RARA-AVIS: Kiss Me, Deadly (Long post)

Bill Crider (abc@wt.net)
Wed, 13 Oct 1999 16:42:36 -0500 (CDT)

Mickey Spillane's KISS ME, DEADLY was one of the high points of my early reading life. It's a book that no doubt influenced me in many ways, most of which I'm probably not even aware of on a conscious level.

Many years ago, probably in 1955, I a barely teen-aged kid, sitting in my bedroom reading. Most likely, I was reading a science fiction magazine, since I read those things by the metric ton in those days. Someone started honking a car horn in the street outside, so I looked out the window. It was my buddy John Black, who was in his father's pick-up truck. I went out to see what he wanted.

"Get in," he said. I did, and he handed me a paperback book. KISS ME, DEADLY. "Read it," he said. I opened it up and started reading. "Out loud," he said, pulling away from the curb. Thus began my acquaintance with Mickey Spillane.

Needless to say, I thought the book was wonderful. Any book that begins with a guy picking up a beautiful blonde wearing nothing but a trenchcoat has a certain appeal to a 14-year-old guy. And when the blonde put Mike Hammer's hand under the coat and squeezed it between her legs, well, I didn't know much about great writing, but I knew what I liked. John eventually dropped me off back at home, and he let me keep the book, which I finished reading that night. I then went on to read all the Spillane I could find.

The other day, after reading that KISS ME, DEADLY was the book for this month, I picked it up again and started reading. I thought I'd read a few pages and then put it away, but I was caught up in it once more. Spillane certainly isn't a great stylist, but the style he uses is perfect for the story he's telling. This isn't FINNEGAN'S WAKE or KING LEAR or even JUDE THE OBSCURE, but then Spillane never pretended that it was. And, sure, Mike is a psycho, with the hate oozing from his pores and the desire to kill drumming in his head, but for a pretty powerless 14-year-old, he was a potent symbol, what with his .45 caliber extension.

Maybe he's too potent. I'm not sure I'd want people like those two crazoids from Columbine High to read this book, since they seem to have been miniature Mike Hammers, hate oozing, kill-music drumming, and all. But for me, at the time, it was the right book. I didn't go out and shoot anyone. I just wanted to read more about Mike Hammer doing it. And reading it again, I can see why.

Bill Crider

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