My Gun is Quick
“They were going to die slower and harder than any son of a bitch had ever died before, and when they died I’d laugh my goddamn head off!”
The above quote pretty aptly sums up the sort of material you expect to read from Mickey Spillane. Hard-hitting, direct and mean. My Gun is Quick is the second novel by Mickey Spillane, following on from 1947’s I, the Jury (reviewed here). It again features New York PI Mike Hammer carrying out a mission of personal vengeance. This time round, he is investigating the murder of a young, red-headed prostitute, known simply as ‘Red’, who he meets in a bar one night at the outset of the novel, with whom he forms a quick and steady friendship only to hear the news of her death in an alleged car accident the next day. Convinced there is more to her death than a simple case of hit-and-run, his investigations quickly lead him into the sordid world of organised crime and the prostitution rings flooding New York, and uncovers a large political conspiracy which he seeks to unravel as he hunts for Red’s killer.
My Gun is Quick is very much a story about vice, and Spillane doesn’t hold back on putting it on show for the reader. As with most of Spillane’s works, the women are described in luscious detail (“She had on a black satin dress with a neckline that plunged down to her belt buckle, and she sat there with her legs crossed, unconscious of what she was giving away for free”), the violence is hard-hitting, and through it all Mike Hammer is portrayed as a relentless avenging angel, determined to see justice done in his own way irrespective of the methods employed, laughing manically to himself as he finally holds the gun against the true killer’s head as they slowly burn to death in an abandoned motel. In between, he spars with the police, makes the routine passing flirtations with his secretary Velda (who is more absent in this novel than in others), and still has time to fall in love with another prostitute named Lola who he manages to ‘rescue’ from the clutches of the business in his own carnally affectionate way (after confirming with her beforehand that she has been cured from the venereal disease she had recently picked up, of course…) Spillane certainly isn’t a subtle writer, but his writing is none the less effective in getting the point across. Not that he would particularly want to be subtle. His stories display the true underbelly of the world – a world full of sin, lust and violence, and his writing reflects that. It may lack the finesse of Raymond Chandler and the maturity of Ross MacDonald, but Spillane’s writing is nonetheless effective in getting the point across.
At its heart though (and somewhat cheesy title aside), My Gun is Quick features an engaging story focused around the seedy world of the prostitution business. The set-up surrounding call girls, how the business works and what can cause the same girls to be kicked out and forced onto the streets is explained in quite interesting detail in the first encounter between Hammer and Lola, another prostitute he meets when investigating Red’s background. It has a few surprisingly touching moments at points, even if they are pretty rough around the edges (“Breakfast is ready, my lord” being a prime example here), but the goal of Hammer to end the prostitution racket is well formulated. The character of Lola is quite essential to the plot in this regard, as she (along with the murdered Red) serve to show the evils of the system and help to excuse some of Hammer’s rather aggressively blunt approach to the case. The character of Pat Chambers, Hammer’s rather obliging police friend, again features prominently in the book as a seemingly lone voice in the police force dedicated to rooting out the organised crime and prostitution rings being allowed to operate by a corrupt system.
The ending to the novel is pretty satisfying, even if the final twist to the novel, as well as the identity of Red’s killer, are not exactly unpredictable. Still, Spillane builds up to it convincingly, and the final chapter involving the final exposure of the operation and Hammer’s final execution of his vengeance is well-written and a suitable brutal end to a rather sinister story.
Anyone who knows Mickey Spillane will readily accept that he doesn’t write fine art, but his books are still exciting in a bloody, relentless way. I, the Jury was a convincing enough debut, and My Gun is Quick certainly keeps the flame going. A more fleshed-out story than its predecessor, it’s well worth a read.
Next up in the Mike Hammer series: Vengeance is Mine.