June 2009

Author Rating: D

Mickey Spillane was, among other things, the author of a couple dozen hard crime novels, most notably a baker’s dozen featuring private investigator Mike Hammer. The first Hammer novel was published in 1952 (I, The Jury), the last (Black Alley) in 1996.

I really wanted to like Spillane’s writing and was disappointed to find it of such poor quality.

Survival … Zero (Read 6/22/09) Meh.

Mike Hammer gets a phone call from a friend who has just had his guts ripped open. It’s a slow month, so Hammer decides to investigate. Inexplicably the murder of Hammer’s friend is tied to a Soviet plot to release a virus in to kill the entire population of the United States.

Mike Hammer comes across as a self-righteous asshole. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem but the narrative is confused and confusing. The story has more holes than my colander. Published in 1970.

The Killing Man (read 6/24/09) Meh

I gave this up in fairly short order when I realized that it was just more of the same. Spillane managed to change or grow not a whit in 19 years.

If you want to read some good hard-boiled crime or detective stories, I recommend John D. MacDonald or Richard Stark. Life is too short to waste on Spillane.


Author Rating: A+

Crime thrillers written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym “Tucker Coe.”

Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death (Read 3/26/08)

Published in 1966, a 2000 paperback re-release includes a terrific introduction by Donald E. Westlake wherein he provides background on what he was up to with his use of pseudonyms and his explorations and influences. Essentially, he was writing at such a volume that it was necessary to publish under different names in order to not over-saturate the market.

That said, this crime novel is another example of Westlake’s excellent control of pacing, description and story line. He is spare but rich and maintains strong coherence and plausibility.

Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death is the first of five involving the protagonist Mitchell Tobin, a former NY cop busted from the force when his partner was killed while Tobin was dallying during working hours and extra-maritally with the girlfriend of a criminal he helped arrest and put away for an extended prison stay. Tobin is hired by a mob guy to find out who killed his mistress.

As Westlake points out in his introduction, this was somewhat of a departure in that it is more in the nature of a mystery rather than a crime novel.

By 1980 seven of Mickey Spillane’s crime novels were among the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction titles in the United States. More than 225 million copies of his books have sold internationally.

In this clip from a 1964 interview, Spillane talks about about his signature detective character, Mike Hammer and the movie business.

(Steve Holland) To fans, hard-boiled meant the two-fisted tales of gumshoes and G-Men that had appeared in pulps like Dime Detective since the 1920s; to the critics it was still a slowly emerging literature led by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, both ex-Black Mask writers who had surfaced in hardcover. The Private Eye was Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, portrayed on the screen by Humphrey Bogart; film noir had yet to be recognised in America as a style and had only just been thus named in France. The critics ripped into Spillane’s novel [I The Jury], and only a little over half the 7,000 print run sold.

Mike Hammer was not the wisecracking Bogart. He did not wisecrack. He got angry and threatened. Chandler’s novels were relatively bloodless; although he started slowly, Hammer was to average ten killings per novel. Spillane wasn’t a new Chandler. I, the Jury had echoes of The Maltese Falcon, especially the down-beat ending of the latter where Spade hands Brigid O’Shaughnessy over to the cops, but Spillane wasn’t even a new Hammett. He was a new Carroll John Daly, and Mike Hammer was Race Williams for the post-war audience.

Williams, like Hammer, laid his cards on the table: “People – especially the police – don’t understand me. And what we don’t understand we don’t appreciate. The police look upon me as being so close to the criminal that you can’t tell the difference… Every cop in the great city has my reputation hammered into him as a gun and a killer. No use to go into detail on that point. I carry a gun – two of them, for that matter. As to being a killer, well – I’m not a target, if you get what I mean. I’ve killed in my time, and I daresay I’ll kill again. There – let the critics of my methods paste that in their hats.”