I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

Turn up the air-conditioning…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Ex-cop and ex-soldier Jack Williams is found shot dead. The police detective in charge of the case knows Williams was a friend of PI Mike Hammer, so calls Hammer in. To Hammer, Jack was more than just a friend, though – during the war Jack saved Hammer’s life and in the process got injured so badly that he lost an arm. Hammer owes him, and swears an oath that he will find Jack’s killer before the police, and take his own deadly vengeance. So the race is on…

You have to give Spillane credit for being thorough – I don’t think there’s a single ’ism missing from this one! Sexism, racism, sexism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny and did I mention sexism? Then there’s the violence, the sex, and the guns – good grief, so many guns! The odd thing is: I quite enjoyed it! It’s kinda the pulp version of hard-boiled with all pretence at subtlety stripped out, but lurking in there somewhere there’s quite a good plot and the writing, while not as slick as I seem to remember from reading some Spillane long ago, is pretty good for the style of novel.

Hammer realises that first he needs to find out the motive before he can identify the murderer, so he starts by talking to the various people Jack has recently spent some time with. Because of the loss of his arm, Jack hadn’t been able to go back to his career in the police, but Hammer knows he was still a cop at heart, and might have got involved in trying to break up some kind of criminal enterprise. There are plenty of options – Hammer’s investigations soon take him into the criminal underbelly of New York, in amongst the gangsters, brothel keepers, drug runners and a variety of two-bit hoods (I think that’s the technical term). The men all want to beat Hammer up, or occasionally shoot him. The women single-mindedly want to get him into bed, or marry him, or both. Lord knows why! I can only assume there must have been a severe shortage of men in New York at that time. Although Spillane doesn’t mention it, I also assume there was a major heatwave in process, since half the characters spend most of their time stripping their clothes off. I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that it’s the female half. One of the women is an actual nymphomaniac, but it was fortunate that Hammer told us which one, because her behaviour wasn’t significantly different to all the other women.

Book 80 of 90

Despite all of that there’s a strange kind of moral innocence in the book. Hammer resists the blandishments of the naked women for the most part, turns out to be a bit of a romantic at heart, and although he happily shoots people, he only shoots bad ones, so that’s all right then. Apparently it’s all right with the American justice system too, since he never even gets arrested for it. I suppose it saves on costly trials and prison sentences. The racism is the standard casual stuff of the time (1947) as is the homophobia. Happily neither plays a big part in the story so I was able to tolerate it, just, as almost all crime fiction of that era, especially hard-boiled and noir, is infested with language or stereotyping that is rightly considered unacceptable today.

Mickey Spillane

I had a pretty good idea who the villain was from about halfway through, but the motive stumped me so that kept me interested. In the end, it’s all highly unlikely at best and complete tosh at worst, but that’s the joy of pulp! And the end is so over the top I found it hilarious, which I assure you it wasn’t supposed to be.

This was his first and all-in-all I enjoyed it, but would be hesitant to know who to recommend it to. I imagine many people found it pretty sleazy even at the time, and it really hasn’t improved with age. However, if you enjoy the pulpy end of hard-boiled crime and can make allowances for the ’isms, then it’s well worth a few hours of your time for the sheer entertainment value. I’d be interested to try one of his later ones to see if he gets rid of some of the rough edges in this one, or if this is typical of his style throughout his career.

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50 thoughts on “I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

  1. You put that really well, FictionFan! All of the ‘isms’ are there (and normally, that’s enough to pull me right out of a book). But there’s something about the plot and the writing that keeps you reading (well, me, anyway). And ‘pulp’ is a good way to describe it, too. There’s something deeper there, but it certainly has those ‘potboiler’ qualities, in my opinion. I’d never say I really love Spillane – I don’t – but I can see why his work has its place in crime fiction, if that makes sense.

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    • I can never quite put my finger on why ‘isms bother me sometimes more than others. I think it might be whether it feels as if the writer really meant them or was just lazily going along with the current attitudes of the time. On the basis of this, I felt Spillane was just going along. Plus it’s always easier to overlook things when the story is good enough to hold your attention – it’s when I get bored that I become hypercritical, usually! I doubt I’ll grow to love him either, but I’d happily read another one or two if they cross my path.

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  2. I have never read Mickey Spillane’s books, but I have read pulp fiction like Perry Mason and other books from back in the day. So I can see why you found enjoyment in this. Spillane and Erle Stanley Gardner knew how to write entertaining, well paced books.

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    • I don’t think I’ve read any of the Perry Mason books, though I used to watch the ancient TV version when I was young – though of course these types of books were always toned down for TV. But I do find that when the plot is interesting and the writing flows it’s much easier to overlook things that would stand out in a slower (more boring) book…

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    • That’s something I do like about reading these older books – they’re great for reminding me just how much we’ve changed, mostly for the better! But I can still only take them in small doses…

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  3. Not really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed reading your review, FF. Seems like you covered everything well without spoiling it for those who might want to read it. I’d say you earned another chunk of chocolate for wading through this one!

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    • Hahaha, while I was reading this I was thinking that when I first read Spillane it was my big sister who had some of his books – my parents would have been shocked to their socks if they’d known what they were like. My big sister always looked so demure and prudish it never occurred to them she’d be reading anything unsuitable… 😉

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  4. I loved the film Pulp Fiction, so maybe I would be the perfect target reader for this one? 😉 It really depends on the context and style, whether I can cope with the ‘isms – in the postmodern, ironic way, I might be absolutely fine with it.

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  5. I’ve never read a Mickey Spillane book, mainly because the genre is not my first (or even second or third) choice… but based on your HIGHLY entertaining review, I probably wouldn’t mind reading this one! It’s the kind to be taken with a grain of salt.

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    • Haha, glad you enjoyed the review! 😀 I couldn’t read a lot of pulp but I do enjoy it occasionally, and Spillane is the recognised master at it. Despite all the ‘isms, I never felt he meant to be mean about anyone – it’s just a style thing. As you say, to be taken with a grain of salt – or maybe a bushel! 😉

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    • Hahaha, sums him up perfectly! I can only take a very little of this kind of thing at a time, but when I’m in the right mood for it I can overlook all the stuff that would usually make me froth at the mouth…

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  6. Great review, thanks. I’m not agin the book, but it probably won’t make its way anywhere near the top of my list to be read. I also had a big smile at Big Sister’s demeanour misleading any parental concerns about ‘inappropriate’ reading! It’s the clever quiet ones you shouldn’t underestimate 🙂

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  7. Well, I certainly enjoyed your review of this – probably more than I would enjoy the book itself! I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t my genre (except when written by Dorothy B Hughes).

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    • I’ve still not read any Dorothy B Hughes though she’s been on my radar for ages. I don’t think I’ve read any noir or hardboiled from that era written by a woman, in fact – it’ll be interesting to see if they take a different approach, especially to the femme fatale aspect…

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  8. This must have been very much of its time with all the isms, interesting from a historical point of view if nothing else. I don’t think it would be for me though, possibly too many showdowns with guns etc.

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    • The constant gun stuff does bore me, I must admit, and he was particularly unimaginative in this one since every gun seemed to be a Colt 45! But the rest of it entertains me so long as I’m in the right mood for it – sometimes those ‘isms bother me more than others for unknown reasons…

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    • It’s definitely a whizz-through kind of book – not to be over-analysed or taken too seriously, though in my limited experience of pulp, he’s at the top of the class. The overwhelming desire of all the women to strip every time Hammer came near them kinda made all the other ‘isms pale into insignificance… 😉

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  9. I’m chuckling away here, smug in the knowledge that I was never going to read this one and I almost skipped your review ‘cos I’m behind with everything but then I just had to take a peek and it’s a gem! The review that is, not the book. That said, you’ve done a pretty good job of convincing me to give this one a go in fact. Thankfully, an even better job of assuring me that I really don’t need it in my life! For all of this, I thank you! 😄

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    • Hahaha, I’m glad I tempted you and yet also helped you to resist temptation simultaneously! ‘Tis the season for falling behind – isn’t that why they call it ‘fall’? (Thank goodness they didn’t decide to call it ‘behind’.) I’m so far behind with everything I’ve given up worrying about it now…

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  10. This does sound like fun, and sometimes sleazy reads are just what the doctor ordered! I can ignore all the ‘isms’ if there’s a lot of them because I find I just accept it and move on with the expectation they’re going to show up all the way through. It’s sort of strange that the more they come, the easier it is to ignore them…

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    • That’s a really good point that I hadn’t considered but totally agree with you. It’s the sudden ‘ism in the middle of an otherwise OK book that really gets me, rather than just this low level stuff appropriate to its own time. In fact, the ‘isms are so much part of this style it would be hard to imagine a hard-boiled book without them…

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