Black Alley is the latest and possibly last book in the Mike Hammer series, featuring the toughest private eye in the business.
Hammer is out to avenge the death of an old war-buddy, who was murdered during a mysterious burglary. His vendetta is complicated by several events: He catches a bullet during a mafia gang shootout, which renders him weak and vulnerable througout the book; his dying friend reveals the approximate location of a 89 billion dollar stash that he has stolen and hidden from the mob, who - of course - want to get their money back; and last, but not least, Velda, Hammer's beautiful secretary, is adamant in her desire to finally walk him down the aisle.
Black Alley is somewhat different from the previous Hammer-novels. The crime noir atmosphere is missing for the most part; Hammer has definitely arrived at modernity. This becomes apparent when the hero muses about and decries corporate America, aluminum beer cans, and the future of warfare, which he believes to bring about "ugly, destructive death" due to the use of chemical and biological weapons. Moreover, some humor is added, in the form of Miller Lite Beer, which is consumed in considerable quantities throughout the book (Spillane appeared in TV ads for Miller Lite in the 70s).
It is obvious that Hammer is nearing retirement. Having just recovered from an almost fatal gunshot wound, he is feeble throughout the book. And he does something he has never done before: When he has finally cornered the villain, he does not finish him off with a bullet in his guts, but turns him over to the cops. However, don't be fooled by Mike's ostensible softness - he is still dangerous, and the turks who are trying to take his place still get their feathers ruffled.
Black Alley is not one of Spillane's strongest books. At times, the plot is somewhat predictable; the characters are rather transparent; and the final solution lacks the shocking explosion of the other Hammer novels. On the other hand, perhaps Spillane didn't even attempt to create an ending like that - for a good-bye to his fans the book's ending is definitely better suited, and as a good-bye Black Alley seems to be intended, after all.
Despite its not-so-great plot and characters, the book is still a gem. Spillane's style is still unmatched by any author in the genre. He still makes you not want to put the book down before you've arrived at the last page. In case this is really his last Hammer novel, I would like to extend a sincere "thank you" to him. What he has written is not just "good garbage", as he once described his novels in a reply to his numerous critics, but literature that will stand the test of time. Let's all have a Miller Lite now. Cheers!!