Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre. You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.
In honor of today being Fourth of July (and thanks to you hardy few still reading blogs on the holiday!), today’s post features that quintessential American private eye:
Some interesting facts about Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer:
1. Mickey Spillane started out his writing career as a comic book writer, which is where he got the idea for his hardboiled detective, Mike Hammer.
2. I, the Jury was the first Mike Hammer novel. Spillane wrote it in 19 days.
3. There were 16 Mike Hammer novels, from 1947 – 2011. The last 3 books were completed from Spillane’s manuscripts by Max Allan Collins.
4. Spillane received the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1995.
Hammer’s “hard-boiled” appeal:
1. His gun (a Colt 45) has a name: Betsy.
2. He hates women (except his secretary). Scores anyway.
2. Lots of sex and violence. Most of the recipients of his punches throw up afterward. Stomachs and groins are frequent targets.
3. Hammer has his own code he goes by, and dispenses with the killers much more efficiently than the frustratingly slow legal system.
4. The voice: written in first person, Hammer’s gritty voice and turns of phrase are, shall we say, distinctive. Here are a few examples:
- My old neighborhood was dying and I was back for the wake.
- From here I had to play it by ear, which is pretty risky for a guy who can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
- In the flora and fauna of the Bowery, she was a lot of flora and quite a bit of fauna. She looked like she belonged in a field of Wyoming wildflowers instead of wandering through the human backwash of the avenue.
- (while twisting a man’s nose to get him to talk): Now, when your nose reaches the halfway mark, you’ll have a bell ringing in your ears and your eyes will light up with a bright red light and, lo and behold, the truth comes out. Now let’s have a little talk.
Beyond the books: film and television
The action and grit of the Mike Hammer books are great for other media: they have been made into comic books, radio shows, films, and two television series.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, starring Darren McGavin, ran 78 episodes from 1958-60, in a half-hour, black-and-white format.
Then there was The New Mike Hammer starring Stacy Keach, the series most of us are familiar with. It ran from 1984-87, in 46 one-hour episodes. There were fewer episodes in the first season because Keach had to serve a 6-month jail sentence in England for cocaine possession.
Here’s a clip from the opening theme of The New Mike Hammer:
Want the answers to the last quiz?
1. What is the murder method of choice in the Columbo series?
2. There are two actors who each played the murder in the series three times. They were:
- Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy
- William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke
- Ricardo Montalban and Leonard Nimoy
3. What kind of car did Columbo drive?
4. What trademark tune does Columbo whistle (beginning with the episode “Any Old Port in the Storm”) which the producers worked into the musical theme?
N) “I dreamed a dream”
O) “This Old Man/With a Knick-Knack Paddy-Wack” Here’s a link if you’d like to hear what the Columbo producers did with it: “This Old Man” video
P) “Star-Spangled Banner”
Q) “Hokey Pokey”
5. Which eye was Peter Falk’s glass eye? His right eye, which was removed when he was three years old, because of retinoblastoma. He had a glass eye the rest of his life.
Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!
- Nero Wolfe
- Scooby Doo
- San Francisco
- Washington, DC
- New York
Hope you’re getting a kick out of the quizzes. Do you remember the Mike Hammer series on tv? Did you read any of Spillane’s stories? I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,