Sunday, October 4, 2009

You Might Be In A Spillane Novel If...

by Mike Knowles

You might be a redneck if… You think "loading the dishwasher" means getting your wife drunk.

Jeff Foxworthy has hundreds of these lines and whenever you think you’re bored of hearing them one catches you off guard and you chuckle. I think the laugh comes from the thought that no matter how ridiculous they are, you know there is a kernel of truth buried somewhere in that short line.

Foxworthy came to mind this week when I was thinking about Mickey Spillane. I have to come up with a new title for my next book because the one I chose was already taken by a book about S & M. I thought about Spillane this week because my favourite title is his I, the Jury. The book introduces Spillane’s most famous character, Mike Hammer. Hammer is no redneck, but he is sort of ridiculous. I applied Foxworthy to Spillane and this is what I came up with:

You might be in a Spillane novel if…

You just murdered several gangsters, in front of witnesses, and got off without losing your private eye license.

Most of the Mike Hammer stories revolve around revenge. Someone Mike is protecting usually dies and he immediately shifts into his default personality: alpha male death machine. Mike Hammer will then proceed to chase down, and kill, everyone in his path with zero fear of the law. There are instances where he is hauled in front of a judge, but Mike always walks out free and clear with the DA clenching his teeth and promising to get him next time. Mike Hammer is the Roadrunner to the DA’s Wylie Coyote. Mike amasses a body count somewhere in the high double digits and seems to get off by the skin of his teeth every time. The DA never learns, he just puts out a bigger trap and waits for the anvil to fall on his head again.

You frequently visit the police station to put down a high ranking police official and to taunt him about your upcoming crimes.

Mike Hammer’s best friend is Captain Pat Chambers and in almost every book he warns Mike to leave the business of catching the bad guy to the police. Mike always responds with something surly. He then goes on to explain that he wasn’t listening to what his friend has just said, because he is already planning to murder whoever wronged him. Imagine if you tried this. You see a murder and wait for the police to show up. Just about the time the cops finish the chalk outline, put up the tape, and start interviewing witnesses you walk right through the tape (not under, through) and tell the police that you saw the whole thing, but you’re not going to tell them anything. When they ask why, you promptly show them the butt of your .45 Colt automatic and then start verbally abusing the cops and spouting off about how the gun in your pocket is going to be what gets justice. I’m no lawyer, but if you managed to skate on the withholding evidence charge, I’m pretty sure you’d end up speaking into a nightstick or at least on the business end of a taser before the eventual arrest and trial. The real world isn’t all that kind to smart-mouth sociopaths.

You are a receptionist who has been saving herself for two decades (at least) for a man who behaves like a sailor on payday.

Mike Hammer’s assistant Velda is a private eye herself. She runs Mike’s office and spends her free moments staring at him in hopes he might notice her. She is described as the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth, blessed with brains, fashion sense, and tons of guts. Mike knows she loves him, knows she’s saving herself for him, and he flirts with her constantly. But instead of making it legal with the girl, Mike goes out and boinks whatever women he is investigating. Mike Hammer is the Captain Kirk of private eyes. Every woman he seems to bump into is a goddess who moonlights a nympho with a thing for violent deadbeats. The parade of women never ends and to make things worse, the super smart and sassy assistant just lets him slide.

Even though the Spillane novels have a lot of things in them that you need to suspend your common sense for, you never seem to really take notice of it until you put the book down. While you’re reading Spillane, Mike Hammer’s actions seem like the most normal thing in the world. It’s only after you threaten your neighbour, mouth off to 5-0, and cheat on your wife that you realize no one could ever get away with anything Spillane put on paper.

I know these things now and what it has taught me is that a hiatus every so often to Spillane’s world is a welcome treat. It’s the one of the most visceral literary worlds I have ever been to and if it was possible I would get a season pass because sometimes it feels good to watch the good guy play dirtier than the bad guy and get away with it.


Dana King said...

I re-read I, THE JURY a couple of years ago, with the same effect. Even as I was reading it, I was thinking how much like a comic book some of Hammer's dialog sounds, and how much he gets away with. I still couldn't put it down.

Mickey Spillane is to modern crime fiction what Arnold Palmer is to golf.

Travener said...

Very funny post, and all too true!

Tosser said...

Yeah, that's the life!

Dave White said...

Great, fun post. Thanks Mikes.

Max Allan Collins said...

I hope you'll watch for THE BIG BANG next spring. It's the second Hammer novel I've completed from an unfinished Spillane manuscript (with notes). As proud as I am of THE GOLIATH BONE, it was the work of Mickey at the end of his life, after time and religion had mellowed him. THE BIG BANG is a 1964 novel and vintage Hammer -- touching on all your "You might be in a Spillane novel if's."

Mike Knowles said...

Having Max Allan Collins comment on my blog officially made my day.