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Books–My Gun is Quick November 20, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, writing.

I got hooked on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels back when I was in my first semester of graduate school.  Back then, at Washington State University, LeRoy Ashby’s Post-1945 U.S. History course filled a rather large auditorium.  There had to be something like 150 students in the extremely popular class (which was offered as an undergraduate course with substantial additional work for graduate credit.  If I recall correctly, the additional work was an annotated bibliography of something like 25 books and essays, which had to be synopsized and critiqued in less than 180 words each.)

Anyway, one of Ashby’s mnemonic devices was to use people to symbolize various historical epochs.  This way the undergrads could remember their history better and the graduate students could discuss, at length, the benefits and shortcomings of various people in symbolizing an age.  For the 1950s Mike Hammer was a very memorable figure.  Violent, brutish, masculine, principled, profit-oriented, and fervently anti-communist, his character seemed to me to encapsulate American cultural forces to a “T.”

It was not so easy to read Spillane’s books at the time, though–1994.  There were few good bookstores in the Moscow-Pullman area.  Moscow’s excellent Bookpeople didn’t usually offer many used books, and I couldn’t really afford to buy fiction unrelated to the pursuit of a degree.  But I read a couple of them.  With Paperbackswap and Bookmooch, though, I have decided to fill in the gaps, and this is Spillane’s second novel, written right after I, the Jury. 

But you may be asking why.  Why fill in the gaps?  Surely this stuff isn’t as good as books coming out these days.  And this is true, of course.  But there are some things that can’t seem to be replicated.  There are some historical moments that produced such quirky brilliance that I don’t care if better is available elsewhere.  Sometimes you want to read stuff like this:

“He had an arm around her waist and was pulling out the stool next to her when I rolled the cigarette down between my fingers and flipped it.  The lit end caught him right in the eye and his sweet talk changed into a yelp of pain that dwindled off to a stream of curses.

The rest of the platoon came off the stools in a well-timed maneuver that was a second later than mine.  I walked around and kicked the wise guy right in the belly, so hard that he was puking his guts out before he hit the floor doubled up like a pretzel.  The platoon got back on their stools again without bothering to send a first-aid party out.

I bought Lola the next Martini myself.

The guy on the floor groaned, vomited again and Lola said, ‘let’s leave Mike.  I’m shaking so hard I can’t lift the glass.'”

What, she wants to leave?  Just because Mike ruined this guy?  Women!

And then there’s Mike’s philosophical musings. 

“It was a mess no matter how you looked at it, and it was getting messier all the time.  That’s why I was so sure.  Death is like a bad tooth . . . no matter what’s wrong with is, you pull it out and it’s all over.  That’s the way death usually is; after that people can talk all they want, they even do things for dead joes that they wouldn’t do for the living.  Death is nice and clean and antiseptic.  It ends all trouble.  Someone gathers up your belongings; says a word of praise, and that’s it.  But the readhead’s was a messy death.  There was something unclean about it, like a wound that has healed over on top, concealing an ugly, gestering sore brewing a deadly poison that will kill again.”

This is not his best work, not by a long shot.  But I loved it, nonetheless.

Next Up: Left Behind (the novel, this time)



1. imparare - April 15, 2007

Interesting comments.. :D

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