Mickey Spillane Spillane, Mickey (Vol. 13) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Spillane, Mickey 1918–

An American writer of tough-guy mystery suspense novels, Spillane is one of the world's best-selling novelists. Although his fiction is attacked by critics for its gratuitous violence, and its demeaning portrayal of women, its fast-paced plots and uncomplicated philosophy have earned Spillane millions of readers. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Kay Weibel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

No doubt one reason for the popularity of the early Spillane novels lies in their close mirroring of cultural attitudes of the 1950's. Spillane's treatment of women is particularly significant, moreover, since the hard-boiled detective formula, of which Spillane is the master seller, is the first fictional formula for men to focus explicitly on sexual relationships between men and women. In order to understand the importance of Spillane's definition of women, however, it is first necessary to view the novels as reflectors of fifties' attitudes in general.

Six of Spillane's first seven books have as their protagonist Private Eye Mike Hammer. Mike is a war hero who has rechanneled his violent energies into cleaning up criminal activities in New York City. As opposed to other detectives in the hard-boiled tradition, however, including Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer and most television crime detectives, Mike Hammer does not actually solve his crimes. In fact, Spillane's Hammer novels are not really about crime detection; they are about war. Mike Hammer is a one-man war machine. He has the blind ideological faith in his cause that warring armies have. He is on the side of righteousness, and the city he is attacking, and by inference everyone in it, is evil. The perpetrators of the crime Mike is allegedly solving are always members of a large corrupt group or organization, and Mike merely maims or kills off everybody who is implicated in the group's activities. The last person left standing is presumed most guilty by Mike in the monologue he delivers before the final execution. Significantly, this last person is almost always female.

It is not surprising or unusual that popular fiction written in a postwar decade should be about war…. The Spillane version of war, however, is a highly glamorized one, in which the impossibility of the hero's defeat is always understood. Though the wartime ethic and wartime activities are retained, the wartime setting is altered. Mike Hammer's war is against inner city New York. (pp. 114-15)

In general, the imagery associated with the city is bleak. In One Lonely Night, Mike thinks after coming out of a Communist Party meeting, "The street was the same as before, dark, smelly, unaware of the tumor it was breeding in its belly."… Furthermore, much of the action in the novels takes place in inclement weather—usually rain or snow. Mike also makes constant reference to the congested crowds in the New York streets and to the constant din of street noises.

In his hatred of the big city, Mike reflects attitudes that cultural indicators show to be common in the 1950's. The fifties witnessed a massive movement out of large cities and into outlying suburban areas. (p. 115)

In Spillane, crime is always linked to another phenomenon of the fifties: fear of the large organization. Publicity of Communist and of Mafia activity stressed the corrupt and near-invulnerable power that a tight organization can wield. Mike, who frequently refers to himself as a one-man gang, fights the giant organization on his own, successfully bringing down major arms of the Communist Party of America (One Lonely Night), the Mafia (Kiss Me, Deadly), an international terrorist organization (The Girl Hunters), and three blackmailing rings (I, The Jury, The Big Kill, and Vengeance Is Mine). Johnny McBride, hero of The Long Wait, overthrows a small town gambling boss, his gang and the banker/embezzler they all take orders from.

Convinced of the evil of his enemies, Mike himself is full of the power of positive thinking. In his self-assurance, Mike reflects the belief of Americans in general in the post-war decade that God and justice were on the American side…. In his righteousness and his sense of superior justice, Mike considers...

(The entire section is 1594 words.)

R. Jeff Banks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One only need remember that rebellion is not the exclusive property of the Left in this or any other country to feel no surprise that it is a strong feature of the works of the most popular fiction writer on the Right. Practically all of Mickey Spillane's heroes are anti-Establishment in sentiment, often outspoken in their views, and sometimes activist. The actions taken range from such petty harassment of a police officer as smashing his cigars by a carefully planned accident, through threatening bodily harm to a whole station house full of policemen, some of whom have been attempting to prove to the hero just how "tough" they are, to the actual killing of policemen in three of the stories. (pp. 124-25)

Through all the [Mike] Hammer books there are bad relations between the hero and successive District Attorneys, but generally the detective is on good terms with the New York City Police Department, especially as it is represented by his oldest and best friend Capt. Pat Chambers….

We may begin by assuming that the conflicts between Hammer and any District Attorney are little more than an observation by Spillane of one of the familiar conventions of the Hard-boiled detective story. Petty harassments on both sides and shouted exchanges of insults are entertaining to Spillane's millions of readers, but with rare exceptions they are "gut issues" for neither Hammer nor Spillane.

When Pat Chambers has Hammer followed, as he does in I, the Jury, the detective makes a little game of making the police look ridiculous…. Whenever his activities bring him into contact with police who are merely doing their job and not infringing upon his rights, he performs as a docile good citizen. (p. 125)

Relations with federal officers are less easygoing. This is due in large part to the wholehearted acceptance by both Spillane and Hammer, along with Chambers and most of Hammer's other friends, of McCarthyism as a political philosophy. This is most apparent among the early works in One Lonely Night. However, McCarthyism permeates almost every novel and shorter story Spillane has published. (pp. 125-26)

Hammer's first description of the federal agents prominent in Kiss Me, Deadly shows respect for their organization and its reputation. Almost immediately, however, his attitude changes to jealous guardianship of his own rights, including the all-important one of revenge. He stops just short of threatening the F.B.I. men, but otherwise the exchange is not unlike those already mentioned with various District Attorneys. (p. 126)

In destroying one very serious Communist menace with both foreign and domestic agents ranged against him in One Lonely Night, Hammer uses characteristic violence. There is characteristic audacity too in his brief, spur-of-the-moment masquerade as an F.B.I. man in Chapter 10. A Spillanean kind of poetic justice appears in Hammer's mass execution of Reds with an F.B.I. tommy gun. He even comments on the "cover-up" that this will eventually make necessary….

In Chapter 6 [of Survival Zero] Hammer's self-identification as someone the people "living on the perimeter of normalcy" (These are specifically enumerated as including prostitutes, the indigent aged and denizens of a Lower-Lower class bar, but presumably include all the picturesque types that writers of this genre have used to enliven their works since at least the early work of Hammett.) would be willing to talk to in preference to the police, because "I was one of them," opens a possible further insight to the relationship of Spillane's heroes to the Establishment. (p. 127)

[Hammer's] personal creed of being worse than the worst at their own game is present to some degree in most of the Hammer stories, indeed in most of Spillane, and along with actions designed to prove it, it provides a major objection on the part of the literati to Spillane's works. (p. 128)

The new and larger group of Spillane thrillers began in 1961 with one of his most peculiar books and (up to that time) heroes.

The title character of The Deep is a grown-up juvenile delinquent returning to his old territory after 25 years to claim control of the area segment of the underworld following the murder of a boyhood chum who had been the local crime czar. (pp. 128-29)

Motivated by knowledge of Deep's past and what he seems to be at present, ultra-tough police sergeant Hurd gives him the beginnings of a stereotyped "third degree" in Chapter 8, complete with a quick beating. However, the hero does well in the physical exchange, and in the surprise ending it is Hurd who first officially recognizes Deep as a superior in the New York City Police Department. Surely here we have the very type of Norman Mailer's hoodlum-policeman, who is just as surely represented by Hammer in the private detective role. (p. 129)

Shortly after the "rebirth" of Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters in 1962, Spillane introduced a new series hero, Tiger Mann. He...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)