17 Jul 2006

Mickey Spillane (March 9, 1918 — July 17, 2006)

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From Vengeance is Mine (1950):

I palmed that short nosed .32 and laid it across his cheek with a crack that split the flesh open. He rocked back into his chair with his mouth hanging, drooling blood and saliva over his chin. I sat there smiling, but nothing was funny.

I said, “Rainey, you’ve forgotten something. You’ve forgotten that I’m not a guy that takes any crap. Not from anybody. You’ve forgotten I’ve been in business because I stayed alive longer than some guys who didn’t want me that way. You’ve forgotten that I’ve had some punks tougher than you’ll ever be on the end of a gun and I pulled the trigger just to watch their expressions change.”

He was scared, but he tried to bluff it out anyway. He said, “Why don’tcha try it now, Hammer? Maybe it’s different when ya don’t have a license to use a rod. Go ahead, why don’tcha try it?”

He started to laugh at me when I pulled the trigger of the .32 and shot him in the thigh. He said, “My God!” under his breath and grabbed his leg. I raised the muzzle of the gun until he was looking right into the little round hole that was his ticket to hell.

“Dare me some more, Rainey.”

AP reports that Frank Michael Morrison Spillane passed away yesterday at the age of 88 at his home at Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

He was born March 19, 1918 in Brooklyn, and grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Spillane began writing for the pulp magazines in high school. He briefly attended Kansas State Teachers’ College, but dropped out of college before long, and returned to New York, where he worked briefly as a sales clerk at Gimbel’s, then tried his hand at writing comic books.

With the outbreak of WWII, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he served principally as a fighter pilot instructor. He married for the first of three times in 1945. Returning to New York, after the war, he purchased a lot intending to build his own house. The first of the Mike Hammer mysteries, which made him world famous, was written to raise money for building material.

Spillane’s ultra-hard-boiled hero, his simple, no-nonsense prose carrying the flavor and cadences of the streets, and his readiness to push the contemporary limits of sexual description made his books ideal reading for the enormous potential market of working-class young men home from the war. He produced seven mystery novels between 1947 and 1952, which all sold in the millions of copies. Spillane quickly became one of the most financially successful writers of his day. He wrote seven of the top ten best-sellers of the 20th century.

The critical establishment thought little of Spillane’s prose style, and considered his lurid violence and inclination to celebrate vigilantism appalling, but he had one defender: Ayn Rand.

The Mike Hammer novels’ unvarnished patriotism, frankly expressed hatred of Communism, and utter lack of moral ambiguity endeared them to Rand. She probably didn’t mind the spectacular violence meted out by the tough detective to bad guys a bit either.

With Mickey Spillane we see the passing of one of the Last of the Mohicans, one of the last representatives of the WWII generation of genuinely masculine Americans, as a group, by and large much like Spillane’s own Mike Hammer: smart-mouthed and cynical, but equipped with an intransigent code of honor; quick with their fists, and always ready to come to the defense of women or the helpless; supremely competent, stoical, and strong; good men to have around in a fight or when a man’s work is needed to be done.

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