“The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.”
I continue reading Spillane. This week I re-read his 5th novel, The Big Kill, published in 1951, four years after I, the Jury.
The formula for The Big Kill is familiar to Mike Hammer fans. Hammer, drinking in a seedy bar, witnesses a murder and vows revenge. In the end, with the help of big, beautiful dames, a battered and beaten Hammer again prevails against evil and the D.A.
By his fifth novel, Spillane has learned a lot as a writer. An undisputed master of hard-boiled character and dialog, Spillane continues building on his legacy as an artist of noir mood and tone.
Between 1947 and 1952, Spillane wrote six Mike Hammer novels before he took a 10-year hiatus.
- I, the Jury (1947)
- My Gun is Quick (1950)
- Vengeance is Mine! (1950)
- One Lonely Night (1951)
- The Big Kill (1951)
- Kiss Me, Deadly (1952)
I have enjoyed these past few weeks re-reading and typing Spillane’s opening lines on my own Smith-Corona Super-Speed. As I assumed I would, I enjoyed typing the opening lines of The Big Kill the most.
The opening paragraphs of The Big Kill have long been one of my favorite openings to any book ever written. They are the kind of lines that I wish every hard-boiled book started with… hell, every book hard-boiled or not. They are enjoyable, fun to read, and quickly set the tone and mood for the reader. They are in two words, great writing. Two words that are not usually associated with Mickey Spillane.
Great writing is as difficult to define as it is to find. It is that rare perfect marriage of tone, mood, and method. It requires inspiration, genius, and a great deal of attention to detail and re-working of language.
Spillane’s sins as a writer are not in the commission of his art (He wrote I, the Jury in an astounding 19 days). They are clearly sins omission. Spillane is a literary mirror of his famous detective character: impulsive, elemental, mouthy, and tough. Mike Hammer does not sweat the details, he sweats the suspects… in fact, he beats the living hell out of them. And that is how Spillane writes.
Here is the beginning of The Big Kill.