(King of the Weeds is a noir crime fiction novel from the legendary duo: Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins)
King of the Weeds is the latest in the long line of heavy-hitting Mike Hammer novels, the iconic former cop turned private eye, whose cynical world-view is only matched by his tenacity in the face of peril. The central plot is dominated by greed, a hunt for hidden mob treasure, billions in cash laid away by the five families. Mr. Hammer knows where the lost cache is sequestered, and knowing is becoming more and more deadly. Add a healthy dose of conspiracy, expert assassins, and familial strife– King of the Weeds is a tasty layered cake.
How does it measure up? Here is the noir definition run down:
1) The Seedy Underworld
Big city living, New York City diners juxtaposed with back country Appalachian roads. A world where the doorman knows everything that happens in his building and on the street, and the local bag-lady is an undercover cop.
2) The Anti-Hero
Mike Hammer is an undeniable constant (like one of Newton’s Laws)– he never pulls a punch, never backs down, and never hesitates to shoot up the place. But, time catches up to everyone eventually, and age may turn out to be the only enemy he can’t back down. (Plus, the opening page pits him toe to toe with a professional hitman– is there any other way to begin a Mike Hammer novel?)
3) The Femme Fatale
Velda, the once secretary turned partner turned fiancé, is and ever will be the femme fatale of Mike Hammer’s world. Not because she’s evil, but because she’s so good. In all the twisted sinews that comprise Mr. Hammer’s character, she’s the soft spot, the purple bruise that will eventually cost him his life or force his retirement. She’s the only character in the novel that doesn’t take Mike’s crap, and he knows better than to try it with her.
Misogyny is one of those inseparable themes from noir, but King of the Weeds, like most neo-noir, isn’t as guilty of it as the old greats from the 30’s and 40’s. Here was one of my favorite ‘give and takes’ between Mike and Velda:
“Let me mull that,” I said. “Meantime, better call Pat, then make us some coffee.”
“Woman’s work never being done.”
“I’m not chauvinistic, I’m wounded.”
“You’re a wounded chauvinist.”
One of the central plot threads is tied to Mike’s best friend Pat, and a killer that he put away as a young cop. New evidence surfaces that points to the killer’s innocence, and the revelation could destroy Pat’s reputation as a policeman. Mike spends much of the novel striving to redeem his friends reputation in the face of shocking evidence.
6) Loss of Innocence
This theme typically refers to something horrific being inflicted upon something or someone who is innocent and pure. I didn’t really see that in this novel, but I did see an intense struggle to define innocence and guilt, particularly in the scope of justice. When justice is dealt unjustly, what are we left with?
Present and accounted for.
8 ) Emasculation
Mike Hammer will not be emasculated (thematically or otherwise)– he is a picturesque titan of machismo, but with Velda he becomes a kitten. She has a softening effect on Mike, and provokes a complexity of character that we’d be missing without her.
I enjoyed King of the Weeds– it’s a swell addition to the Mike Hammer mythos, and I enjoyed seeing the immortal private eye grappling with his own impending mortality.