Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review: The Tough Guys, by Mickey Spillane

I haven't read a lot of crime novels, especially the hardboiled variety, but I've heard a lot about Mickey Spillane.  A few months ago, I stumbled across his book The Tough Guys, at a used book sale a local bank was hosting.  At the price of a buck, I figured I couldn't go wrong.

The Tough Guys, is actually an anthology of three short stories:  Kick it or Kill!, The Seven Year Kill and The Bastard Bannerman.  These were originally published in various men's magazines back in the '60s.

Kick it or Kill and The Bastard Bannerman have similar story arcs.  Basically, like in the westerns, a stranger "rides into town" and cleans up the joint.  While the Seven Year Kill is about a disgraced journalist out on parole, trying to clear his name--and get back at the crime boss who framed him.

All three stories feature plenty of two-fisted and steamy action.  While each story is told in first person, you won't find any literary-style introspection.  Just a guy trying to figure out what's going on and what to do about it--without getting killed in the process.

Reading these stories reminded me of the cops & robbers movies I watched on TV when I was a kid.  In fact, they were like print versions of action-adventure movies.  You know you're not getting an Academy Award winner, but you're in for a good yarn--minus the car chases and explosions.

The one thing that felt out-of-kilter was the dialogue.  Specific dates were mentioned in each story and while they took place in the '60s, the language people used reminded me more the '50s or even '40s.  True, not all of us who lived through the "Age of Aquarius" talked like a hippie pot-head and "The Establishment" was still strongly conservative.  While I loved Spillane's pulp/noir style of writing, I still had trouble reconciling the dialogue with any of the stories' time frame.  It's as if the author completely ignored the whole counter-culture movement.  Based on what I've read about the author's patriotic and anti-communist feelings, such an omission may have been deliberate.

Overall, I give The Tough Guys a 4 out of 5 star rating.  No one's reviewed this book, originally published on 1 December 1969, on  However, there's 50 ratings on Goodreads, yielding an average of 3.56 out of 5. Here's what blogger Vintage Hardboiled Reads had to say about The Tough Guys.

I may not go out of my way to find more of Mickey Spillane's work, but if I do, especially his popular Mike Hammer series, I'll be sure to snatch them up.

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