Wednesday, June 15, 2022

29. I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane

This was part of the great June paperback book find here in Montreal.  I have read at least one Mike Hammer but it was long in the past and it was high time that I properly educated myself.  I started with the first one, though I am not sure it is the best.  I hope not, because it was not great.  

I am aware that there is already a lot of infighting about Spillane's work both from the literary and political perspective.  I would say it is fair to critique the Mike Hammer books as fascistic, but I can handle a little fascism in my manly adventure books.  Unfortunately, as a mystery and detective thriller, I, the Jury is just not great.  Again, I want to be respectful and also remain mindful of how new this book was at the time it came out (and how I have a legacy of hardboiled detective and crime fiction in my own brain that owes much to Spillane while also skewing my perspective).  It's just that there are so many flaws that I was kind of rolling my eyes throughout and somewhat distanced.  

First, the tone is very inconsistent.  It starts out with a super intense anger as Hammer stands over the gutshot body of his war buddy as he fantasizes about revenge.  I'm a big fan of righteous revenge. I suspected that the white-hot intensity of the opening could not be sustained and the book loses much of its driving energy as the investigation gets underway and maintains a more mechanical pace with no solution to the mystery, nothing to generate emotion in the reader.  We get further removed with a bizarre falling in love with the hot psychiatrist.  There are also several three stooges level goofy asides, where Hammer bonks two wiseguys heads together at a bar for saying "hey hey" to his girl and dumps a pitcher of water from his upper story bedroom window on a couple of hair pulling "faeries".  These moments are actually kind of funny and suggest that Spillane wasn't entirely taking himself too seriously.  He just doesn't manage to balance these tone shifts in a way that kept me engaged.


Finally, the biggest flaw is that the plot itself has no real mystery or suspense because it was immediately obvious who the killer would be about a third of the way through the book.  And not because of any easy clue since there is no actual way for the reader to put anything together.  It's just you can guess by the stupid, simplistic mores of the book and the bizarre way sex and love are handled that it just had to be the femme fatale.  I guess in 1947 it was the peak of this misogynist trope or maybe Spillane took it to the next level, I don't know but it reeks to me of laziness and pandering to the readers at the time.  The finale where he finally gets his revenge is so rich with sex and woman fear that it must have been analyzed thousands of times by literary types.

Despite my negativity, the book was not unenjoyable.  I like the locations, characters and some of the crime backgrounds, though fantastic were imaginative (the procurer for brothels who enrolled at a different university each semester to seduce, impregnate and then drive these sinning women to vice was kind of a wacky twist on the pimp).  It's pretty fast moving and has some fun writing.  I hope that Spillane honed his craft in later books and I will try to find out which is considered his best.


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