Mickey Spillane was a phenomenon of popular culture. His twenty-three novels, particularly the Mike Hammer titles, had international sales of more than 225 million copies. Of the top ten best-selling fictional works published between 1920 and 1980, seven were Spillane’s, and in the detective-fiction genre few have exceeded his sales. Spillane can attribute part of his popularity to having created in Mike Hammer the quintessential avenger-crusader. Criminal cases in which Hammer becomes involved are personal. Usually the slaying of an old buddy or of a small-timer whom he has encountered and liked prompts him to saddle up, lock, and load. His vengeance is violent, direct, and—compared to that dispensed by the courts—swift. A raw, hangman’s justice is realized—illegally, but not without some assistance from the law. Readers are also treated to whole squads of sexually uninhibited women who find Hammer, or his counterparts in other books, Tiger Mann or Gillian Burke, irresistible.
The appeal of Spillane’s novels lies in their blunt-force narration, the hero’s direct assault on his enemies, and sexual encounters that were, in their time, shocking for their brutishness and frequency. Spillane’s loose plotting, scant characterizations, and violent resolutions have a comic book’s color and directness, allowing readers to vicariously indulge in personally exacting justice without the niceties of due process. He popularized pulp fiction in a way it had not been popularized previously, in fact almost single-handedly driving the phenomenal growth of the paperback original and gaining an audience that included those who did not generally read books and those who read lots of books—they all read Mickey Spillane.