In a five year period, from 1947 to 1952 Mickey Spillane wrote six Mike Hammer novels. In that time period he became the biggest selling writer in the world. After completing his 6th Mike Hammer novel, Kiss Me Deadly, in 1952 he stopped writing anything for nine years except for a few hard-boiled short stories that were published by friends of his who edited some popular men’s magazines of the day.
During his nine-year hiatus he worked in a circus, on movie projects, and even as an actor. Spillane became a relative literary recluse, though not at all a cultural one.
There is much speculation that Spillane was more hurt by the moral and artistic storm of criticism his work engendered than he would ever let on. Only deep psychological distress in the end could possibly explain something as inexplicable as Spillane’s bizarre conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness religion during this period. It is as if Hugh Hefner suddenly decided to become Mormon.
This past week I reread Kiss Me Deadly, Spillane’s 6th and final novel of his “Golden Period.” Another Spillane novel I had not read for more than a decade and a half, it holds up well. It is Mickey Spillane after all.
Yet there are clear signs that Spillane and his fictional character are tiring. There is a “spark” that seems to be missing, or more appropriately for Spillane and Hammer, less rage to the fire. Detective and writer can no longer keep up the pace they have set. Between moments of brilliance, there are also lesser moments when both Hammer and Spillane seem to be just going through familiar motions. Not breaking new hard-boiled ground so much as rehearsing steps they both know by heart… dames and damage all too familiar.
Next week I will review I, The Jury… the novel that began everything. In the meantime, here are a few paragraphs of great lines from Chapter One of Kiss Me Deadly. As these lines show, Spillane can still write the hell out it when the artistic passion is there.