RARA-AVIS: Spillane

From: abc@wt.net
Date: 31 Jul 2002

Sorry to impose the following commentaries on everyone, but I didn't have miker's address at hand. You can delete if you don't want to read three reviews of Spillane's books.

Bill Crider

*Spillane, Mickey. I, the Jury. New York: Dutton, 1947. (PI) When Mickey Spillane published I, the Jury in 1947, Hammett's first novel had been in print nearly twenty years and Carroll John Daly and Raymond Chandler (qq.v.) were still writing. Yet there is little doubt that Spillane's book was a seminal work of tough-guy fiction, inspiring hundreds of imitators in the booming paperback market of the 1950s. No one, however, was quite able to match Spillane's unique combination of action, sex, and right-wing vengeance. The main character of I, the Jury is Spillane's most famous creation, Mike Hammer?-tough, implacable, and prone to violence, with perhaps even a touch of madness. When his war buddy is murdered, Hammer swears to get revenge: "And by Christ, I'm not letting the killer go through the tedious process of the law." Hammer smashes his way through the suspects ("My fist went in up to the wrist in his stomach") until he determines the guilty party, whom he has sworn to kill in exactly the same way his friend was murdered. Along the way, he meets the nymphomaniac Bellemy sisters, one of whom has a strategically located strawberry birthmark; Charlotte Manning, a beautiful psychiatrist; Hal Kines, the improbable white slaver; and of course he fends off the advances of Velda, his sexy, loyal secretary. He finally confronts the killer in a slam-bang ending never to be forgotten by anyone who has read it, concluding with perhaps the best last line in all of Spillane's books, most of which have memorable, melodramatic climaxes. Spillane's novels have been attacked for their violence and their vigilante spirit, and no doubt these things are present in the books. But Spillane is first and foremost a storyteller, and his stories, no matter how improbable, always work, pulling the reader along willingly or unwillingly into Mike Hammer's violent world. I, the Jury was brought to the screen in 1949, with Biff Elliott in the starring role. Like the novel, it emphasizes violence and has an ending to enrage the sensibilities of any feminist who happens to watch it.

Spillane, Mickey. The Long Wait. New York: Button, 1951.
(T) The Long Wait, Mickey Spillane's first nonseries novel, is the author's variation on the one-man-against-municipal-corruption theme as found in such novels as Dashiell Hammett's (q.v.) Red Harvest. The Mike Hammer-like narrator/hero, whose name is either Johnny McBride or George Wilson (even he isn't sure), returns to the town of Lyncastle to clear up a robbery-and-murder charge against McBride. His motive, as usual in Spillane's work, is revenge: One man is to get his arms broken, and one man is to die. Actually, a lot of people die before the narrator accomplishes his lofty goal, but not before he absorbs more physical abuse than seems even remotely possible. And speaking frankly of credibility, it must be admitted that The Long Wait contains enough coincidence and enough improbable, even downright incredible, plot devices for four or five books. There is violence galore, too, and a lot of voyeuristic sex (the final scene is a rewrite of the striptease that concludes I, the Jury). None of this affects the story adversely, however. Typically, Spillane pulls it off. The pacing and the fierce conviction of the narrative voice grab the reader and carry him relentlessly along. Spillane seems to have had a high old time writing The Long Wait, and the reader who is willing to grin, plant his tongue in his cheek, and go along with him is in for a hell of a ride.

Spillane, Mickey. One Lonely Night. New York: Dutton, 1951.
(PI) It's Mike Hammer versus the Red Menace, and it's no contest. When Mike discovers that there are actual Commies living and operating in the United States, he goes berserk, the kill music singing in his head. When they capture Velda to force Mike to give them the secret documents he has found, he takes a tommy gun and blows so many of them away that he doesn't even bother to count. So much for the plot. What most readers fail to consider about One Lonely Night is the amount of introspection in the book, which begins and ends with Hammer seriously questioning both his methods and his sanity. The fact that he is a killer has finally been brought home to him by a judge who says that Hammer enjoys killing, that he is just as bad as those he kills, if not worse. The judge's remarks haunt Hammer throughout the book, and at one point he even finds himself agreeing that the judge is correct: "So I was mad. I was a killer, and I was looking forward to killing again. I wanted every one of them from bottom to top...." Of course in the context of the story, as the reader sees, Mike is not actually quite as bad as he seems, and he eventually realizes that he isn't. If he is evil, at least he is "evil for the good." He kills only those who deserve killing, the
"cancerous Commies" in this case. One Lonely Night is melodramatic in the extreme and appears so far right that it comes out of left field, but in the red-scare Fifties it found a sympathetic audience. It is of interest today chiefly for the insight it provides into Hammer's character. Mike Hammer is also in top form in Vengeance Is Mine!
(1950), My Gun Is Quick (1950), The Big Kill (1951), Kiss Me Deadly (1952), The Girl Hunters (1962), and The Twisted Thing (1966). The Girl Hunters was filmed in 1963 with Spillane himself playing Mike Hammer (and doing a fairly creditable job).

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