Briefly Noted: ‘Kiss Me, Deadly’ by Micky Spillane

Mike Hammer, Spillane’s private investigator, is perhaps the world’s most hardboiled detective. The critics and even his own editors cringed at Spillane’s work since Hammer was almost as big a thug as those he hunted down. The cover of this book is typical of those on the Mike Hammer novels.  But it’s accurate inasmuch as every woman Mike meets wants to sleep with him. Until my brother, Barry slipped a three-novel volume of Spillane novels in with this year’s Christmas gifts, I’d never read a Spillane novel even though I do like noir. I think Mike Hammer is too rough for noir, though one could debate either side of that point.

From The Publisher

“Mike Hammer gives a lift to a beauty on the run from a sanitarium—but their joyride is cut short by two dark sedans full of professional killers, who knock the detective out cold. When he wakes up, his car has been rolled off a cliff, with his mysterious passenger still inside it. The feds take his gun away on suspicion, but Hammer’s not about to let that stop him. He’s on the hunt for the men who wrecked his ride and killed a dame in cold blood—and he’s going to teach them that armed or not, crossing Mike Hammer is the last thing you should ever do.”

The book was made into a film by the same name in 1955 starring  Ralph Meeker as Hammer. According to Wikipedia, “Critics have generally viewed the film as a metaphor for the paranoia and fear of nuclear war that prevailed during the Cold War era. “The great whatsit,” as Velda [Mike’s assistant] refers to the object of Hammer’s quest, turns out to be a mysterious valise, hot to the touch because of the dangerous, glowing substance it contains, a metaphor for the atomic bomb. The film has been described as “the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time – at the close of the classic noir period.” A leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this metaphor in his script, saying that “I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting.”

Once I finish this three-novel volume–which includes Kiss Me, Deadly–I don’t have any plans to read any of the other stories in this twenty-six-book series. I’m glad I read the novels in this three-novel book because I’d always wondered about Mike Hammer. Now I know. Finding out was part of my education.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. “Sarabande” is the sequel to “The Sun Singer. Both novels are set in Glacier National Park.


Potpourri for January 10th

  • How the hell did it happen. Joan Baez, whom I had a school-boy crush on years ago, is now 82. I approved of her songs, and her anti-war stance, but not her relationship with Bob Dylan. While she can’t hit the high notes the way she did when she was young, I will like to hear her sing.
  • Somehow, being too lazy to change the channel, we ended up watching the Georgia-TCU game on TV last night as the Dawgs won 65-7. I’m not really a fan of the Dawgs because I’m an Atlantic Coast Conference person and really think the SEC is trailer trash. But the Dawgs did everything right and the Horned Frogs basically didn’t do anything. The game would have been more interesting if it had been a close one.
  • I enjoyed Lydia Sherrer’s Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus. I left a four-star review on Amazon here. This book is the first in a series of seven and really seemed more like two short stories than a novel. While the novel has been advertised as the new Harry Potter, it doesn’t have the strong plot of the Potter series.
  • I’m a bit frightened of the controls in our 2019 Honda HRV because the dashboard has buttons for stuff I’ve never heard of. This is the first car we’ve owned where we had to keep looking stuff up in the manual. I don’t care for the setting that tells me whether I’m centered in the lane or the warning buzzers that remind me to shift into Park when I turn off the engine or to fasten my seatbelt. I try to avoid pushing most of the buttons.
  • My brother Barry sent me a three-novel Mickey Spillane book for Christmas. I’ve been aware of Mike Hammer, but never got around to reading “One Lonely Night,” “The Big Kill,” or “Kiss Me, Deadly.” Good noir stuff.
  • I think that whatever the hell’s inside a toilet tank is made in hell because it randomly breaks for no apparent reason, forcing one to buy a new one (also made in hell) and install it with the worse curses on the planet. At least our secondary bathroom is functional again, though we probably won’t trust it for a while. While looking at the problem, it appeared that the water was going into the closet in the next room rather than the septic tank. It wasn’t, but emptying out an entire closet was the last thing we needed in the middle of the night. Maybe this will make a good short story, “Hell’s Toilet.”
  • I continue to be addicted to Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series, enabled by family members who gave me some new novels for Christmas. Just finished two more and need a pickup truck filled with new books.


Briefly Noted: ‘Hell With the Lid Off, Butte Montana’

I changed planes several times in Butte. Unfortunately, all the old-time fun portrayed by Horace Smith in this on-the-scene 1890s book was long gone.

From the Publisher

Hell With the Lid Off: Butte, Montana is the lost manuscript of Horace ‘Bert’ Smith, who arrived in the West as a teetotaling 21-year-old adventure-seeking reporter. He later went on to publishing successes in New York as part of a salon that included Zane Grey and Upton Sinclair. With his reporter’s eye and access to characters on both sides of the law, Smith chronicles wild times, terrible tragedies and sudden millionaires on ‘the richest hill on earth’. His granddaughter, Melissa Smith FitzGerald, discovered the manuscript that Smith was finishing and trying to sell to Hollywood when he died suddenly in 1936.

Reviewer’s Comment

“Horace Herbert Smith takes you to Butte, Montana, in its copper-mining heyday to experience that brawling, big-hearted time. In a series of vivid snapshots Smith, a Butte newspaperman, describes the 1890s when, as he writes, life there “was fast and fun.” Smith died before he could publish his absorbing and entertaining memoir detailing daytime gun battles and a sermonizing standoff, the high life and labor strife, scoundrels and bullwhackers and still-breathing corpses, with a cast of real-life characters so colorful as to make fiction writers despair. Fortunately for the reader, Smith’s manuscript is finally seeing print. It’s a rare treat.” – Gwen Florio

Looks like a winner for fans of the old west. The catchy title gives you an apt clue about the town in those days.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” set in Montana’s mountains.

Cormac McCarthy’s two-novel release of the year

“These new novels flush McCarthy out of his rhetorical cover, and his decidedly austere and unillusioned answer to both of these questions is no. In a world lit by the “evil sun” of nuclear invention, all history, Bobby thinks, is nothing more than “a rehearsal for its own extinction.” And, when the world finally kills itself off, nothing will be left—not words, not music, not mathematics, not God. Not even the Devil.” – James Wood in “Cormac McCarthy Peers Into the Abyss,” The New Yorker.

Fans of Cormac McCarthy–and I am one of them–will see in the two paired novels (The Passenger and Stella Maris) which can be purchased separately or as a boxed set, a gift from the eighty-nine-year-old novelist that (perhaps) represent a swan song, a look at something different, the abyss as James Wood says.

The Passenger

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Road returns with the first of a two-volume masterpiece: The Passenger is the story of a salvage diver, haunted by loss, afraid of the watery deep, pursued for a conspiracy beyond his understanding, and longing for a death he cannot reconcile with God.


“McCarthy returns with a one-two punch…a welcome return from a legend.” —Esquire

“Look for Stella Maris, the second volume in The Passenger series, available now.

“1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.
“Traversing the American South, from the garrulous barrooms of New Orleans to an abandoned oil rig off the Florida coast, The Passenger is a breathtaking novel of morality and science, the legacy of sin, and the madness that is human consciousness.”


Stella Maris

“NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Road returns with the second volume of The Passenger series: Stella Maris is an intimate portrait of grief and longing, as a young woman in a psychiatric facility seeks to understand her own existence.

“1972, BLACK RIVER FALLS, WISCONSIN: Alicia Western, twenty years old, with forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag, admits herself to the hospital. A doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, Alicia has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and she does not want to talk about her brother, Bobby. Instead, she contemplates the nature of madness, the human insistence on one common experience of the world; she recalls a childhood where, by the age of seven, her own grandmother feared for her; she surveys the intersection of physics and philosophy; and she introduces her cohorts, her chimeras, the hallucinations that only she can see. All the while, she grieves for Bobby, not quite dead, not quite hers. Told entirely through the transcripts of Alicia’s psychiatric sessions, Stella Maris is a searching, rigorous, intellectually challenging coda to The Passenger, a philosophical inquiry that questions our notions of God, truth, and existence.”

The Passenger and Stella Maris are spun around existential themes and big ideas like morality and science. They follow the story of two siblings, Bobby and Alicia Western, who are tormented by the ghosts of their physicist father, inventor of the atom bomb that “melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima.” In The Passenger — which opens on a frigid night at Mississippi’s Pass Christian in 1980 and traverses the 19th century American South — salvage diver Bobby Western becomes a “collateral witness” to machinations that put him in harm’s way.  McCarthy, as ever, is interested in the “madness called the human consciousness”. – Nawaid Anjum in “Inside the violent, visceral world of Cormac McCarthy, one of America’s greatest writers” The Federal.





‘Fruits of Eden’ by Patricia Damery

I have mourned the overdevelopment in California (the state where I was born) and the overdevelopment in Florida (the state where I grew up). In both cases, environmentally diverse and beautiful states have been ruined and badly compromised for the sake of tourism and development that left no stone unturned in raping the best areas first. The late Atlanta historian, Franklin Garrett, called this approach to land use within a city “municipal vandalism.” Insofar as California and Florida are concerned, I call it near-criminal destruction of the land.  Years ago, a minister said the real Garden of Eden was in west Florida. If that had proven true, it would have been paved over by now.

So I warn you, I supported this book before I even saw it.

I must also confess that I have known Patricia Damery online for years and enthusiastically reviewed her earlier books. This book comes from the front lines of climate change and bad land-use practices. So, I can’t help but show it to you in spite of my prospective biases. By the way, you can see an interview with Pat here. The book comes in two editions, one with the interior photographs in color, and the other in black and white.

From the Publisher

Damery – Napa Valley Register Photo

In Fruits of Eden, author Patricia Damery takes readers on a thirty-year journey, vividly recounting her citizen activism to protect the world-famous Napa Valley from the ravages of over-development, water plundering, government failures, greed, and damaging tourism.

Damery’s articulate and Illustrative voice is a powerful call that interweaves the story of her ranch with her history, reflections, marriage, and her husband’s onset of dementia. His Alzheimer’s began at the same time as pressure on the ranch’s sustainability became acute. Conversely, there is also great hope. The author’s relationships with colleagues in action for the valley, her children, her grandchildren and friends all share a deep love for this extraordinary place on the planet.

Over the decades Damery and her husband, Donald Harms, developed a way of life that respected the natural ecology of their land in the Napa Valley. They applied organic and biodynamic methods, left large parts in their natural state, and had a herd of goats that lived next to Patricia’s writing studio. Then climate change coupled with egregious overdevelopment overcame them, threatening to destroy their way of life. Destruction of native oaks caused erosion and groundwater depletion, insecticide use disrupted the balance of animal life, including beneficial insects, population density and tourism

I visited Napa Valley multiple times before the nefarious amongst us began turning it into hell. I don’t want to go back there again any more than I want to see again what the fools who created Daytona Beach have done to the once-precious land along the Atlantic coast. But with the help of books like Fruits of Eden and their from-the-trenches authors, maybe we can save some of the endangered Edens that remain.



Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

How did what-his face get back in my novel?

In the movie “True Lies,” Tom Arnold’s character says, “Women. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t kill ’em!”

I feel that way about characters because, what the hell, I’m drinking Scotch and writing the book while they (the characters) do whatever they want.

People think the author is in charge. Yeah, right.

This time out, I threw that dirty cop Vance McNaughton in the slammer in the last chapter, and then, in this chapter, two ladies are talking about this and that over breakfast at the diner when McNaughton shows up. He’s even driving his squad car when, at the very least, he’s supposed to be riding a desk or sitting in a cell until the nefarious stuff he’s charged with goes to trial.

This kind of thing would happen even if I used outlines because characters are in the book and outlines are outside the book in another universe that people like McNaughton don’t know about. If they did, they’d claim it was something the Presbyterian Church would dream up which is why they’re Southern Baptists.

I guess I can make do, however, if McNaughton figures out who one of those ladies is, he’s going to kill her because he didn’t hear the Tim Arnold quote in the movie.

Actually, fiction is all true lies anyway, so whatever happens, doesn’t really happen. Or, if it does, it’s not the author’s fault.


While Malcolm was raised as a Presbyterian, he thought the predestination stuff was a bunch of hooey. Actually, a lot of stuff in this old world of ours is a bunch of hooey. That’s why we have writers who write about that hooey so readers will know which lies are true and which aren’t.

Re-reading Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’

This is the first time I’ve re-read this book since it came out in 2013. My feelings now are about the same as they were nine years ago. The storyline is another chase scene in which the bad guys are after Robert Langdon and a young doctor who befriends him through Florence.  Florence is one of my favorite cities, so it was fun reading about places I visited. If you’re about ready to travel to Florence, read this book first.

Otherwise, the story drags. Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence with a head wound (a bullet grazed his scalp) and has no idea why he’s in Italy. Always a handy plot crutch, retrograde amnesia keeps the main character in he dark about his circumstances while an assassin tries again to kill him–with the help of the U.S. Consulate–along with all the police in the country.

The book is a travelogue with two desperate people running through it. The catcher in the rye is the pariah of a scientist Bertrand Zobrist who advocates letting plagues run wild because that is–according to his research–the only way the Earth’s unsustainable population levels can be brought under control. I must admit that as global warming issues have become more pronounced, his view of the population’s fate is more chilling now than when I first read the book. (I enjoyed Dante’s Divine Comedy more than this book.)

Like all of Brown’s books, the story is heavy on exposition about history and art, in this case, Florence and Dante. If you took all that out of the book, it would be a novella. I re-read this book due to the lack of anything new in the house and really wish I’d picked something else to re-read like one of John Hart’s or Pat Conroy’s books.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, satire, and contemp[orary fantasy novels including The Sun Singer.

‘West with the Night,’ by Beryl Markham

“No one has written more lusciously about that pilgrimage [our temporal voyages into the unknown], nor undertaken it with more elemental daring, than Beryl Markham (October 16, 1902–August 3, 1986). Known to the world as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West with the sweep of night, against headwinds and storms particularly ferocious in that direction, she is Amelia Earhart without the pomp, Thoreau with muscle and humor, a luckier Shackleton of the sky.” – “A Different Solitude: Pioneering Aviator Beryl Markham on What She Learned About Life in the Bottomless Night” in The Marginalian

The 1942 book was well-received but went out of print until it was “re-discovered” and re-issued in 1983 when Markham was long forgotten and living in poverty. Even now, most people have never heard of her: the publisher’s description for the 2010 edition says “though most now dispute this claim.” That is not only incorrect but unconscionable. Since that ticks me off, I’m not showing the current cover of the book displayed on Amazon. She lacked the kind of PR team other pilots had. Or, maybe it’s because she was a fierce and promiscuous woman.

When the book first came out, Ernest Hemingway wrote to his editor, “she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

One of my favorite Markham quotes, which was cited in The Marginalian, is “I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch… I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things came harder.”

I read the book many years ago and felt the same way Hemingway did. And  I continue to think what a shame it is that her name and accomplishments remain scarcely known.


Briefly Noted: ‘Mother Finds a Body,’ by Gypsy Rose Lee


This novel, published in 1942, was considered a sequel to Lee’s 1941 novel The G-String Murders which had been made into a “cleaned-up” film starring Barbara Stanwyck called “Lady of Burlesque.” A read The G-String Murders when I was in junior high school and thought it was a hoot.  It suddenly appeared on the family’s bookshelves and then disappeared after I read it and put it back. I never asked questions about why books came and went because that would have diluted our cases of plausible deniability.

From the Publisher

This encore performance by the author of The G-String Murders is simply “one of the greatest mysteries ever written” (Philadelphia Daily News).


“It’s supposed to be a quiet honeymoon getaway for celebrated stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and Biff Brannigan, ex-comic and ex-Casanova of the Burly Q circuit, settled as they are in a cozy trailer built for two. If you don’t count Gypsy’s overbearing mother, a monkey act, and Gee Gee, a.k.a. the Platinum Panic. Not to mention the best man found shot to death in the bathtub. Strippers are used to ballyhoo, but this time it’s murder.

“Leave it to Gypsy and her latest scandal to draw a crowd: Biff’s burnt-out ex-flame, a sleazy dive owner with a Ziegfeld complex, a bus-and-truck circus troupe, and a local Texas sheriff randy for celebrities. But when another corpse turns up with a knife in his back, Gypsy fears that some rube is dead set on pulling the curtain on her bump and grind. She’s been in the biz long enough to know this ghastly mess is just a tease of things to come.”

Questions were asked whether Lee really wrote the novels or used the ghost writer Craig Rice (aka Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig called the “Dorothy Parker of detective fiction”) Rice said she did not write either of Lee’s novels.

Mother Finds a Body gets off to a quick start:

“A temperature of one hundred and ten at night isn’t exactly the climate for murder, and mother was suffering from a chronic case of both. She pushed the damp, tight curls off her forehead and tapped her foot impatiently on the trailer doorstep.

“‘You either bury that body in the woods tonight, or you finish your honeymoon without your mother.'”

Don’t ask why mother came along on a honeymoon because that seems more sordid than a dead guy in the bathtub.


Grocery Store Books – gone with the pandemic?

I used to buy a fair number of mystery thrillers and police procedurals at the Publix grocery store, just down the aisle from the cookies and crackers. With no offense to the authors, I called these books–from Greg Iles, James Patterson, Stuart Woods, and others–“grocery store books” because that’s where I’d see the covers and blurbs and get tempted into buying them.

Now they’re gone.

Could be another supply chain problem or a decision by somebody at Publix that another product would work better in that shelf space. Too bad, because this shelf was the source of a lot of good–usually quick–reading. Recently, while looking for something else, I found 24 Hours, a two-year-old novel by Greg Iles on Amazon. Wow, maybe I don’t have to buy buy grocery store books at Publix or Kroger.

Typical of Iles, 24 Hours didn’t take long to read, maily because the plot–about kidnappers–is constructed in a way that keeps you from putting the book down. They have a fool-proof system, one that they’ve run five times before without a glitch; and without getting caught.

However, this time out, Will and Karen Jennings fight back in part because their kidnapped daughter Abby has diabetes and can’t sit for 24 hours in a cabin without her shots. This introduces a major complication in the kidnappers’ schedule while leading the Jennings to take bigger risks than most victims.

Is the book true to life? Probably not. But once you start reading it, I don’t think you’ll care. You’ll roar through the pages like a crazed grizzley because you’ve come to despise the kidnappers and want to see them kicked into next week without harming Abby. The book reads well with a family-size back of Oreo cookies or steamed broccoli.


I think this comedy/satire would make a great grocery store book. Publix? Kroger?