Re: RARA-AVIS: Spillane revisited

Date: 31 Dec 2002


Re your comment below:

> So it was an immense disappointment to reread I, THE
> JURY (1947) and
> discover that while this was an incredibly
> influential novel, it isn't a very
> good novel. Here are the positives. The character
> of Mike Hammer as an
> avenging force is crudely but powerfully laid out in
> the opening chapter. It
> is so different from the heroes of the time that it
> may be impossible to
> appreciate fully in 2002 the impact on the field.
> The novel lurches forward
> for a few chapters before Spillane hits a nice
> page-turning pace.
> Unfortunately, the reader must ignore a strained
> plot, poorly realized scenes
> and most of all, very crude, clumsy writing. Hammer
> is a dolt who simply
> keeps interviewing people while one by one each is
> killed. His sudden swoon
> as a love sick puppy professing life-long love for
> someone he has just met is
> just not convincingly presented. I can and do
> accept Mike Hammer as a
> romantic but that does not mean I want to see him
> portrayed like a character
> in an Archie comic.
> What saves I, THE JURY is the ending, which more
> than fulfills the promise of
> the opening. More than the concept of the ENDING,
> which is legendary, the
> way he drives it home in those final pages is
> masterful. There, at the very
> end, I rediscovered Spillane I remembered.

I first read I THE JURY in high school and didn't like it at all. Years later, in college, when writers and critics I respected were insisting that Spillane was underrated, I thought I might have been influenced by the critical "thumbs down" he'd received over th years, so I tried him again. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed MY GUN IS QUICK and VENGEANCE IS MINE, and found myself completely blown away by ONE LONELY NIGHT, so, thinking I might have misjudged JURY, I reread it.

My reaction on the second reading was much the same as yours. Great opening chapter, great closing chapter, but what goes on in between is dreck. While I was disappointed, it was reassuring to know that my initial judgment was vindicated.

Since virtually all of Spillane's later work is vastly superior to JURY, one wonders how much of his critical reputation is based on people who've only read that one book (his most successful financially if not literarily) and never tried the much-improved Hammer novels of the '50s and '60s.


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