Showing posts with label Mickey Spillane. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mickey Spillane. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Mike Hammer #03 - Vengeance is Mine

In 1980, the top 15 list of all-time US fiction bestsellers included seven novels by Mickey Spillane. That's a true testament to the power and popularity of Spillane's iconic private-detective, Mike Hammer. As I make my way through Spillane's bibliography, I found that the Mike Hammer debut, I, the Jury (1947) left much to be desired. However, the book's sequel, My Gun is Quick (1950), was nothing short of amazing with its masterful prose soaked with realism, impending doom, and emotional anguish. Appreciating that particular masterpiece, I held off on reading another Mike Hammer novel for over a year. Now, the time has come for the third series installment, Vengeance is Mine. It was originally published in 1950 as a hardcover by E.P. Dutton and has been reprinted countless times in multiple formats. 

“The guy was dead as Hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains all over the rug and my gun in his hand.”

That's the opener to Vengeance is Mine. Thankfully, the remainder of the book remains just as heavy and unforgiving. Throughout this violent, twisting narrative, Spillane slaps readers with Hammer's hardest case yet, one that pays with redemption instead of cash. The plot concerns Hammer awakening after a night of drinking with his friend, Chester Wheeler, dead. Hammer isn't a murder suspect because the police feel that his friend simply committed suicide. But, Hammer knows he always carried six loads in his gun, and two shots were fired. The circumstances lead to Hammer contending with the DA and using his police ally Pat to find a teardrop in the ocean. Who killed Wheeler?

Hammer's investigation leads through a swamp of political blackmail and conspiracy within the slimy walls of a sin palace called The Bowery. It is here that Hammer meets a sexy dancer named Connie and a bit player named Dinky, an old nemesis that Hammer previously shot. Connecting the dots proves to be difficult considering all roads leading to Chester Wheeler are closed. Anyone involved with Wheeler's past is wearing bullet holes or broken necks. But, Hammer is consistently moving forward as he vengefully fights for his dead friend.  

Vengeance is Mine features Hammer's secretary Velda more involved than ever in the investigation. It's also the first novel where she fatally shoots a bad guy. Both Hammer and Velda become more intimate, but Hammer is still plagued by flashbacks and memories of Charlotte Manning, a lover from the series debut, I, the Jury, that he had had to shoot and kill. Like the prior novels, Hammer is also still suffering from PTSD from his war experience. I felt that the emotional baggage added more depth to the character, making Hammer a more dynamic hero when compared to his contemporaries in Johnny Liddell and Mike Shayne.

While not as good as My Gun is Quick, Vengeance is Mine is still an absolute masterpiece and another fine example of Mickey Spillane's extraordinary storytelling. It just doesn't get much better than this. Highly, highly recommended.

Note –  Supposedly, Spillane bet his editor $1,000 that he could write a book that, if the last word was left out, would change everything in the narrative that had happened before. The editor took the bet and lost (credit to author Stephen Mertz for sharing that). 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Killer Mine

After a string of remarkable 1940s and 1950s bestsellers, author Mickey Spillane became a Jehova's Witness and took a long hiatus from writing. Upon his return, Spillane continued his popular Mike Hammer installments. However, he also started writing stand-alone novels and novellas like 1965's Killer Mine. This 80-page work was packaged with the stand-alone novella Man Alone in 1968 and published by Signet under the title Killer Mine. After nearly a year of reading full-length novels, I decided to tackle the Killer Mine novella for a change of pace.

The story is set on a seedy side of Chicago and introduces readers to Lieutenant Joe Scanlon, a tough-as-nails cop who grew up in the area before joining the fight in World War 2. Post-war, Scanlon worked his way up the ladder and moved on to a less crime-ridden part of the city. However, after four homicides are found to have a common thread, the brass ask Scanlon to return to his old stomping ground to find the killer.

Like any good police procedural, the narrative incorporates interviews with eye-witnesses, friends and peers that appear hazy when it comes to morals, ethics and doing the right thing. Scanlon's partner is surprisingly a female cop who works juvenile delinquents, but she's brought into the case as a disguise to allow Scanlon to appear that he is married and returning back home. Once Scanlon's dives into the details, he learns that all four murdered men were once his childhood friends. To solve the mystery, Scanlon recounts portions of his childhood to the reader in a race to find the killer.

At 80-pages, Killer Mine works well as a brisk police procedural. Like Mike Hammer, Scanlon is quick to violence, throwing his hefty girth around mobsters, hoodlums and whores to gain clues and information about the victims and the killer. Ultimately, whether any of it is interesting is probably based on your love of procedural books. While Killer Mine isn't a run 'n gun action extraordinaire, it's still compelling enough to turn the pages. As a good afternoon distraction, you could certainly do much worse.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app, PaperbackWarrior.com, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mike Hammer #02 - My Gun is Quick

Hardboiled crime novels reached a new height of popularity in the late 1940s. Many scholars and fans point to Mickey Spillane as a catalyst for this pop-culture phenomenon. His debut novel, I, the Jury, was published in 1947 and became an instant runaway bestseller. The book introduced the world to the iconic Mike Hammer, a fictional private-investigator who pursues bad guys mostly in New York City. Hammer is known for his physical rough 'n tumble, unorthodox style gained from his U.S. Army experience in WWII. Hammer's closest friend is Pat Chambers, the Captain of Homicide in the NYPD. Hammer also has a continuous, flirtatious affair with his secretary Velda throughout the series. While I struggled to fully enjoy I, the Jury and found it rather flat, I wanted to attempt another Mike Hammer novel to see if it produced a different reading experience. My selection is the second installment, My Gun is Quick.

The novel begins with Mike Hammer having coffee at a neighborhood diner. An attractive, yet homely, woman takes a seat beside Hammer and asks if he’d buy her a coffee. Hammer, never turning away female companionship, obliges despite warnings from the diner's owner. After a brief conversation Hammer learns that the unnamed woman, who Hammer later refers to as Red, was probably in the prostitution game and is in a really bad place. Hammer feels a great deal of compassion for the nice woman and offers her some money to set her life on track. Happily, she thanks Hammer and the two go their separate ways. The next morning, Hammer learns that the woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Hoping to help identify the woman, Hammer meets with Pat to examine the body. After finding some bruises and markings on the woman, Hammer suspects that she was actually murdered. Despite Pat's skepticism, Hammer starts investigating the woman's history and the events leading to her death after their chance meeting. The investigation takes Hammer into New York's call girl racket and a millionaire named Berin-Grotin. After Hammer learns about the girl's connection to one of Berin-Grotin's staff members, the wealthy businessman actually hires Hammer to investigate the murder further. Along the way, Hammer falls in love with a reformed call girl named Lola in some of the narrative's most effective scenes.

The first thing to know is that My Gun is Quick is a far superior novel to I, the Jury. While I'm sure Spillane and Hammer fans will disagree, Hammer is just way more dynamic in this novel. With I, the Jury, Mike Hammer is so deadpan. He's a gruff, loudmouthed detective that just came across as abrasive and crude. Further, in the series debut, Hammer really doesn't solve anything. Instead, the clues are nearly served to him on typewritten notes. Spillane's writing in My Gun is Quick provides so much texture to this character. Hammer is drawn to this unnamed woman with his client's voice is speaking to him from the grave. She's pleading for him to learn her identity and provide retribution for her death. The idea that Hammer may have caused her death by putting her back on the streets is just really clever writing. It's a brilliant, multifaceted narrative that has Hammer's pursuit of the killer as his own, personal attempt at forgiving himself.

My Gun is Quick is one of the best novels I've read of any genre. Mickey Spillane's masterful prose is saturated in gritty realism, emotional stress and a thick-laced, impending sense of doom throughout. If you read nothing else, please read this novel. My Gun is Quick is the quintessential masterpiece of hardboiled crime.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 39

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 39, we take a deep-dive into the crime fiction work of Wade Miller, including a review of “Kitten with a Whip.” A review of Mickey Spillane’s “My Gun is Quick” inspires a discussion of 1940s vs. 1950s crime fiction with lots of vintage paperback fun starring Eric and Tom! You can stream the show at below or listen on any podcast app. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 39: Wade Miller" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Bastard Bannerman

By 1964, crime fiction heavyweight Mickey Spillane was pushing millions of copies for his hard-nosed detective series 'Mike Hammer'. The 1947 debut, “I, the Jury”, exceeded six-million sales alone. It's no wonder that the magazine Saga, which debuted in 1959, would feature a 1964 issue declaring “New Mickey Spillane Mystery – Mickey at his Best”. The 65-page novella was “The Bastard Bannerman”, which later appeared in the Spillane compilation book “The Tough Guys” alongside “Kick It or Kill” (1963) and “The Seven Year Kill” (1964).

The first-person narrative features the bastard Bannerman, Cat Cay, returning home after two wars and a life better led elsewhere. His family are mobsters and Cay, being born out of wedlock, was the runt of the litter. The story follows Cay's investigative work as he learns more about who his family is tying in with now. Historically the Bannermans have been a strong empire that was feared and respected. Now, the family has fallen on dire straits and conducting business with what Cay thinks are criminals of the lower echelon. 

While all of that is engaging, the heart of the story is the death of Cay's friend. Spillane's original idea is brilliant – the knife used to kill his friend has Bannerman fingerprints all over it. However, the family's new business partners snatch the knife from the murder scene before the cops arrive. Now, they want the Bannermans to pay a million-dollars or they bring it to the police. It's a cool blackmail scheme that forces Cay to help his family despite their indifference.

Spillane writes at a slower pace, heavy on dialogue and the obligatory gangster talk like “rods” and “hot”. That seems a little dated even for 1964, but easily ignored. It's a fine Spillane story that delivers the goods. It's certainly entertaining enough to interest any crime fiction fan.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Everybody's Watching Me

“Manhunt Magazine” was a hardboiled crime fiction digest that first hit the shelves in January 1953. The first four issues featured a serialized short novel by Mickey Spillane called “Everybody’s Watching Me” that was also reprinted by Manhunt in 1955. The story runs about 100 pages and was brought back for yet another Manhunt encore in 1964 under the new title, “I Came to Kill You.” It exists today as an affordable eBook and a paperback reprint.

“Everybody’s Watching Me” isn’t a Mike Hammer story but instead is told by a young laborer named Joe who delivers a threatening message to a local gangster named Renzo from an enigmatic killer named Vetter. The mobster is a “kill the messenger” kinda guy who beats young Joe unconscious for the audacity of simply delivering the note.

The note is from the mysterious Vetter is taken seriously since he recently knocked off a mob underboss and has everyone in the underworld on edge. What is Vetter’s agenda? Is he a rival godfather looking to take over the local rackets? Renzo suspects that Joe knows more than he’s admitting regarding Vetter, and he has Joe followed by surveillance goons hoping that the kid will lead the mobster to Vetter.

Joe has no information to provide anyone about this “assassin of mobsters,” and he - along with a sexy showgirl he meets along the way - finds himself in the middle of underworld tensions and the police. All these concerned parties are hoping that the naive Joe will lead them to Vetter.

Despite a cool setup, the story of Joe running around both manipulating and being manipulated at the eye of a mafia storm isn’t all that compelling. However, the last scene of this novel is just awesome and features a plot twist that I never saw coming. Ultimately, I suppose it was worth the hundred pages of my attention.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mike Hammer #01 - I, the Jury

Like my review of the treasured '87th Precinct' series, I'm going in as both a series rookie and an intimidated literary critic for 'Mike Hammer'. Mickey Spillane's gritty, violent gumshoe was perhaps the last of the pulp fiction detectives. The series debuted in 1947 with “I, the Jury”, loosely influenced by Carrol John Daly's detective Race Williams. Spillane, who cut his teeth on comic books, originally intended Mike Hammer to be comic strip detective/hero Mike Danger. After failure to find a buyer, Spillane wisely transformed Danger to Hammer and wrote “I, the Jury” in six days. By 1953, it had sold over three-million copies.

Private detective Mike Hammer fought in the Pacific campaign of World War II. At the beginning of “I, the Jury”, Hammer walks onto a crime scene to see his friend and former war buddy Jack Williams lying in a pool of blood. Williams was belly shot with a .45 and died slowly as he crawled to his nearby rod (guns are frustratingly called rods). Hammer vows to find the killer and the novel's mystery is laid out within the first chapter.

My issue is that Hammer really contributes nothing terribly productive through the entirety of the book. He interviews a few suspects, has a mattress romp with a set of twins and seriously dates a psychiatrist named Charlotte. We're introduced to Hammer's quirky secretary Velda (who's obsessed with Hammer) and a police ally named Pat. Through a plodding narrative of character introductions, the reader can already nail the killer down. But Hammer is clueless, and bumbles his way through interviews while pointing guns at elevator attendants. His threats are seemingly meaningless and by the book's ending the killer's identity is practically plastered over each locale while Hammer chases cold leads. 

There's no doubt that the loud mouthed, profane Hammer is a catalyst for the more violent heroes we embraced in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Respect is intended and well earned...I just need to find a Hammer novel that reels me in. In surface research, the general consensus is that the series really takes off after this novel. I'll certainly attempt another read, but may switch my mindset to anticipate what I'm ultimately getting in a Hammer book. Chronologically, “I, the Jury” is followed by the Spillane abandoned novel “Lady, go Die”, which was written/finished by Max Allan Collins and published in 2012.