Showing posts with label Mike Hammer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Hammer. 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.

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,, 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.

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.