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Literature / Mike Hammer

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Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

"There are 10,000 mugs that hate me and you know it. They hate me because if they mess with me I shoot their damn heads off. Iíve done it and Iíll do it again."
Mike Hammer, I, the Jury

In 1947 comic book writer Mickey Spillane and his wife needed money to buy a new house. Hoping to add to his funds, Spillane wrote a novel in just nineteen days called I, the Jury. It introduced the world to Hardboiled Detective Mike Hammer, and sold six and a half million copies in the United States alone.

Hardboiled private detectives are expected to be world-weary and cynical; Mike Hammer however is patriotic and fueled by rage at the evils of society. Hammer doesn't just bend the law; he holds it in complete contempt, often dishing out brutal beatings or appointing himself Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Spillane would go on to create other characters, like James Bond expy Tiger Mann, but Mike Hammer is his most well known creation. The novels revel in brutal violence and (though tame by today's standards) contained more sex than the competition. Critics (both then and now) have savaged them unrelentingly, yet they continue to be popular.

In 1980, Spillane was responsible for seven of the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction titles in America, and his books have been adapted into film, TV and radio productions. Four films were made featuring the Mike Hammer character between 1953 and 1963. The 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly is regarded as a classic of Film Noir, while Spillane himself played his own creation in 1963's The Girl Hunters. Mike Hammer was revived in the 1980s for a series of television films and series that lasted to 1998, most of which featured Stacy Keach in the starring role.

After Spillane's death in 2006, his friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins, began editing and completing Spillane's unpublished typescripts.

John Zorn devoted a Concept Album to Spillane's "Mike Hammer" novels, simply called Spillane (1987).

     Novels by Mickey Spillane 
  • I, the Jury (1947)
  • My Gun is Quick (1950)
  • Vengeance is Mine (1950)
  • One Lonely Night (1951)
  • The Big Kill (1951)
  • Kiss Me Deadly (1952)
  • The Girl Hunters (1962)
  • The Twisted Thing (1966)
  • The Body Lovers (1967)
  • Survival...Zero! (1970)
  • Black Alley (1996)

     Novels by Mickey Spillane and Max Allen Collens 
  • The Goliath Bone (2008)
  • The Big Switch (2009) (short story)
  • The Big Bang (2010)
  • A Long Time Dead (2010)
  • Grave Matter (2010) (short story)
  • Kiss Her Goodbye (2011)
  • Lady, Go Die! (2012)
  • Skin (2012) (short story)
  • Complex 90 (2013)
  • So Long, Chief (2013) (short story)
  • King of the Weeds (2014)
  • It's in the Book (2014) (short story)
  • Kill Me, Darling (2015)
  • Fallout (2015) (short story)
  • Murder Never Knocks (2016)
  • A Dangerous Cat (2016) (Short Story)
  • The Will To Kill (2017)
  • Killing Town (2018)
  • Murder, My Love (2019)
  • Masquerade for Murder (2020)

This book series contains the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Velda is mentioned as someone who can keep away male admirers with a shoe and carries her own gun that she's proficient with. Not bad for 1941.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: In the first novel I, the Jury, Mike deliberately shoots the murderer of a friend of his in the stomach to ensure she dies as painfully as possible.
  • Antihero: Even by 1940s standards, Mike Hammer is a cold blooded ruthless man that is driven by his own sense of justice over anything approaching the law.
  • Big Applesauce: The stories are usually set in crime infested New York City.
  • Cartwright Curse: Mike Hammer is doomed to meet many women who fall in love with him only to die horribly, turn out to be evil, or be otherwise unobtainable by the end of the story.
    • In I, The Jury, Charlotte Bennett is revealed to be the Big Bad and Mike disposes of her himself.
    • In My Gun is Quick, Big Bad Arthur Grotin-Benit kills his Love Interest, Lola, right before Mike goes on an Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    • In Vengeance is Mine, Charlotte is the third of Mike Hammer's girlfriends to meet an unfortunate end and does so at the hands of Juno, who was also his love interest—and a Unsettling Gender-Reveal.
  • The Casanova: All women find Hammer irresistible. Unless they're gay.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Mike is perfectly willing to engage in this in order to get information. In I, The Jury he even brags it will be why he will get to his friend's killer before the police.
  • Crime After Crime: The plot of I, the Jury basically. Charlotte Bennett murders Jack Williams to cover up her heroin distribution to her psychology clients. She then ends up killing a half-dozen other people covering up for the previous murders. Mike basically says that it's the only reason she was caught.
  • Criminally Attractive: In I, the Jury Charlotte Bennett, the woman Hammer had fallen in love with and planned to marry, turned out to be the killer. This is probably the case that turned him from an ordinary Private Detective into the dispenser of brutal justice we all know and love.
  • Darker and Edgier: What separated the Mike Hammer novels from Raymond Chandler and even Dashiell Hammett at the time. Mike Hammer was a Sociopathic Hero who was willing to kill, maim, or torture anyone to get what was done. He also had no hesitation gunning down (evil) women either.
  • Deadly Game: "The Body Lovers"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Hammer and Velda. But then, in their business, it's farely inevitable.
  • Deconstruction: Many times, the filmmakers of the movie adaptations will basically brag about doing this to the Hammer character—and if not, the critics will do it for them. Ironically, One Lonely Night, Dirty Communists aside, is essentially Spillane having Hammer deconstruct himself, constantly mulling over whether he goes too far—and whether or not he's just as bad as the villains he fights. This eventually leads to his conclusion of "Evil Versus Evil" (see below).
  • Dirty Communists: One Lonely Night lays this on good and thick. In addition to being controlled by the violent evil Kremlin, American communists are dupes and either stupid or actually insane.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: My Gun is Quick is about Mike Hammer meeting a beautiful prostitute named Red and convincing her to leave the business, only to find her murdered two days later. This, of course, inspires him to revenge.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Mike, very frequently, can't keep his mind on a case if there's a beautiful woman in his presence.
  • Dulcinea Effect: Mike Hammer is often inspired on his cases by a beautiful woman he must avenge despite knowing her only a short while.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Much attention is made on how drugs, particularly heroin, destroy the lives of individuals and leaves them a shadow of their former selves. Drug dealers, in particular, are shown to be the scum of the Earth.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Hammer's Girl of the Week is inevitably blonde; interestingly however his UST Love Interest Velda has dark hair.
  • Evil Versus Evil: In One Lonely Night Mike Hammer finally accepts that this is his role in life, just before he blows away a bunch of Dirty Communists who are torturing Velda.
    I was the evil that opposed other evil, leaving the good and the meek in the middle to live and inherit the Earth!
  • Fanservice:
    • The books, of course, are famous for being heavily charged with this trope, though it's tame by todays standard.
    • And there's the R-rated 1982 adaptation of I, the Jury, which has an orgy in a sexual surrogate therapy clinic that wasn't in the original novel.
  • Femme Fatale: Plenty of these in the books, starting with Charlotte Bennett, who is the murderer of his friend Jack as well as several others.
  • Final Exchange: In the end of the novel I the Jury, Hammer shoots the killer, Charlotte Bennett, in cold blood.
    Bennet: How could you?
    Hammer: It was easy.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: I, The Jury has him falling in love and engaged with Doctor Bennett after only a few dates and makeout sessions.
  • Friend on the Force: Captain Pat Chambers protects Mike Hammer from the consequences of his actions as well as shares information.
  • Genius Bruiser: Mike is pretty strong and tough, and quite intelligent. He's reasonably literate, too — enough to quote Hamlet, at least.
  • Girl Friday: Velda is Hammer's Sexy Secretary, but she has her own investigator's license and uses a gun on a couple of occasions too.
  • Hand Cannon: Hammer carries a Colt .45 (called 'Betsy' in the Stacy Keach series) though he sometimes uses a small calibre hideaway or backup gun.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Helped turn the character type into a parody of itself.
  • Heel Realization: One Lonely Night has Mike Hammer possess one of these after a judge points out all of his righteous avenger pretensions are just excuses for murder. Hammer surprisingly agrees and struggles with what to do about it before deciding that he can be a killer of killers.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold:
    • The majority of prostitutes that Mike Hammer deals with are exhausted and Troubled, but Cute, taken advantage of by evil systems.
    • Quite a few become Disposable Sex Worker types like Red in My Gun is Quick, only to have Mike become their avenger. This also includes Love Interest Lola who dies in the last few chapters.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Another way that Mike Hammer differentiated from other detective fiction of the time. Mike would frequently fall in bed with women after long and luscious descriptions of their appearance. The books would often contain a wide variety of women throwing themselves at Mike as well, good and bad.
  • I, Noun: I, the Jury is an early example.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Hammer spends an entire paragraph describing how no one, from the biggest politician to the hardest con, would dare backchat corrupt cop Dilwick because he's a crude, murderous thug who enjoys dishing out violence and bloodshed. No one except Mike Hammer, that is; "Because I'm that way myself".
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Surprisingly downplayed, as Mike usually just has to threaten to do this, and the villain cracks. Still, that tends to be because said villain "knows", from looking Hammer in the eye, that he's serious.
  • Loophole Abuse: In Vengeance is Mine, after Mike Hammer loses his PI license and gun, he simply reopens his detective agency under Velda's name since she is a licensed private investigator and for ownership of a gun in her own right.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: An Invoked Trope in The Twisted Thing. The initial plan was to kill the victim (a wealthy scientist) via a heart attack caused by the stress of his son being kidnapped. When Hammer successfully recovers the boy, the killer simply murders the scientist with a cleaver, knowing his death will lead to other murders and countless possible motives being revealed, as his Big, Screwed-Up Family scramble for his fortune.
  • Macguffin: The papers that Mike is looking for in One Lonely Night.
  • Male Gaze: Mike Hammer's descriptions of women in the book are extremely lengthy with much attention made to their breasts and figure. Indeed, it was this element of Hotter and Sexier that combined with its greater violence attracted a larger audience than his contemporaries.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Mike Hammer can screw around as much as he likes; Velda will still be there for him. Played with in the fact that Velda frequently is referred to as sexually active with other men and her opening scene in I, the Jury, mentions she didn't have to sleep with a man for information (implying it was a frequent occurrence).
  • The Oldest Profession: As befitting a Noir series, Mike Hammer often deals with prostitutes either as witnesses, victims, or potential love interests.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Mike Hammer's general MO when dealing with murderers.
  • Pet the Dog: Surprisingly, Mike Hammer makes it a note of being friends to both black as well as disabled characters.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. Mike Hammer is generally supportive of the police, regarding them as simply hamstrung by the law. Dilwick in The Twisted Thing is a notable exception, though he's no Inspector Lestrade, merely a Dirty Cop.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Naturally, as the novels are written in the first person.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Hammer is feeling depressed bordering suicidal in One Lonely Night due to a judge giving an off-camera speech where he tore into the private eye's moral justifications, called him just a legally recognized murderer, and that he was no better than the people he fought. Worse, that the world would be better off when he died. Only Velda really disagreed with the judge even among his friends.
  • Relationship Upgrade: One Lonely Night has Mike and Velda finally hook up.
  • Revenge Before Reason: More or less Mike Hammer's entire MO. A typical plot of the series is one of his friends is mudered and Mike proceeds to hunt their killer down no matter the danger or legalities involved. I, the Jury is even a reference to the fact that Mike is going to kill his friend's murderer without a trial.
  • Sassy Secretary: Velda is always up for teasing Mike Hammer about his love life, habits, and profession.
  • Setting Update: Happens with every screen adaptation. Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was set in Los Angeles and had stolen nuclear Applied Phlebotinum as a McGuffin. The 1982 remake of I, the Jury (starring Armand Assante) had Hammer as a Vietnam veteran instead of a Pacific Theater World War II veteran, with a plot involving CIA mind control experiments. Stacy Keach's Hammer lived in 1980's New York, though he continued to dress anachronistically in a fedora and trench coat.
  • Sexy Secretary: Velda is a gorgeous blonde with a curvaceous figure and nice legs who is smarter than Mike by several degrees, which he also finds attractive.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Surprisingly brought up in I, the Jury where a psychologist, Doctor Bennett, determines that Hammer is one of these and he doesn't disagree. She wonders if it's because he's a Shell-Shocked Veteran but he comments that he was like this before the war and it may have helped him survive it.
  • Smiting Evil Feels Good: Velda shoots a thug In the Back to stop him from killing Hammer. Afterwards instead of crying she starts laughing, and Hammer tells her she's right to do so, as there's "no shame to killing an evil thing."
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Once, unbeknownst to Velda, Mike compares her to Circe in his internal monologue. Less than a minute later, Velda compares him to Ulysses.
  • Taking You with Me: My Gun is Quick ends with Mike fully prepared to die in order to make sure that Arthur Berin-Grotin dies with him with him. Mike has taken two bullets and is on top of the eighty year old man. In the end, only the fact it would hurt Arthur worse to have Mike dismantle his legacy leads him to be given a comparatively simple shot to the face.
  • Torture Always Works: Mike's method of strong-arming information out of bad guys never fails to get him the information he desires.
  • The Unfettered: Part of what separates Mike Hammer from other period protagonists is the fact that he refuses to let anything like the law, morality, or consequences stand in the way of getting his man.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: The killer's true gender is revealed in the very last word of Vengeance Is Mine!
  • Unstoppable Rage: Mike gains a dose of this in My Gun is Quick after Lola is murdered and he discovers Berin-Grotin killed his own granddaughter after she threatened to expose his vice ring. Mike literally forces the eighty year old man down despite two bullet wounds and plans to have them both burn to death while he watches him die. In the end, he opts to shoot him only because surviving to ruin his name is better.
  • Vapor Wear: Kiss Me, Deadly opens with Hammer picking up a female hitchhiker in a belted trenchcoat. He doesn't realise she's got nothing else on until she slips his hand underneath it to encourage him to get her past a police roadblock.
  • Vigilante Man: Lampshaded in the title of the first Hammer novel, I, the Jury. Even in the Stacy Keach series, the criminal was usually shot (albeit in self defence) rather than being arrested.
  • Visual Pun: In Kiss Me, Deadly Hammer kills two Mafia hoods who try taking him for a ride, leaving them under a sign saying DEAD END.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: In all but a few novels, Hammer's victims are often left vomiting after a blow to the stomach or groin.
  • We Have Your Sassy Secretary: Happens to Velda on a couple of occasions.
  • Wham Line / Wham Shot: As a rule, a Mike Hammer novel will tend to have at least one of these as it reaches its end. Most famously in Vengeance Is Mine!, in which a certain fact is revealed in the very last word:
    "Juno was a queen, all right. A real live queen. You know the kind. Juno was a man!"
  • What a Piece of Junk: Hammer refers to his car as his "heap", but in one book it's mentioned there's a Cadillac engine hidden under the hood.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: One very effective and harsh one right before the beginning of One Lonely Night, courtesy of a judge. Mike is deeply shaken by that, and by the end of the novel starts viewing his struggle against the villains of the piece as Evil Versus Evil.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Mike Hammer doesn't hesitate to take out women who are killers themselves as the first book proves.
  • Wretched Hive: New York is depicted as a den of hookers, junkies, murderers, and thieves with only Mike Hammer to sort them out.

Alternative Title(s): Mickey Spillane, The New Mike Hammer