They say vengeance is a dish best served cold. But hot works fine too.
Vengeance Is Mine is Mickey Spillane's third Mike Hammer novel, and sees the violence addicted shamus lose his investigative license, then a close army buddy, then be haunted when a woman enters his life who resembles his fiancée Charlotte Manning, who he killed in his debut outing I, the Jury. This new woman is named Juno Reeves, and as Hammer attempts to avenge the murder of his friend, she provides an unnerving reminder of his past. She'll be even more unnerving in his future, but that's all we'll say about her.
On the subject of revenge best served cold, forget it. Hammer wants white hot vengeance right now. The stark difference between Spillane's approach and that of other crime authors is that he writes Hammer as so mean the character is actually odious, but that's his game, and as a reader you go in accepting it. Sometimes, as in I, the Jury and Kiss Me Deadly, it's pulp gold. Vengeance Is Mine is more like silver, however it does have an incredible punchline ending you won't forget. The cover art here is by Barye Phillips, part of a set he painted for the series. You can see the others here.
For a fulfilling killing nothing beats a blade.
Today we have for your pleasure a collection of vintage paperback covers featuring characters on both the giving and receiving ends of knives—or knifelike tools such as icepicks. Above you see Harry Bennett art of a poor fella getting a knife from nowhere. Maybe Damocles did it. It's a funny cover because we don't think we'd grab our throats if we got stabbed in the spine, but let's hope we never find out. Below, in addition to numerous U.S. and British offerings, you'll see covers from France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. There are many, many paperback fronts featuring knives—we mean hundreds—but we decided to stop ourselves at thirty-two today. These do not represent the best (as if we could decide something like that), or our favorites, but merely some interesting ones we've come across of late. If you're super interested in this particular motif we have plenty more examples in the archives. They'd be hard to find, because we don't keyword for knives, so here are some links to get you there: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Spillane's Mike Hammer finds beautiful trouble on a Deadly stretch of road.
Christmas is a holiday for most of you, and for us too, so in the spirit of giving, we're putting up several posts today. But don't worry about us being hunched over our desks—like you, we're with friends and loved ones, probably tipping back a tall glass of cava at this very moment. We pre-wrote everything last week. We'll cover the gamut of what we do here—fiction, movies, femmes fatales, crime, and whatnot. This hardback sleeve for Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly was produced by British publisher Arthur Baker, Ltd. in 1952. We don't often feature hardback art but this one struck us, not only because of its semi-abstract style, but because the unknown artist chose to illustrate the first instant of the book. This is the first sentence: All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights, waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. After the narrator Mike Hammer avoids running her over, she ends up in his car—naked under that trench coat—and that's where the problems start. It's a top notch novel, as we discussed in detail almost a decade ago. Give yourself a gift and read it.
One motivated American outsmarts an entire cabal of communists in Spillane crime drama.
Mickey Spillane's 1951 red scare caper One Lonely Night is, on one hand, classic Spillane starring his franchise sociopath Mike Hammer, but on the other, silly, polemical, and painfully dated. Mike Hammer the insane killer is kind of likeable, but Mike Hammer the insane killer with a political agenda is a bit tedious. Hammer's anti-commie pronouncements usually come across like set-ups for punchlines, as if he might go, “Just kidding! If we're comparing body counts we capitalists are running neck and neck with you! Gen-o-cide! Sla-vuh-ree!” But nope—Hammer remains both privileged and aggrieved throughout. In that way he's a very modern character. Since Spillane clearly thought Soviet influence in America was a serious threat he at least should have populated this violent slog through NYC's leftist underground with canny commies. But when they're this sloppy, why worry? Oh well. We'll always have Kiss, Me Deadly.
Spillane's classic thriller brings death sealed with a kiss.
This is a beautiful paperback edition of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly. We talked about the book way back in 2013. Shorter version: You really think we can tell you something that hasn't already been written about this classic? Kiss Me, Deadly originally appeared in 1952. This version came in 1958 from London based Arthur Barker Limited, no. 42 in its Dragon series, with uncredited cover art. Barker is a pretty obscure publisher that launched in 1938 and was gone by 1969, so this paperback is rare, though less expensive than you'd suspect. Barker also produced a hardback of Kiss Me, Deadly in 1953 that likewise has interesting cover art and a surprisingly low price tag. We'll show you that later.
Look! Smooth as two baby peaches. Anywhere else you want me to shave?
Here's a nice cover for a Dutch paperback titled Nachtkatje, which translates as “night kitten,” written by Mike Splane, and published by Antwerp based Uitgeverij A.B.C. for its Collection Vamp in 1957. This publisher is not the same as Uitgeversmij, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and whose output we've shown you here and here. The cover on this is uncredited, but A.B.C.'s Vamp series often had Alain Gourdon art that had been modified from a previous form, and this piece has that look. Everything we just wrote, we learned with minimal research. Now comes the part where our research falls short. You might guess that this is a translated Mickey Spillane novel, but we can't confirm that. If it's a translated Spillane it's mighty short—just sixty-plus pages. Which presents a problem. Spillane's short stories weren't published in book form until after 1957, at least not in the U.S. So finding out if this is a Spillane short—which we actually doubt—will have to wait for more knowledgable people than us. See more covers in the same vein here.
And the verdict is—indispensable, as charged.
Above is a second Lu Kimmell cover for Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled Mike Hammer thriller I, the Jury, notable because you don't usually see the same artist paint different covers for the same paperback. But we're actually sharing this not just for the art, but because holiday travel season is here again, and it seems like a good time to reiterate the fact that if you're flying inside of or to the U.S. pulp novels can be a travel necessity. We're giving you pearls of wisdom. Check here.
You'd Hammer in the stomach, you'd Hammer in the jaw, you'd Hammer all over the body.
Does anyone not know what's in the suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly? We imagine almost everyone does, but we won't tell. We'll give you two hints, though: it isn't the same thing that's in the case in the novel; and the change the filmmakers made places the film on a progression along the line of such what's-in-the-case thrillers as Pulp Fiction (where you never see) and Ronin (where you never find out). Ralph Meeker stars as Mickey Spillane's harder than hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer, and Maxine Cooper plays his his assistant/friend-with-benefits (she was only his assistant in the novel) Velda Wickman.
Plotwise the first couple of reels follow the novel pretty closely, with Hammer almost running over a woman on the Pacific Coast Highway, letting her into his car, and quickly finding she's being pursued by villains of the worst kind. She and Hammer are captured, the woman is tortured, then the two are placed unconscious back in Hammer's prized Jaguar and pushed over a cliff. But the murder attempt only snuffs one of them—Hammer is left alive to seek answers and vengeance. With the help of his slinky sidekick he sets about turning the town upside down.
We wanted to watch Kiss Me Deadly again after reading the novel for the first time several years ago, but didn't get back to it until spurred to do so by Noir City, which is showing the film tonight on a double bill with Killer's Kiss. It's a pretty streamlined adaptation in parts, courtesy of A. I. Bezzerides. Spillane hated the movie, and we imagine he was particularly critical of some of the choices Bezzerides made. But the production is helmed by Robert Aldrich, who shows general flair along with impressive creativity in getting shots that were fresh for the time.
Best exchange of dialogue in this one:
“According to our information he calls himself a private investigator.”
“His specialty is divorce cases.”
“He's a bedroom dick.”
Yeah, we're juvenile. Kiss Me Deadly is aimless in the beginning, and is marred by a silly Greek stereotype used for discordant comic relief, but picks up greatly in the second half and hurtles toward an explosive conclusion. The final product would have been merely decent had the movie stayed on the same course as the book, but Bezzerides wrenched the second half into a hard left turn, and his final commentary—an inspired change—saves the movie, in our opinion. It's preposterous, what Bezzerides does, but it works. So in the end Kiss Me Deadly earns its place on the list of twenty or so best entries in the film noir genre.
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