Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meet the new Spillane, same as ...

When you want to unwind with some relaxing reading while crossing Delaware Bay, the only choice is Mickey Spillane.

Dead Street, published by Hard Case Crime, brought near completion by Spillane, and finished by Max Allan Collins based on Spillane's notes, is Spillane's final crime novel.

It's a non-Mike Hammer book set in our time (People think of Spillane as a 1950s author, but he wrote almost to the end of his life, in 2006). Despite the contemporary setting, Spillane and his retired cop protagonist yearn for their Hammeresque past as hard as the book's central figure yearns to recapture the memory she had lost in a car crash twenty years before.

Thus the protagonist, Jack Stang, as he hears the unlikely tale of the woman's survival:
"My hand was on the .45 now. My thumb flipped off the leather snap fastener and eased the hammer back. If this was a pathetic jokester he was about to die at this last punch line."
Stang finds a pipe, "the sort rich little slobs liked to tote around to puff on weed or hash."   There's even a reference to "what used to be called un-American activities." Coming from Spillane, that sounds positively nostalgic.

Cape May Welcome Center
So,  if the book is full of Spillane's well-ripened political and cultural views, how do we know that the story takes place in our time rather than Mike Hammer's? How's this for a zinger:
"`I hear fancy apartments are going in.'
"`Yeah. And guess who's behind it?'
"Another stupid little surprise, I supposed. `Tell me.' 
"`A Saudi investment group.' 
"`Only seems fair.'
"`Yeah?'
 "`They took down two buildings, didn't they? Ought to put up a few.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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36 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

That's a great line.

You didnt make it out to Dogfish Head on this trip?

That would be like going to Perth and not visiting Little Creatures.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

I re-read I THE JURY a few years ago. Today, with all the crime fiction I've read as context, it almost comes across as a caricature, until I remembered how much of what came after were attempts to cash in on what Spillane had done first.

In his way, he was like Beethoven. Once he published, crime writing could never be the same. He had to be taken into account.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, the Dogfish Head brewery was a bit out of the way for me to fit into my schedule for a tour, and the pub was too crowded when I looked in. I did have a 60 Minute IPA with dinner one night.

I wonder how many writers could get away with a 9/11 joke like that.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I've read just one Spillane novel, My Gun Is Quick, which I liked so much that I bought an omnibus containing three of his novels. The political rants in one were like listening to a hyperactive drunk pontificate at a bar, so I stopped reading.

But there's something quite touching about all the yearning for the past in this book. The protagonist returns to see his old street gradually dying, and the blind woman I mentioned was his lost lover, whom he had mourned for dead. And no shots have been fired in about 130 pages.

October 27, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I've always detested Spillane.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You and many others, a phenomenon Max Allan Collins notes in an afterword.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, Spillane was easily parodied, that's for sure. I'd like to hear Max Allan Collins or some other Spillane expert say what he thinks Spillane did that his imitators did not do.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

IJ

Any man who gets murdered in Columbo is ok by me.

And by Jack Cassidy no less.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Spillane's language, shocking and degenerate in its day, is curiously tame by today's standards. Even in Dead Street, published in 2007, I don't remember coming across anything that would be considered a curse word today.

Spillane, rooted in the 1950s, even offers an amusing update of what would have been considered shocking then:

"Bettie just stood there smiling in her see-through nightie, her untrimmed delta a refreshing pleasure in these days of bizarre pubic buzz cuts."

October 27, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Adrian, is that the TV show Columbo? Rather repetitive, but with a memorable protagonist. Don't recall the episode. Tongue-in-cheek, I take it.

Peter, it's not the language I detest. It's the protagonist leaning the girl against the wall in a doorway to have sex. A totally demeaning act toward women.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., this character's attitude toward the story's female lead is a good deal more tender than that, even in the occasional sex scene. The closest it gets to the old Mike Hammer is a scene that narrator describes as something like "We started gently. Then she wanted more" and so on -- nothing but a vague echo of what Spillane was (or is supposed to have been).

October 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

IJ

You've never leant a girl against a doorway and had sex with her? Only the missionary eh? By the way what is Salem like this time of year?

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blimey, I wonder what I.J.'s husband will think when he reads that.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

IJ's a sheila? Strewth...

I.J.

Don't knock until you try it...

October 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, her name's Ingrid.

October 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Ingrid. Ok, now I understand.

No offence Ingrid. Up against the wall may not be your cup of tea.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have a feeling Spillane might have mellowed in old age. No women have been mistreated so far in Dead Street, and the political rants are kept to a low boil, unlike the exploding pressure cooker of the one older Spillane novel that I stopped reading.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That same I.J., you may recall, was a fellow contributor to Tim Hallinan's Japan earthquake book.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And she sets her novels in Heian Japan, when I'm not sure traditional housing construction offered people sturdy walls against which to have sex. I mean, you wouldn't want to ruin perfectly good shoji or fusuma just for the dubious possibility of a moment of fleeting pleasure, would you?

October 28, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You're making good points. Those walls are not going to take the pressure. You'd just go right through wouldn't you?

Personally I find this much more offensive.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cPi3xVRr10

How can you take the man seriously after something like that?

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

With those commercial in mind, I've wondered more than once as I read this book what Spillane and his protagonists would have thought about American microbrews: pretentious stuff for rich slobs, or evidence of American superiority?

October 28, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I dont know. I cant defend him anymore. Miller Lite? There are some things a man should not stoop to.

And no Irene that's not another bang me against the wall reference, get your mind out of the gutter!

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, you asked how one could take Spillane seriously after those commercials. By that time, he was obviously not taking himself seriously. And, while he did make fun of his persona and reputation in Dead Street, he certainly did throw them an amused wink or two, one of which I mention in my newest post.

October 28, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

LOL! That was excellent. Men! And Spillane is still alive?

Leaning women against the wall may suggest dramatic urgency, but it does nothing for giving the female a sense of commitment on the part of the man. He clearly has other more important things on his mind.

As for Japanese love-making: Have a look at shunga, the traditional sex instruction books with wooodcut illustrations of positions. No leaning against walls, but certainly proof of appreciation of the possibilities.
(and typically male exaggeration)

October 28, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Funnily enough I've just watched Robert Aldrich's film noir Masterpiece 'Kiss Me Deadly' last week for the first time in about ten years and I was delighted to find that it was even better than I'd remembered it.
On this occasion I was watching with the Criterion disc commentary turned on and was interested to hear that Spillane hated it which might be down to the script having something of a feminist slant.

The only Spillane/Hammer book I've read is 'I, The Jury' which I thought was a fun fast-paced read, although very much of its time.
Which leads me to believe any current or recent novels would be something of an anachronism.

I definitely plan to read 'Kiss Me Deadly' soon, though, if for no other reason that it will provide me with another excuse to watch the film

what does 'boxinged' mean?: presumably its distinct from K.O'ed???

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., Spillane died in 2006. This may surprise many people who associate him so strongly with the 1950s.

I have seen many examples of Japanese erotic prints, and I know well the anatomical exaggeration of which they were capable. I guess Japanese artists reserved naturalism for birds, fish, and flowers.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, is Kiss Me Deadly the movie that ends with that nuclear weirdness? Dead Street has a faint echo of this. Yeah, Spillane was a man of his time, all right, though the Toby Keith/Lee Greenwood-level "patriotism" of Dead Street is oddly in tune with more recent sentiments.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Thats the one, Peter.

Interestingly enough I only just noticed for the first time that one of my favourite character actors, - particularly for his roles in Westerns, - Strother Martin, had a small part in the film

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The movie made me want to read the novel. There's no way the book's ending could have been that freaking weird.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, IJ

The woodcut with the octopus is certainly proof if proof were needed of a highly erotic Japanese imagination.

And the love hotels of course. Christmas is a lot of things but sexy is not one of them. And yet Tokyo has several Christmas themed love hotels. That takes a kind of sick genius...

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, weren't the love hotels a response to the lack of space in everyday accommodations?

October 28, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And I read a stat the other day that 40% of Japanese men under 35 still live with their parents.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes. Maybe it's the parents who sneak away to the love hotels.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s a bit I’ve just read in a crime novel:

“And she turned to walk away from me. I asked, `Remember that scene from Basic Instinct?’ And slammed her against the wall. I tore tights and knickers down and pushed right into her. It didn’t take long. As I zipped up she said, `Thanks for coming.’”

Name the author. (For bonus points, name the book.)

October 28, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Hmm, I knew I'd read that line not too long ago. A quick Google Books search reminded me it was Ken Bruen's Rilke on Black.

Maybe men think that's funny in a wish-fulfillment way. Yeah, "didn't take long"... for him. Maybe she was just glad it was over and done with. I thought it was a cheap scene; one of those punch lines in search of a backstory. Bruen was dying to use it and concocted a nasty sexual encounter so he could tag it on at the end. Ha ha ha. If it had been followed by something like, "Now piss off, tosser" I would have been less inclined to see it as a punch line in search of a reason to be.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a little harsher than I'd put it, but yeah, there's a consensus that the book keeps the quips coming fast, so your suggestion for the line's origin is plausible.

October 31, 2011  

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