If you like your detective stories “hardboiled,” you must read Ken Kuhlken’s The Angel Gang alongside Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer tales. I do have to take exception with film historian Stephen Bowie’s description of the Mike Hammer stories as “ . . . the trashiest of the film noir-era literary detectives . . .” since I consider Mickey Spillane’s writing to be “hardboiled” with a touch of noir, rather than vice-versa. But I digress. This review is about THE ANGEL GANG, not literary tropes.
Ken Kuhlken’s hero, Tom Hickey, is the protagonist in this and the marvelous six-book Hickey Family Mystery Series. Every bit as tough, reckless, and uncompromising as Mike Hammer, Tom Hickey is a more rounded-out character than the Hammer that Edgar Award-winning author, Megan Abbott describes as “. . . hypermacho, wildly violent: he’ll take on the mob, the Russians. He’s almost a Superman.” He has a great love for his wife, Wendy, a tendency toward consideration for the fairer sex in general, and a somewhat off-key habit of pipe-smoking Sir Walter Raleigh, whereas Hammer has only a soft spot for his secretary, Velda, and smokes unfiltered “butts” like a chimney.
Set in post-WWII California, Hickey pulls out all the stops when his pregnant wife is kidnapped because of his poking his detective’s nose into places it’s not welcome. In a state of near panic, he races from Northern California to San Diego to penetrate the underworld of Southern California, which includes the infamous and much-talked-about-but-never-seen Mickey Cohen. He holds another gangster at gunpoint for much of the novel while desperately trying to solve the mystery and corral the culprits who snatched his fragile and mystical wife.
Real the whole series, by all means, and enjoy, like I did, The Angel Gang.