Friday, February 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Twisted Thing - Mickey Spillane


Spoilers below, sort of.

THE TWISTED THING came out in 1966, Mickey Spillane's ninth Mike Hammer novel, but I believe I've read that it's actually the second book Spillane wrote, back around 1950. There are a few lines that make it sound as if that could be the case, including what might be a reference to the famous ending of I, THE JURY. The book doesn't have any topical references, either, other than a few mentions of "the war". However, I didn't have any idea about that when I first read the novel all those years ago, and the things I noticed now went right past me then. All I knew was that while I liked the book, I didn't think it was as good as the other Mike Hammer novels I'd read up to that point.

It's sort of an odd duck, to be honest. The setting is a small town somewhere in New York, rather than Hammer's usual haunts in New York City. Most of the action takes place on a country estate belonging to wealthy scientist Rudolph York, who hires Hammer to find his kidnapped son Ruston. Ruston York is a prodigy, raised by his father to be a genius, a little reminiscent of Doc Savage only without the physical development. Also at the country house are an assortment of relatives and employees, most of them with secrets and agendas. More than once I thought, "Wait a minute, shouldn't this be a Hercule Poirot novel?"

But no, it's definitely a Mike Hammer yarn. Maybe not as much shooting and punching as some in the series, but there's still plenty. The voice of Carroll John Daly's Race Williams definitely echoes in some of Hammer's musings. He actually solves the kidnapping and rescues the kid pretty early in the book, but then there's a particularly grisly murder and the case becomes a lot more complicated. Ruston York doesn't turn out to be quite the innocent victim Hammer believed him to be at first. Eventually Hammer sorts everything out, and there's a long scene at the end where it's all explained before the traditional jarring Spillane ending.

After rereading this book fifty years later, I still wouldn't place THE TWISTED THING in the top ranks of the Mike Hammer series. I wasn't sure I completely bought the ending even back in '66, and I don't now, either. However, the action scenes are great and I just love Spillane's voice and the sheer pace of the storytelling. I suspect many of you read this book a long time ago, like I did, but if you haven't, it's worthwhile, just probably not the best place to start with Spillane's work.


For what it's worth, the first Spillane novel I read was the non-series book THE DEEP. I started the Hammer series with KISS ME, DEADLY and quickly read all the others that had come out by then, which I believe took the series up through THE SNAKE. That's one I have fond memories of reading in the old barracks building that served as our high school's study hall, so maybe I ought to reread it one of these days. If I do, I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

10 comments:

George said...

When I was a kid back in the 1960s, Mickey Spillane was "hot stuff." His books had lurid covers and there was a violence with Mike Hammer's methods. I read about a dozen Spillane novels before I moved on to "carter brown."

Anonymous said...

I have a list I found online where Max Allan Collins lists all the Mike Hammer novels chronologically , although I think he has put out one or two more since the list was made. It has The Twisted Thing listed third in the series after I, The Jury and Lady, Go Die!


Danny

Todd said...

A Spillane cozy would be an interesting development...

James Reasoner said...

This is as close as we'll come to that, I think.

J F Norris said...

Not read any Spillane, though I used to sell a lot of his books. I think this is the one I'll make an effort to track down and read.

Bill O said...

Max Collins list this I think as the second Hammer written. Original title, Whom The Gods Would Destroy. Shows how malleable Spillane originally perceived Mike and his enviroment.Thought Ruston York's boy genius dialogue dead on.

Gerard Saylor said...

According to my notes from after reading this in 2014 I enjoyed the book. Spillane's theory on boy geniuses made no sense.

My notes also comment on how Hammer considered lesbians half man-half women. It'd be interesting to compare who Spillane wrote about homosexuals from his first to last book and how the co-authored books with Collins treats the topic. At the end of the series Hammer has a 'Meh, people are people attitude, just don't be an a-hole."

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Tried reading Spillane as a teenager. At the time I was reading all of Chandler, both MacDonalds, Jim Thompson, Hammett.
Just found Spillane a terrible writer.

Mathew Paust said...

I've read many Spillanes, but wasn't aware of this one. You're right, James, it does sound more like a Golden Age type plot. Be interesting to see how Mickey handled it.

Stephen Mertz said...

What a terrific review! Or maybe I just think that because it matches my opinion of the book note for note. A novel more interesting than good. But dang me, I've read it three times! Just can't beat Spillane!