Sunday, July 23, 2006

Yet More Mickey

Although they come five days after Mickey Spillane’s death, two pieces in today’s Los Angeles Times remain worthy reads. The first, “On a Mickey Spillane Thrill Ride Through Life,” is a wonderful expansion of a tribute Max Allan Collins (Road to Paradise) wrote for Sarah Weinman’s blog. In it, Collins remembers how, as a boy of 13, during a family vacation, he ventured into a newsstand in America’s “heartland” to buy a Spillane paperback:
Back home, at Cohn’s Newsland, I’ve been eyeing the lurid covers of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels--“I, the Jury,” which ends with a striptease (“And she was a real blonde!”) and “Kiss Me, Deadly” (“The flames were teeth that ate, ripping and tearing!”). Back home I didn’t dare a purchase. Here I risked “One Lonely Night,” with its cover of a mostly nude damsel, her wrists bound, hanging helpless.

“How old are you?” the vendor asks.


“Are you sure?”

I throw down 35 cents and soon am devouring fever-dream prose in the backseat of a Pontiac. The vacation, I forget. The ride of the Spillane novel stays with me.
(This reminds me of the time, as a pubescent nerd in the early 1970s, that I went to buy a paperback copy of Spillane’s The Erection Set, the standalone novel fronted by a photo of the author’s second wife, model Sherri Malinou, naked. As I stood in line at the sales counter, I was relieved to see a teenage boy not so many years older than I was, manning the cash register. But then, as the customer right before me completed her purchase, the teen was suddenly replaced by an older woman with half reading glasses strung around her neck and a face so pinched that it probably restricted her breathing. I thought I would die from shame, as she pulled from my reluctant grasp what I was sure she presumed to be a soft-core porn novel. She didn’t whistle up any cops, but as she took my money and bagged the book, the cashier shot me a glance I’m sure she reserved for sexual deviants and habitual wearers of miniskirts.)

In an accompanying Times piece, “A Shot to the Gut of Fiction,” novelists Robert B. Parker, George Pelecanos, and Janet Evanovich are asked to assess Spillane’s influence on modern crime fiction. But the best quote may actually come from the article’s author, Scott Martelle, who at one point muses on “the coldblooded toughness of Spillane’s work”:
[I]t’s likely that had Spillane not spilled the literary blood, someone else would have. Art is propelled by its edges, and about the only edge left to the genre [in the 1950s] was to make it sharper, and harder. In that regard, Spillane was to detective fiction what punk would later become to pop music--a hard kick at the door of social convention that in retrospect seems inevitable.

Both punk and Spillane coarsened their art forms but also centered them. In
[Dashiell] Hammett’s books, scant sexual encounters were mostly implied. In Spillane’s books, the sex was overt, often more an act of aggression than love. And when Spillane’s characters were shot, they bled painfully and profusely.
Based on this, a cheeky chap might wish to tack an addendum onto Raymond Chandler’s statement, from “The Simple Art of Murder,” in which he says that “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse ...” Spillane, in turn, gave the kind of people who commit murder permission to do so without either guilt or emotion. “I, the Jury” means never having to say you’re sorry.

READ MORE:Mickey Spillane Wrote Here,” by Alexa James (Times Herald-Record).

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