Re: RARA-AVIS: Spillane's influence

From: Richard Moore (
Date: 03 Dec 2004

--- In, JIM DOHERTY <jimdohertyjr@y...> wrote:
> Spillane's influence is also manifested in all the PBO
> PI writers who got big in the '50's like Richard S.
> Prather, Frank Kane, Stephen Marlowe, etc., all of
> whom showed a right-wing bias, and most of whom had a
> tendency to get involved in cases involving Commie
> spies.

I think Spillane's most immediate impact was indeed on the PBO writers of the 1950s. It was in those Signet paperback editions that Spillane sold like wildfire. Between them Spillane and Erskine Caldwell spawned scores of PBO imitators. While I will make the caveat that Frank Kane's first Johnny Liddell novel came out in 1947 the same debut year as Mike Hammer, the general statement stands true. Even regarding Liddell, he was likely much changed and longer- lived because of the Hammer novels. Harry Whittington would never have earned the title of the King of the PBOs if Spillane had not created the market.

To me the best one volume reference on the mystery is the late William DeAndrea's Edgar-winning Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (Prentice Hall 1994). I don't always agree with him (for example he cares nothing for James Crumley) but he is always thought-provoking. His view of Spillane is somewhat higher than mine but I relay a portion of it here because I think Bill has some real insights into Spillane's popularity and the late 1940s to 1950s era that spawned him.

DeAndrea wrote: "Spillane's Mike Hammer, sprung on America in the late 1940s, packed enough of a jolt to electrify a war-jaded public. In an increasingly unsteady world, when allies were becoming enemies and vice versa, Spillane's rock-solid depiction of a world where good and evil were sharply defined, and (eventually) identifiable, was reassuring when a more polite writer's wouldn't be. His prose is lean and spare and authentically tough, something that writers like Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald never achieved. His books inspired the paperback original boom of the 1950s, making some writers' entire careers possible."

By the way, DeAndrea was a very good writer who could write them tough or write them funny and earned two Edgars for his fiction to go with the one he won for this book. Sadly, he died at a quite young age of cancer.

Richard Moore

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Dec 2004 EST