RARA-AVIS: Re: Spillane and misogyny

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 07 Jul 2006


Re your comments below:

"Let me first say that it's been a long, long time since I've read any Spillane, and I only ever read a few, so my conclusions may be more based on spotty memory than what is actually on the pages. However, I seem to remember that the investigations are more often of murders that affect Hammer personally, not as a paid investigator."

That's essentially true, but it's also a common theme in PI fiction by the time Spillane comes along. It's no less true for Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON, the Op in most of RED HARVEST, Marlowe in the second half of THE BIG SLEEP, and Hammer's most obvious forebear, Carroll John Daly's Race Williams in most of his appearances.

That Hammer has a personal stake doesn't make him any less a professional detective. What it suggests is that, like characters such as Harry Bosch, Hammer chose his profession out of a sense of mission.

"In addition, I seem to remember that the ultimate killer always turns out to be a woman. And not just any woman, but the woman Hammer had put on a pedestal, the one pure madonna in contrast to all the whores he slept with. So it is this woman who personally betrayed Hammer, both as the killer of a friend and as the woman he connected with on more than a physical level, so he holds a special hatred of her and takes special glee in killing her."

Again, by the time of I THE JURY, the "wenchdunit" gambit is already a cliche is PI fiction, and the last chapter of the book is essentially a rewrite of the penultimate chapter of THE MALTESE FALCON, with Hammer shooting the murderess instead of turning her over. But that's what he always said he'd do.

As for enjoying it, the rest of the series doesn't seem to bear that out. Hammer is haunted by his killing of the woman he's fallen for, and the guilt eats at him throughout the series, at least throughout the early entries.

As for who the ultimate villain is, it's men at least as often as women.


Sticking to the earliest novels in the series, the ultimate villain in MY GUN IS QUICK, ONE LONELY NIGHT, and VENGEANCE IS MINE are all men (granting that, VENGEANCE IS MINE, we THINK Juno's a woman until the last line of the book, the fact of the matter is that, as Hammer puts it so poetically, "Juno was a MAN!")

The main villains in I THE JURY and KISS ME, DEADLY are both women, and both women Hammer is attracted to, but that's only two out of five.

I don't recall who the villain was in THE BIG KILL. What sticks to me more is the manner of the villain's death (somebody besides Hammer blows the killer away with Hammer's .45), so even if it was a woman, it wasn't Hammer who killed her. In fact, still scarred after his experience in I THE JURY, Hammer spends the rest of the series avoiding killing women.

THE TWISTED THING, wasn't published until the late
'60's, but it was actually written right after I THE JURY. In that one, the main villain is a man. Or at least a male.

After a decade-long hiatus, Hammer makes his comeback in THE GIRL HUNTERS. The main villain again turns out to be a woman Hammer's become attracted to, but, again, Hammer arranges things so he doesn't have to be the one who kills her.

In THE SNAKE, THE BODY LOVERS, SURVIVAL ZERO, THE KILLING MAN, and BLACK ALLEY, the main villains are all, to the best of my recollection, men.

And after all, as Spillane himself once put it when the misogyny issue was raised, the killer's got to be either male or female. You've only got two choices.

"He kills men in a more business-like way, hates them for their 'job,' what they represent as criminals and/or commies, not because they personally betrayed him."

Hammer never enjoyed killing the main villain (a man) as much as he did in MY GUN IS QUICK. He spends the whole last chapter explaining to the killer exactly how he's going to kill him. And in that book, it IS a matter of personal betrayal.


"But as I said, it's been a long time since I've read him, so my memories may be way off."

Well, not all of us get the benefit of a catechism-trained memory.


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