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Mystery novelist Spillane dies
Question of the Day
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Mickey Spillane, the macho mystery writer who wowed millions of readers with the shoot-‘em-up sex and violence of gumshoe Mike Hammer, died yesterday. He was 88.
Mr. Spillane’s death was confirmed by Brad Stephens of Goldfinch Funeral Home in his hometown of Murrells Inlet. Details about his death were not released.
After starting out in comic books Mr. Spillane wrote his first Mike Hammer novel, “I, the Jury,” in 1946. Twelve more followed, with sales topping 100 million. Notable titles included “The Killing Man,” “The Girl Hunters” and “One Lonely Night.”
Many of these books were made into movies, including the classic film noir “Kiss Me, Deadly” and “The Girl Hunters,” in which Mr. Spillane starred. Hammer stories also spawned the TV series “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” and made-for-TV movies. In the 1980s, Mr. Spillane appeared in a string of Miller Lite beer commercials.
Besides the Hammer novels, Mr. Spillane wrote a dozen other books, including some award-winning volumes for young people. As a stylist, Mr. Spillane was no innovator; the prose was hard-boiled boilerplate. In a typical scene, from “The Big Kill,” Hammer slugs out a little punk with “pig eyes.”
“I snapped the side of the rod across his jaw and laid the flesh open to the bone,” Mr. Spillane wrote. “I pounded his teeth back into his mouth with the end of the barrel … and I took my own damn time about kicking him in the face. He smashed into the door and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling.”
Mr. Spillane, a bearish man who wrote on a manual Smith Corona, said he didn’t care about reviews. He considered himself a “writer,” not an “author,” defining a writer as someone whose books sell. “This is an income-generating job,” he told the Associated Press during a 2001 interview. But he got critical respect in the mystery world, receiving life achievement awards from the Mystery Writers of America and the Private Eye Writers of America.
He was born Frank Morrison Spillane in 1918, in the New York borough of Brooklyn. When he came home after World War II, he needed $1,000 to buy some land and thought novels the best way to go. Within three weeks, he had completed “I, the Jury.” The editors at Dutton doubted the writing, but not the market for it; a literary franchise began.
He was a quintessential Cold War writer, an unconditional believer in good and evil and a rare political conservative in the book world. Communists were villains in his work and liberals took some hits as well. In a manner similar to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Hammer was a cynical loner contemptuous of the “tedious process” of trials, choosing instead to enforce the law on his own terms.
Married three times, Mr. Spillane was the father of four children.
By Mark Davis
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