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.)
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...
(The entire section is 3,743 words.)