Sunday, August 31, 2008


Mystery File has been running reviews of early Mickey Spillane by Bill Crider and James M. Cain by Max Allan Collins and fine articulate reviews they are. Both subjects took me back to when I first began to read crime fiction.

The summer of seventh grade I read all the Spillane novels I could find. I think The Big Kill was the then most recent one. I'd never read anything like them. Didn't even know that COULD BE anything like them. Not so much the violence but the sex and the ambience. The opening of One Lonely Night on that bridge. The last line of I, The Jury, It was easy I said. And another last line-- Juno was a man! Nothing I'd read up to that point had effected me quite that way. And I've rarely read anything since that seemed as diabloical and scary and somehow true as my first encounters with The Mick's books.

Same reaction in a different way when I was read Cain. I was a few years older and better able to appreciate the man-woman elements of the novels than I would have been earlier. I identified with Cain's people in ways I never quite did Spillane's. The working class people in Postman weren't all that different from the working class people in my neighborhood. And the man in Indemnity was the reckless sort I heard about when my father and uncles gathered on summer porches for beers and gossip. There was always somebody they knew who'd gone off the deep end and there was always a woman involved. Cain opened yet another door. I believe it was David Madden who called him "The poet of the tabloids" and how apt that description is. But in Cain's case the tabloids bled not black ink but red blood. Cain could hurt you. I'd put the final pages of Indemnity up against any other utterance in American fiction.

1 comment:

Dave Zeltserman said...

Ed, I was around the same age when I first read I, the Jury, and had pretty much the same effect, I was hooked. I read every Spillane book afterwards I could get my hands on (cheap purchases from used bookstores), before moving onto Hammett, Stout, Cain, Chandler, Macdonald, etc.

I've also made the same point on Rara Avis several times about those final pages of Indemnity. Absolutely chilling. The only endings that came close were Thompson's Savage Night and The Getaway, although Thompson's ending for his very short story, Forever After, is brilliant.