Book Review: The Body Lovers by Mickey Spillane

Title: The Body Lovers

Author: Mickey Spillane

Format: Paperback, Signet Books

Published: 1967

bodylovers

When people talk about classic Private Eye writers, three usually bubble to the top.  It’s normally Dashiell Hammett for refining the classic ‘hard boiled’ detective, Raymond Chandler for bestowing upon the trench coated fedora wearing gumshoe the possibility of being a modern day knight, and then Mickey Spillane for giving a rough, balls to the wall, overtly violent edge to the PI character.  Of course, each has their signature character, Spillane’s being the tough as nails, very nearly psychopathic (according to some) Mike Hammer, ready to deliver death at a moment’s notice to those who deserve it.

‘The Body Lovers’ is the tenth Mike Hammer book in the series and a prime example of what I’ve said for sometime.  I think Mike Hammer gets a bum rap often from supposed experts in the Private Eye Fiction field and maybe even some fans.  Spillane’s Hammer is often, if not nearly always described as some sort of seething, angry monster walking on the edges of justice, ready to strike out at his own discretion with deadly violence against the depraved, be they threats against national security or near demons passing through humanity nearly unnoticed.  He is not seen as ever reaching the sophistication of sorts that Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe seems to be credited with from the first story forward, nor is he ever described as a multifaceted character, something that is normally always said about Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.

In ‘The Body Lovers’, Hammer happens onto a scared kid at a  construction site who has found a dead woman in a negligee.  Insistent to stay on the outside of this particular situation, Hammer ends up pulled in not only when links are drawn between this death and the alleged suicide of another woman previously, also found wearing a negligee, but also when a con Mike sent up the river sends him a message and hires him to find his sister to make sure she’s not the third victim.

What unfolds, once Mike is involved, is a case that involves evil at all stages of society, from foreign dignitaries to the rich upper crust of New York down into the bowels of Greenwich Village and even into the ghetto.  No one is immune from the darkness that seems to be engulfing these women, nor are they protected from the justice seeking Mike Hammer.

This is top of the line Spillane.  Every word is keyed to illicit the perfect reaction, the phrasing is top notch, and the characters are cut from the hardest asphalt any city has to offer.  Mike is on full display here, along with Velda and Pat Chambers.  But, be warned. If You’re reading this to find the unhinged, rather over the top Mike Hammer that you read in ‘I, The Jury’ or ‘One Lonely Night’, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Yes, Hammer has his savage moments in ‘The Body Lovers’, his the rules be damned way of dealing with things.  But that’s not the core of Hammer in this book, not at all.

And why should it be? I think Mickey Spillane is often underrated as an author, especially when compared to others in his field.  Spillane’s Hammer grew and developed with each book, sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically.  Spillane revealed facets to this dark diamond, and Mike often exceeded, but sometimes regressed to the character at his most primal.  To say that Mike Hammer remained the same throughout each book and what changed was the story around him, which several have insinuated, is unfair to both the author and the character, as well as the reader.

‘The Body Lovers’ puts a more methodical, a more detective like Mike Hammer on stage for all to see, a man who doesn’t have to prove how violent he can be or out of control his methods are, because we know that already.  The fact that Mike is the center of most of the news stories when he just stumbles across the body at the beginning of the book establishes that he is good copy, that he has a reputation.  And although that is a recurrent theme in the book, Spillane does not feel like he has to prove to us that Mike can only be that.  We see Mike work a case from the ground up, after spending a few pages trying to not even be involved.  Mike’s street wise intelligence shines through much more in this book than does his reliance on shooting his way out of things that so many people associate with the character.  ‘The Body Lovers’ is definitely Spillane at not only the top of his Mike Hammer game, but showing his chops as a true author with every single page.

‘The Body Lovers’ is an easy five out of five pages.  Not a missed beat anywhere between the covers.

It’s also a fully loaded six out of six bullets.  Spillane balances violence, crime solving, and characterization like the truly professional author he was, and in my opinion, this is what makes him one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century.

 

 

 

 

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