In his intro to this posthumous collaboration with Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins explains that the more substantial Spillane manuscripts have now all been completed. The one Collins worked with to write The Will to Kill was about thirty pages rather than a hundred as in previous collaborations. He goes on to say that Spillane had set things up just fine, with a premise that brings to mind Agatha Christie. He should know, and of course he's right. There are elements of the English country-house mystery here, and having seen the movie version of And Then There Were None recently, I was immediately reminded of it as members of a prominent inventor's family, all living in the same house, are being knocked off one by one.
Things are set in motion by the death of the family chauffeur, and Hammer is involved because he discovers the body (well, half of it) while out for late-night stroll. The victim is a former cop, a good friend of Pat Chambers, who hires Hammer to look into things. Many are still suspicious that the death of the inventor several years before, an apparent accident, wasn't an accident at all. and of course they're right. There's something else going on in the area, too, something even more sinister: young women are disappearing and presumed dead.
Hammer moves though this double plot in a kinder, gentler fashion. He's not personally involved, as he almost always is, and so vengeance isn't involved, and the kill music isn't singing in his head. In fact, although he beats up a few guys now and then, he kills only one of them. He helps out the members of the family, solving some of their problems for them, and and puts the pieces together like a classical detective (not that he hasn't done this in other books, as Collins points out; it's just not often remarked on because critics emphasize other parts of the novels). All this is satisfactorily resolved, with a kind of two-fer surprise ending that seems just right.
It was fun to read this book, not just because it's a bit of a different outing for Hammer that shows a side of him that's not often noticed, but because Collins pulls it off so well, with a compelling story that keeps you reading right along even though the sex and violence are downplayed. It's another hit for a great writing team.