates throughout the country.  At the head is Papa Menes, who runs everything from afar with an iron first.  Below Papa is Mark Shelby, born Marcus Aurilieus Fabius Shelvan, a college-eduicated thug who was called the Primus Gladiatori because of the way he dispatched his enemies -- quickly and with great pleasure.  Now, someone is killing members of the Big Board.  When the novel opens, four have already been murdered with no clue as to who the killer is.  Soon the number of dead rises significantly, despite all possible precautions.  A number of gangsters decide to use the murders to hide their own attempts to rise up within the mob.. Papa Menes goes into hiding to wait out the fallout from all this, while still controlling what he can..

Gillian Burke, "Gill," was a cop who had been close to nailing the mob when he was framed and forced to leave the department.  Burke was the one cop the mob feared but now he is sidelined, working as head of security for a large corporation.  The top guys in the city are afraid that the mob violence will spill and "innocent" people will be killed.  They arrange to hire Gill back -- if Gill succeeds, they will take the credit; if not, then Gill will be their fall guy.

Helen Scanlon was the daughter of a cop.  She is working as a receptionist for one of the legitimate businesses owned by the mob and run by Frank Verdun.  Verdun  also happens to be one of the mob's most effective hit men.  Back in his earlier cop career, Gill and Verdun had faced off, but both survived.  Gill visits Verdun to put him on notice.  Helen, meanwhile. is getting suspicious of Verdun.  Helen goes out on a date with Gill and is gobsmacked over his virility.  (When they finally get it on, Helen is amazed she has never had such a skilled and powerful lover.  Yep, Gill is the typical Spillane hero -- the man who puts all others to shame with his lovemaking skills.)  Verdun decides he cannot trust Helen and orders both Helen and Gill killed.  That doesn't work out the way Verdun hoped.

As far as I could tell, Gill doesn't do much in this novel.  He just hangs around cryptically while the mob quakes in their collective boots in fear of him.  Meanwhile, the mob keeps killing each other off while the original unknown assassin takes some time off.

Every member of the mob is super kinky.  Spillane delves into those kinks in far more detail than he would have earlier in his career.  Sadism is big here; one neo-Nazi Hitler fanboy gets off by cutting out his victims' navels.  There's also painful anal sex and genital mutilation and brutality and homosexuality, all included to add shock value and to portray the mob figures as less than human.  The manner of some of the killings are also super kinky, perhaps justifiably so.  The mob's women as hookers, all with their own agenda and desires for vengeance.  It gets confusing.

Also confusing is Spillane's use of similar names.  Gill's cop friend is Bill and, in at least one instance, a typo conflates the two.  And there's Helen and Helga, both sexy ladies.  And the mob figures Shatzi and Shanke and Shelby.  So yes, it does get confusing.  And then there are the scene shifts...

As for the typical Spillane twist at the end of a book...ho hum.

Normally, I zip through a Mickey Spillane novel at light speed.  This one was a slow slog.  A. Slow.  Slow. Slog.

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