Online auctions allow book-lovers to engage in what could be labeled “biblio-sharking.” Some poor sap needs to clear out his basement to make room for a foosball table or a Jacuzzi, and readers take his books for an extraordinary profit. While the seller may hesitate to dispose of their treasures, I’ll readily pay negligible sums to compensate him for his losses. So, if your rumpus room means more to you than fiction, please please please place your ads on Ebay.
Some poor mug did just that last week, allowing me to take home 18 detective novels for five clams and nominal shipping and handling charges. Because anthologies were included in the package, I scored twenty-four books for about thirty cents apiece. Ed Biblioklept, kept busy for weeks at a time supervising hooligans and future delinquents of America, has granted me permission to review one of my purchases, the New American Library’s collection of Mickey Spillane’s first three Mike Hammer novels—I, the Jury, My Gun is Quick, and Vengeance is Mine.
Spillane sold hundreds of millions of detective and spy stories during a long career, and the Hammer stories guaranteed him an interested and rabid following. Although private dick Mike Hammer finds himself in any number of slippery situations, Spillane’s central character, rather than any individual plot twist, is what makes these stories both convincing and compelling.
Hammer is the archetypal square-jawed detective, but he demands that you listen to his recollections of a case because he’s clever, resourceful, and vulgar. Although indelicate by today’s standards, Hammer is a tough guy for his times, beguiling dames who are used to getting just what they want, burning through decks of unfiltered Luckies, and drinking brandy for breakfast. What’s timeless, though, is his belief that bad guys are afforded too many protections by an impotent system of justice and that once all the pieces are put together, one extraordinary man performs a public service by putting a few slugs in the guts of murderers. In each of these stories Hammer begins unraveling the mysteries only after someone close to him has been killed.
This was the first collection of detective stories I’ve ever finished, and each page dragged me further into a black and white world filled with villains, vixens, and corrupt politicians. The reader becomes an unpaid extra in a B-level film noir.
Hammer explained to me, a snob, the enduring popularity of the literary detective: “You’ve forgotten that 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.” Mind what you think.