MY GUN IS QUICK by Mickey Spillane

Review by Mike Dennis

“You have to be quick. And able. Or you’ll be dead.”

That pretty much sums up Mike Hammer’s philosophy of life in New York City throughout all of his appearances in Mickey Spillane novels. But in My Gun Is Quick, Spillane’s searing 1950 tale of revenge, Hammer actually says this to the reader. He then sets out to prove it.

After making a post-midnight delivery to a client, he stops off at a slimy diner for a hot cup of java. There he encounters a gorgeous redhead down on her luck. He buys her a cup of coffee. They chat. A guy comes up to her, a guy with “a built-in sneer that passed for know-how”, and begins hassling her. Hammer pushes him around, gives the girl some money, and leaves.

Well, come to find out she’s a prostitute and she turns up dead the following morning. As in many other Hammer novels, he dedicates himself to finding her killer and dispensing his own brand of justice before the system can screw it up.

For the uninitiated, Mickey Spillane was considered beneath contempt by much of the literary world for virtually his entire career, which spanned sixty years. His hard-charging, gritty style turned off the literary elites, who also were not wild about his unabashed identification with the working class, which occasionally included prostitutes, gamblers, and street hustlers. Despite this institutional bias against him, Spillane sold over 130 million books during his life. They’re still selling.

All of the snide remarks and bad reviews couldn’t mask the passion that comes blasting through in Spillane’s prose. The dark streets and back alleys spring to life on the page, as Hammer slinks through them like a feral cat on the trail of his prey. The reader will feel Hammer’s hot desires as he strokes the naked skin of a beautiful woman. When he takes a wrong turn and is severely beaten by a few tough guys, the reader will feel the blows. This was pretty strong stuff in 1950, when readers of “mystery novels” were being spoon-fed Miss Marple.

My Gun Is Quick is currently available in a 3-book collection of Hammer novels, alongside I, The Jury and Vengeance Is Mine. The collection contains an outstanding introduction by Max Allan Collins, a longtime Spillane fan and collaborator. Highly personal and revealing, it sheds plenty of light on Spillane’s role in postwar America.

This book is the perfect entree for those who are unfamiliar with Spillane’s work. Get it. You won’t be sorry.

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9 Responses to REVIEW: “MY GUN IS QUICK”

  1. It was Spillane who got me hooked on crime fiction when i was a teenager. I re-read I, THE JURY a few years ago. It’s dated, and a little cartoonish by some contemporary standards, but the vitality and lack of pretense in the writing is still there. Spillane doesn’t have the effect to newcomers now he had sixty years ago because he’s already broken the mold. Writers have been incorporating and refining what he started ever since. He was the real deal, though. Take minute when reading his early works (any of the three here will do), and try to imagine yourself in 1950, when no one had done something like this before, the effect it must have had.

    The literary equivalent of Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING.

  2. You’re 100% right, Dana. A quick trip back to 1950 will reveal what I said in the post about readers becoming accustomed to Miss Marple. Sure, there was Chandler and Cain, and Hammett before them, and Cornell Woolrich, but nobody in those days wrote with the unbridled passion of Mickey Spillane.

  3. Glad you liked it, Al.

  4. Have you seen the film adaptation of this novel directed by Phil Victor starring Robert Bray as Mike Hammer? It looks like Spillane helped craft the screenplay. Just wondering how it compares to the book.

  5. Actually, as some historians at least will tell you (and I suspect Spillane would, too, as I have the sense of him as an utter gentleman in the best sense of that word), someone was writing kinda like Spillane before Spillane…that was Carroll John Daly. Only he was a more stilted sort of cartoonish, and shied away from sexual themes, to say the least. That’s a big difference, that helps differentiate the really popular early BLACK MASK writer from the best-selling fiction writer at mid-century, but a whole lot of the rest is already there.

    I’ve never loved Spillane’s works the way I’ve loved a lot of the Gold Medal folks who further kicked open that door, nor Hammett and the other progenitors, but there’s no denying their energy and influence.

  6. Ha. Just to spell my own name correctly here, and note that that’s a Really good cover for the omnibus, too.

  7. Mike Dennis

    BV–I haven’t seen the film, but I would like to.

    Todd–You’re right about Spillane adding the sexuality to the mix. Other of his contemporaries did it, too, like Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington.

  8. There would be no Gold Medal without Mickey. The Gold Medal imprint was created by Spillane’s Signet distributor to take advantage of the market Mick had revealed.

    Interesting footnote: Chandler’s Marlowe only beds a woman (in PLAYBACK) after Mickey’s work has granted permission. Hammett, on the other hand, made it clear Spade was boinking Brigid.

    MY GUN IS QUICK is a terrible movie. Fun in a sleazy way, but terrible. It begins with a faithful if over-wrought version of the Mickey’s first chapter, then turns into a dilapidated rehash of THE MALTESE FALCON. The ending is particularly flat. Robert Bray as Hammer is physically right but he over-acts, probably the director’s fault (the director seems to be producer Victor Saville under an embarrassed psuedonym). There is a theory that the movie was an hour TV pilot expanded into a feature, and that the director credit (“Phil Victor”) refers to two directors, the original pilot one and whoever did the additional scenes. Just a theory, though.

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