When Jack Williams is discovered shot dead, the investigative cop Pat Chambers calls his acquaintance and Jack’s closest friend, private investigator, Mike Hammer. Jack took a Japanese bayonet, losing his arm, to save Hammer. Angry at Jack’s death, Hammer vows to identify the killer ahead of the police and to exact fatal revenge. His starting point are the guests at a party at Jack’s apartment the night he died – Jack’s fiancée, a recovering dope addict, a beautiful psychiatrist, twin socialite sisters, a college student, and a mobster. But as he tracks them down, so too does the killer, and soon it’s not only Jack who is dead and Hammer is firmly in the killer’s sights.
In I, The Jury Spillane has the melodrama turned up to eleven, and from the sensibilities of the new century it’s a little difficult not to judge it with a Spinal Tap eye. This is hardboiled magnified with stereotype and caricature galore. Mike Hammer is a tough guy PI, oozing testosterone, with a short fuse, and a sense of conviction that he is the police, judge, jury and executioner. He’s Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Hammett’s Sam Spade, on steroids. Charlotte Manning is the femme fatale. And the other characters are straight off the peg. The story is told in a fairly workman like manner, with the pace kept up tempo and the dialogue snappy, though it’s difficult to imagine much of it actually being uttered by anyone except people playing caricatures. The plot is interesting enough, and it twists and turns, though it’s clear who the killer is from a long way out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but for me at least it didn’t live up to its billing as one of the classic reads of crime fiction (note, that’s not to say it wasn’t an important and influential book) and it’s not in the same league as Chandler, Hammett and James Cain. Overall, worth a read, but don’t expect your socks to be blown off.