Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

Few authors get to portray their own lead character in a movie. Sure, Stephen King has had cameo roles in many films based on his work including Pet Sematary, Thinner, Sleepwalkers. Peter Benchley had a cameo as a TV reporter in the screen version of his best selling novel Jaws, and William Peter Blatty appeared early on in the role of a movie producer in the movie version of The Exorcist. Other authors have made brief appearances in film versions of their works, but none have ever portrayed their own iconic character in a leading role except for Mickey Spillane.

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Mickey Spillane as Mike Hammer and Shirley Eaton in “The Girl Hunters”

In 1963, Mickey Spillane played his legendary P.I., Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters. The film is middle of the road, worth seeing, but Spillane’s lack of talent as an actor is evident. The novel, the seventh in the series, deals with an alcoholic Hammer whose binge drinking has been going on ever since his beloved Velda has gone missing and is presumed dead for the past seven years. He receives a second chance and inspiration when he learns there’s a chance Velda may still be alive.

While Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe worked on the outskirts of the law, Mike Hammer found the legalities of the system to be a hindrance to his own brand of righteousness. Hammer was a tough, no holds barred P.I., extreme in his use of violence even by today’s standards. A right-wing, anti-communist, Hammer would have made both Spade and Marlowe shake in their boots. You might call Hammer the father to Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, both are more vigilantes than  lawmen and both had little use for ethical boundaries of the law when pursuing a criminal. Hammer has no problem shooting a killer in the gut and while watching him die kick his teeth out, or maybe he’ll just put a cigarette out in the victim’s eye. In Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan shoots the suspected serial killer known as “Scorpio” in the leg, even though he surrendered and had his hands up in the air. Harry though isn’t finished yet, he wants to know where Scorpio’s kidnapped 14-year-old victim is buried alive. To encourage his victim to speak, Harry presses his foot on Scorpio’s wound harder and harder until he gives up the girl’s location. Mike Hammer would be proud.

juryHammer first appeared back in 1947 in Spillane’s first and still the best-known novel, I, The Jury. The Great War had just ended, and anti-communism was on the rise, the House on Un-American Activities, established in 1938, was gaining power, the rise of Joe McCarthy, and the Hollywood Blacklist were all in full swing. The Cold War was building, and many Americans wondered if nuclear destruction was not far away. This is the world that shaped Mickey Spillane and that of his hero Mike Hammer. Spillane decided not to sugar coat the world in his books. It was a rough and violent world, and he would not play it politely. I, The Jury shocked readers. While a lot of the dialogue today may seem dated, the ending is still shocking.

I, The Jury became a pop culture phenomena; the book is mentioned in Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show as a paperback the town’s local drug store could not keep in stock. In Peter Bogdanovich’s screen version we see the book passed from one high school kid to another in a classroom. On TV, in the first episode of Happy Days, Potsie Weber gives Richie Cunningham a copy of the Spillane’s torrid book to study after he gets a date with Mary Lou Wiggins, a girl with an easy reputation. In an episode of M.A.S.H., Major Charles Winchester, indebted to Klinger for saving his life, reads from I, The Jury while the Major unappreciative listens.

In addition to Spillane’s depiction in The Girl Hunters, Mike Hammer has been portrayed by many actors over the years in films:  Biff Eliot (I, The Jury–1953), Armand Assante (I, The Jury–1982), Robert Bray (My Gun is Quick–1957) and Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me, Deadly–1955). Made for TV movies featured Stacy Keach in a series of films: Murder Me, Murder You (1983), the pilot of the TV series, More Than Murder (1984), The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1986), Mike Hammer’s Murder Takes All (1989). Keach also played Hammer in The New Mike Hammer TV series that ran for four seasons (1984-1987). In 1997, the show was brought back with Keach under the name Mike Hammer, Private Eye. Kevin Dobson played Hammer in a 1981 TV film, Margin for Murder. Things deteriorated for Spillane’s tough guy when in 1994 another TV film called Come Die With Me: A Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer Mystery appeared starring Rob Estes with Pam Anderson as Velda. The best of the movies is Robert Aldrich’s, Kiss Me, Deadly with Ralph Meeker making for a perfect Mike Hammer. The film was in synch with the paranoia and fear of a nuclear war prevalent at the time.

The earliest attempt at a TV series came in 1954 when Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) wrote and directed a pilot for a series called Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer with Brian Keith as the tough P.I. The pilot was considered too violent for the times and did not get picked up by the networks. Edwards would have better luck in TV detectives a few years later with the smoother and cooler Peter Gunn. In the late 1950s, Spillane’s P.I. did make it to the small screen with Darren McGavin portraying Hammer in Mike Hammer.

Since Spillane’s death in 2006, the prolific author Max Allan Collins, a friend of Spillane’s was given the blessing of completing various unfinished manuscripts and to this day continues to put out Mike Hammer novels.

Photographs from the Demarva Peninsula

Photographs from the Delmarva Peninsula

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Wild horse at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

 

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Sunrise at the Bombay Hook NWR

 

Snow Geese in Flight Bombay Hook NWR B&W - CW-

Snow Geese Silhouette  Bombay Hook NWR

 

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Snow Geese – Bombay Hook NWR

 

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Shorebirds at Sunrise – Chicoteague NWR

 

 

Recent Read: Fatal Blow

fatal blow

Becky Miller discovers her husband Walter is cheating on her with a local waitress. After 14 years of marriage, the spark had gone out in their marriage. Reading hubby’s emails, Becky learns the waitress wants Becky out of the picture pressuring Walter to marry her. Becky, an avid reader of crime novels and a member of a book club, develops a cunning revenge plan of her own.

Meanwhile, Detective Sean Richardson and his partner Maggie McClinton are called in to investigate a murder. A female’s torso is discovered floating in a local canal. While not yet identified all clues point to it being Becky Miller who has been reported missing by her husband after not returning home as expected after a meeting with her book club.

The narrative is told through two characters points of view. Becky’s story is told in the weeks leading up to her missing. Richardson is current time as he investigates the death of the woman found in the canal. The body is eventually identified as that of Becky Miller. The narrative’s points of view continue to move back and forth between Becky, in the past, and Richardson and Maggie investigating Becky’s death. We follow Becky’s clever plan for revenge only to see how it goes terribly wrong for her.

Author James L. Thane has created an intriguing police procedural/suspense thriller with shades of classic Hitchcock. Fatal Blow is the 3rd book in the Sean Richardson series but works as a standalone. Enough twists to hold your interest right to the end.

Bitter Ends – The eBook

The eBook version of Bitter Ends will be available on Amazon within the next few days. Meanwhile I thought I would share the titles of the twenty short stories. A paperback version will follow soon.

Good for Nothing
Benny and Slaughter      Bitter Ends2-009
Killer Smile
Izzy
The Arrangement
About to Die
The Promotion
Ellie’s Cats
No One’s to Blame
Never Look Back
Brotherly Love
The Neighbors
The Best Sex Ever
We All Got What We Wanted
Assisted Living
The Confession
Your Perfect Match
Divorce Not an Option
Anything for Art
A Marriage to Die For

 

 

 

Ten Books for 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope it’s a good one. In 2018 I read 51 books and am looking forward to reading as many if not topping that number this year. Here are a few upcoming books I am looking forward to reading in 2019.

Run Away

Available in March

 

Pray for the Girl

Available in April

 

The Farm 2

Available in May 

 

the-trial-of-lizzie-borden-9781501168376_lg Robertson

Available in March

 

Joy bookAvailable in May

 

Leading Men-001

Available in February

 

The Better Sister

Available in April

 

Metropolis Kerr

Available in April

 

NEon

Available in April

 

Someboy

Available in April

Bitter Ends: Making of a Book Cover

In an earlier post I wrote about how I designed my own book covers for my previous books using my own photographs. In this post I focus on the book cover for Bitter Ends my forthcoming collection of short stories.

Part of the thrill for me in creating a book cover is digging into my files and discovering that one photograph that expresses what’s in the pages in between and expressing it in a way folks who see the cover will be interested enough to take a peek inside and maybe even buy the book.

Like my previous book of short stories, Devious TalesBitter Ends is a collection of tales filled with murder, revenge, greed, and other mayhem along with a couple of slightly less deadly yarns. That said, the cover needed an ominous look informing the potential reader what they are getting.

In digging through my files I first focused on a few images taken in New Mexico back in 2013. One in particular was of a deserted highway with its colorful mountains in the background. I felt it reflected a feeling of vast emptiness and a bit of dread. I saw bodies potentially buried everywhere.

Below is the original image followed by a series early versions of the book cover.

Book Cover NM -2013 Pt2-2354

We were on our way to visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch located in Abiquiú, New Mexico,when I pulled over and took the above shot that was my first choice for the cover.  Cropping it was the first step followed by the lettering. I tried various fonts  and colors before settling on the image on the right.

I spent some time reviewing the image, asking myself was this what I wanted. Did it visually express the stories and entice potential readers. The more I looked at it, the more I wasn’t satisfied that it did.  I went back to digging into my photographic archive.

I next found a photograph taken just two months earlier in Yellowstone National Park. We were on a photo tour and came across this area  in the park that had burnt. We stopped and took a series of photos, one of which is the first photo below.  Looking at it, I thought it projected a dark, eerily, end of life feeling.

Bitter Ends2

Some cropping followed and then some software experimenting resulting in the two early versions below.

I still wasn’t completely satisfied and kept working at it. Finally, I came up with what I envisioned visually expressed what I wrote. Below is the final cover.

Bitter Ends will be available in January from Amazon and Barnes and Noble as a  paperback and ebook.

 

Bitter Ends2-009

 

 

Favorite Books of the Year: 2018

With 2018 coming  to a close ‘tis the season for lists so I thought I‘d share a list of my favorite crime/mystery books I read this year. Most were published this year, but there are a couple old-timers in there I read for the first time in 2018. The first two are my topped ranked. Other than that they are in no particular order.

The Woman in the Window

Woman

Read my review here.

Sunburn

Sunburn

Read my review here.

The Neighbor

Neighbot

Read my review here.

Two Kinds of Truth

Two Kinds

November Road

November

A beautifully written road trip/conspiracy thriller that will surprise you right to the end. Read my full review here.

 

The Killer  Inside Me

Killer

Read my review here.

Early Autumn

early

Read my review here.

The Man Who Came Uptown

Uptonw

Read my review here.

Colorblind

Colorblind

Read my review here.

Dark Sacred Nights

Dark Sacred

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Fugitive Red – Jason Starr

Blood Feud – Mike Lupica

Old Black Magic  Ace Atkins

The Chill of the Night – James Hayman

Don’t Let Go – Harlan Coben

Then Came Darkness – D.H Schleicher

The Deep Blue Good-by – John D. MacDonald

The Hangman’s Sonnet – Reed Farrel Coleman

The Girl in the Green Raincoat – Laura Lippman