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10.02.2008

Book Review: I, the Jury


I, the Jury was purportedly written in nineteen days. On a whim, Mickey Spillane sent the piece off to E.P. Dutton. Between the hardcover and the paperback versions of the book, I the Jury sold better than 6.5 million copies in the United States.


Mickey Spillane made his fortune, and the world was introduced to Mike Hammer.


Spillane is natural storyteller, and I think he definitely improved with age. I haven't read his full catalogue, but I've read the majority of his novels. I think he was going places late in his career that were really satisfying, and far more substantial in terms of language and narrative structure. Something's Down There is probably my favorite of his novels, and just the thought of that slipstream beauty makes me want to re-read it.
And I can see why contemporary audiences were so taken with Mike Hammer and I, the Jury. Hammer is a results-driven skull buster with a serious reservoir of passion in his gut. His moral compass swings wildly, given his circumstances and mood, and he's a total creature of impulse. All that said, Spillane gives him a softer edge as well. There's a humanity to Hammer that endears him to the audience and helps us look the other way when he's torturing rats for cheese.
I'm sure contemporary audiences loved the language here as well. It's so riddled with noirish jargon that it reads like a popular dictionary from the late '40s. Some of it's cool; most of it's comical to the point of distraction.
As an aside, I think this is an interesting point that we'll discuss another day: how much is too much when it comes to popular language and cultural references? I think, in the field of YA literature, in particular, there's a place for it, but it can dominate the prose some times to damaging effect.
Ok, so the language is a bit antiquated, but Spillane makes up with that in a plot that drives Hammer on a mission, hell-bent for justice for his slain friend, Jack. Outside of the fact that Hammer never sleeps, Spillane connects the dots well here and constructs a plausible mystery. Hammer goes from mansion to flophouse and back again, smashing jerks and flushing dames from every bush. He's good, kid. You'd do well not to mess with him.
I, the Jury is ok. I'd rate it a B-. It's probably there on the recommended reading list for influential mystery writing of the twentieth century (a genre upon which I'm woefully ignorant), and you won't waste your time to give it a look if that's your thing. But look at some of his later stuff also. You might be shocked by the difference.
Tomorrow we'll chat about Lakeview Terrace...

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