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

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.