It was after reading this iconic closing that I became a fan of noir tough guy fiction and mostly a fan of Mickey Spillane. I first picked up I, the Jury, the first of the long running Mike Hammer detective series, in eighth grade. Like a heroin addict, I was hooked on the junk. It was fantastic, it was jaw- dropping, it was as if I had located a hidden door to a secret and magical world where men wore suits and toted .45 automatics with tough dames who could break men with their icy stares. Mike Hammer, the short tempered New York City private detective quickly became my hero and his creator became my idol.
Most teenage boys worship football players, rock stars, or actors, but I worshiped at the altar of Mickey. It was a place where there was no bullshit and the only talk was tough talk. I was, and still am, a gentle person. I am not a tough guy by any means. I could eat pizza and watch PBS all day if allowed, and that is something I have learned to accept. However, I was able to enter and take part of the tough guy world through Spillane's words and leave without getting any scratches.
I, the Jury came out in 1951 and was runaway best seller. It was a risky book for the time—filled with sex, violence, and a seedy underworld. Spillane wrote for money and he never hid that from the public. Spillane once said "I am writer, not an author. A writer makes money."
Spillane pumped I, the Jury out in seven days because he needed cash to help pay for a house. Seven days! One week and the man wrote a book that changed the landscape of the American detective novel. What have you done in seven days? Nothing that changed the world! Stop reading this blog, go do something awesome! Never mind, keep reading. This blog is awesome! Carry on.
What I took away from Spillane was that he wrote for fun. He wrote so he could make a dime and I could enjoy myself. Many blamed Spillane for dumbing down the market with his quick and easy style that was filled with action and sex. What he really did was show the writing world how to be an entertainer. Mickey wasn't some stiff, quiet writer with glasses who spoke softly about the need for character development. No! He was from New York City, he knew how to control a room when he walked in, and he told stories that pulled you in and kept you reading. Spillane was on talk shows across the country making people laugh, he acted in films based off his books, and he even starred in Miller Lite ads. If James Patterson did an ad for Budweiser would you buy it? Maybe. But when a wise cracking New Yorker with a fedora on his head tells you to drink Miller Lite you are going to drink it.
It's been more than 10 years since I first picked up Spillane, but I still go back and read one story once a year. Are the stories dated? Yes. Are there racial slurs? Yes. None of that takes away my love for the stories or for the man who brought them to me.
I'll leave you with one more classic line from Mickey Spillane:
"I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."
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