Dead Street – Mickey Spillane

4 out of 5

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My first Mickey Spillane book; one of his last.  Finalized from notes after the author’s death by Max Allan Collins, Dead Street still reads sharp as heck from an author in his late 80s and, at this point (2020), written some 15 years back.  While there is a lamentable, spoiler-y element of the story that remains rather dated, and ignorant, it’s thankfully not excessively embellished, and also not a big part of what makes the book work: Spillane’s tick-tock prose, and fantastic character and environment.

Ex-cop Jack Strang observes the street of his former precinct: it’s dying.  The precinct itself is getting ready to close shop; long time denizens are packing up and moving out.  Newer, prettier developments are on their way in.  Strang still keeps abreast of What’s What about NY, of course, but he, too, is wondering what’s next… when he suddenly gets a line on the love of his life who went missing some twenty years back.  Now, before the street is officially declared dead, Jack has to understand what happened to the girl, and what mysteries lay between her current life and her missing memories from decades ago…

Yeah, ‘Dead Street’ plays it sort of cute and loose with the way Bettie – the dame – regains her memories at key points.  And there’s the aforementioned aspect of the plot that makes you check the date of the book’s publication (2007) and sort of roll your eyes.  But both of these things also can be said to have their place in the high impact writing style of Spillane’s, in which Jack is known as “Shooter,” and can size up any given joe he runs in to with a sidelong glance, and still throw the fright into the baddies in his retirement age, and woo Bettie with lines about her beauty and calling her “kid,” and “baby” and whatnot.  It’s all so slickly done that it doesn’t ever not work, and meanwhile, a lot of the ways the story is pieced together is just so brilliantly streamlined that the 200 pages fly by.  Collins’ contributions, apparently mostly toward the end, blend in pretty seamlessly, but the heavy lifting is absolutely done by Spillane up front, creating “Shooter” and his dead street from whole cloth in a way that had my absolutely convinced that this must be part of a series – there’s just this sense of legacy to it – but it’s not.  You know everything you need to know in the text, with the gift of all of these hinted-at stories-that-could-be-told floating between the paragraphs.

Dead Street is a super fun piece of pulp fiction, leaning in to the writer’s role as an elder statesman to inform the same mentality of lead Jack, but still showing of his keen abilities by never allowing the tale to dip in to old man syndrome.  This comparative youngster enjoyed the heck out of it.