March 9:Mickey Spillane was born on this dayin 1918. Spillane began his writing career in comic books, concocting heroicadventures for Captain Marvel, Superman, and others. His first ambition was tocreate his own comic hero, Mike Danger; in the mid-1940s, for fun and quickcash, he tried his hand at a crime novel, turning Mike Danger into Mike Hammerand setting him loose for a five-decade shoot-out with a dame-trap, punk-rottenworld:
You’ve forgotten that I’mnot a guy that takes any crap. Not from anybody. You’ve forgotten I’ve been inbusiness because I stayed alive longer than some guys who didn’t want me thatway. You’ve forgotten that I’ve had some punks tougher than you’ll ever be onthe end of a gun and I pulled the trigger just to watch their expression change.(Vengeance is Mine)
Historians of the genresay that when I, the Jury, the firstMike Hammer book, sold 2 million copies it “electrified and inspired”the mid-century paperback industry, but the critics have never been kind. “Luridaction, lurid characters, lurid writing, lurid plot, lurid finish. Verdict:Lurid” (The Saturday Review, 1947).In Hard-boiled Sentimentality: The SecretLife of American Crime Fiction (2008), Leonard Cassuto expands theindictment, citing Spillane for catering to the sexist fears in his readership.The double threat of Charlotte Manning, the antagonist in I, the Jury, is that she is not only a man-killer but a successfulpsychiatrist:
Your profession startedit. …You are a woman who wanted wealth and power. Not to use it extravagantly,but just to have it. How many times have you gone into the frailty of men andseen their weaknesses? It made you afraid. You no longer had the socialinstinct of a woman—that of being dependent upon a man. You were afraid, so youfound a way to increase your bank account and charge it to business. A way inwhich you’d never be caught, but a dirty way. The dirtiest way there is—almost.
And then Charlotte triesthe dirtiest way, stripping from her blouse in front of Hammer so that he couldsee her hidden muscles and, where there should have been a bra, the inevitable,”firm and inviting” breasts. After just a moment’s hesitation, inself- and gender-defense, Hammer plugs her.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.