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.
Banks, R. Jeff. “Spillane’s Anti-Establishmentarian Heroes.” In Dimensions in Detective Fiction, edited by Larry N. Landrum, Pat Browne, and Ray B. Browne. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1976.
Cawelti, John G. “The Spillane Phenomenon.” In Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Collins, Max Allan, and James L. Traylor. One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984. Discusses Hammer’s controversial appeal in detail. Collins was an early champion of Spillane and has done much to rehabilitate the author’s critical reputation.
Fetterley, Juddith. “Beauty as the Beast: Fantasy and Fear in I, the Jury.” Journal of Popular Culture 8 (1975): 775-782. Psychoanalyzes Hammer’s dilemma upon discovering that a sadistic murderer is a sexy woman.
Haut, Woody. Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1995. Discusses Spillane’s antileftist appeal. This somewhat older work supplements the more recent Gumshoe America.
Johnson, Richard W. “Death’s Fair-Haired Boy.” Life, June 23, 1952, 79ff. Presents Spillane’s personality.
Knight, Stephen. Crime Fiction, 1800-2000: Detection, Death, Diversity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Spillane receives considerable attention in Knight’s chapter “The American Version,” in which he describes the influence of the pulps and early hard-boiled detective fiction on the genre.
La Farge, Christopher. “Mickey Spillane and His Bloody Hammer.” In Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957. Vicious early criticism of Spillane.
McCann, Sean. Gumshoe America: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000. Places Spillane amid sociopolitical movements democratizing but degenerating American culture. Hammer is seen as embodying American rugged individualism at a time when patriotism and hard justice were being subverted by liberalism.
McLellan, Dennis. “Mickey Spillane, 1918-2006: A Simple Plot—Violence, Sex, and Royalty Checks.” Los Angeles Times , July...
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