Book Review: Vengeance is Mine!, by Mickey Spillane

VengeanceisMine-183x300Inspired by my purchase and use of a Smith-Corona Super-Speed I have been re-reading Mickey Spillane. And re-typing his opening paragraphs.

I am not sure how long I can keep re-reading Spillane without a break. His darkness needs to be taken in small doses, balanced by something with less shadow and more hope. But I think I have enough balance to try a go at least one or two more. Only time will tell.

This week I re-read Spillane’s third novel Vengeance is Mine whose plot can be summed up as: Mike Hammer revenges the death of an old Army buddy in a violent and politically incorrect way that only a Mickey Spillane novel can. And Spillane can be as violent and politically incorrect as anybody. In our hyper-sensitive, no-sense-of-humor-anymore age, that is part of the “fun” of reading Spillane. He is a true subversive.

I have written previously about Spillane here at MontanaWriter, but since that was more than two years ago and readers change, I am going to re-quote myself here (always a dangerous thing). Also besides the great first paragraph of Vengeance is Mine!, I have added some favorite lines from the novel as well.



On Mickey Spillane

One of my pet peeves in life (and, admittedly, I  do have many) is people who want you to make coffee very strong so that when they put cream and sugar in it, it will still taste like coffee. They like to say things like, “I want my coffee strong enough to float a railroad spike on it,” or, “ I can’t stand it weak coffee.” Social convention and politeness permit me at times like that from pointing out the obvious: if you really like coffee so much, why the hell do you put cream and sugar in it?! Real coffee drinkers drink coffee black. And if you don’t put cream and sugar in it… it doesn’t have to be so goddamn dark!

Mickey Spillane is strong, black coffee. It is hard-boiled detective fiction straight, no cream or sugar, no bullshit…. And just like strong, black coffee, Spillane is an acquired taste. And once acquired… you are hooked for life.

It took me three false starts with I, The Jury (Spillane’s first novel, and stylistically his least crafted) before I was able to complete it. Just like it took me a bit of time before I could drink a whole cup of coffee.  But by the time I finished I, The Jury, I was ready to start the next… and the next…

Spillane once said, “My work may be garbage, but it’s good garbage.” I would say it this way: “Spillane may not be great literature or great writing, but it is great something.” It is great lines and great action. It is single-minded and driven. It is addictive.

One of Spillane’s undeniable talents is in creating great and memorable lines. Lines that hit you in the face like the first cup of coffee on the morning after. He has written some of my all time favorite opening paragraphs. Paragraphs that tell you exactly what book you are reading and how much you are going to enjoy it.

As readers we have all had the experience of literary bait and switch – books with great opening lines and great beginnings that quickly fall flat once the initial rush is gone. Or books that promise a direction or tone that never fully materialize. You never get that with Spillane. What he promises, is what he delivers.


Vegance is Mine!


Some more great lines from Vengeance Is Mine!


I said something nasty. My tongue was still thick and unco-ordinated, but he knew what I meant. I said it twice until he was sure to get it.
* * * * * * * * * *

“You could keep your trap closed, couldn’t you?” “No!” I licked the dryness from my lips and stuck a cigarette in my mouth. “He’s been ready for me too long now. The jerk was happy to give me the shaft.”
“So you’re out of business.”
“Yeah. I’ll open up a grocery store.”
* * * * * * * * * *

I lit another cigarette and pushed my hat back on my head. “You’ll never know how real funny it actually is, kid. You see, only one bullet killed Chester Wheeler. I always carry six in the clip and when Pat emptied it out there were only four of them.”

Velda was watching me with the tip of her tongue clenched between her teeth. There wasn’t any kitten-softness about her now. She was big and she was lovely, with the kind of curves that made you want to turn around and have another look. The lush fullness of her lips had tightened into the faintest kind of snarl and her eyes were the carnivorous eyes you could expect to see in the jungle watching you from behind a clump of bushes.
* * * * * * * * * *

I dialed two numbers. The second got my man. He was a private investigator the same as I used to be except that he was essentially honest and hard-working. His name was Joe Gill and he owed me a favor that he and his staff could begin repaying as of now.
* * * * * * * * * *

I said very bluntly, “I don’t like models. Too flat-chested.”

Anton was beginning to look amazed when she came out from behind the props, this time with shoes on too. “’Tain’t me you’re talkin’ about, podner.” An unlit cigarette was dangling from her mouth. “Got a light?”
* * * * * * * * * *

I heard him announce my name but I didn’t catch what he said because my mind couldn’t get off the woman behind the desk. Some women are beautiful, some have bodies that make you forget beauty; here was a woman who had both. Her face had a supernatural loveliness as if some master artist had improved on nature itself. She had her hair cut short in the latest fashion, light tawny hair that glistened like a halo. Even her skin had a creamy texture, flowing down the smooth line of her neck into firm, wide shoulders. She had the breasts of youth—high, exciting, pushing against the high neckline of the white jersey blouse, revolting at the need for restraint. She stood up and held her hand out to me, letting it slip into mine with a warm, pleasant grip. Her voice had a rich vibrant quality when she introduced herself, but I was too busy cursing the longer hemlines to get it. When she sat down again with her legs crossed I stopped my silent protests of long dresses when I saw how tantalizingly nice they could mold themselves to the roundness of thighs that were more inviting when covered. Only then did I see the name-plate on the desk that read JUNO REEVES. Juno, queen of the lesser gods and goddesses. She was well named.
* * * * * * * * * *

We ate supper in a Chinese joint on Times Square. The place was crowded but nobody had eyes for the meal; they were all focused on Connie including mine and I couldn’t blame them any. If low-cut gowns were daring, then she took the dare and threw it back at them.
* * * * * * * * * *

The Bowery, a street of people without faces. Pleading voices from the shadows and the shuffle of feet behind you. An occasional tug at your sleeve and more pleading that had professional despair in the tone. An occasional woman with clothes too tight giving you a long, steady stare that said she was available cheap. Saloon doors swung open so frequently they seemed like blinking lights. They were crowded, too. The bars were lined with the left-overs of humanity keeping warm over a drink or nursing a steaming bowl of soup.
* * * * * * * * * *

The sky had clouded over putting a bite in the air. Here and there a car coming in from out of town was wearing a top hat of snow. I pulled in to a corner restaurant and had two cups of coffee to get the chill out of my bones, then climbed back in the car and cut across town to my apartment where I picked up my topcoat and gloves. By the time I reached the street there were gray feathers of snow in the air slanting down through the sheer walls of the building to the street.
* * * * * * * * * *

A girl I thought I had put out of my mind and forgotten completely in a wild hatred that could never be equaled. She was a blonde, a very yellow, golden blonde. She was dead and I made her that way. I killed her because I wanted to and she wouldn’t stay dead.

I looked down at my hands and they were shaking violently, the fingers stiffened into talons that showed every vein and tendon.

“Mike … ?” The voice was different. It was Juno and now that I knew what it was I could stop shaking. The gold was out of her hair.
* * * * * * * * * *

Mike,” she said. “Smoke?”

I shook my head and worked the next to last one out of my crumpled pack. Outside at the bar somebody stuck a nickel in the jukebox and managed to hit a record that didn’t try to take your ears off. It was something sweet and low-down with a throaty sax carrying the melody, the kind of music that made you want to listen instead of talk. When the cocktails came we picked them up together. “Propose a toast, Mike.”

Her eyes shone at me over the glass. “To beauty,” I said, “To Olympus. To a goddess that walks with the mortals.”
* * * * * * * * * *

Outside, the snow had started again. There was no wind, so it drifted down lazily, sneaking up on the city to catch it by surprise. What few stragglers were left on the street stuck close to the curb and looked back over their shoulders for taxis.