Frank Morrison “Mickey” Spillane had already established himself as a comic book and pulp writer (he helped develop the characters of Captain Marvel and Captain America) when he created his most celebrated (and notorious) character, detective Mike Hammer in I, the Jury in 1947. Ten more Hammer adventures followed, the cycle ending in 1970 with Survival … Zero! Called by various commentators “a fascist,” “a paranoid,” even a “latent homosexual,” Hammer is a “hard-boiled dick” who never backs away from violence, with men
or with women. There is no doubt that Spillane identified with the character— he posed for the dust wrapper photographs of the Hammer books and starred in the motion picture version of The Girl Hunters (1963).
Kiss Me Deadly, seventh in the Hammer series, opens with a beautiful young woman, clad only in a trenchcoat, flagging down Hammer’s sportscar on a lonely mountain road in New York State. Breathlessly, she explains her name is Berga Torn, and that she’s just escaped from a sanitarium. Mike manages to get her through a police roadblock, but thugs waylay them, knock him out, torture Berga, and roll them and the car off a cliff. Mike survives, but his attempts to investigate the case are stalled when the police revoke his investigator’s license. Working on his own, Mike locates Berga’s roommate, Lily Carver, and learns a lot of things about Berga—that she was once the mistress of Mafia boss, Carl Evello; that she had known the location of a metal box containing $2 million in heroin smuggled into America before the war; and that she had swallowed a key before her death. Mike recovers the key during her autopsy and, with the help of Lily, locates Locker #529 at the City Athletic Club, which is filled with the missing narcotics. Meanwhile, his secretary, Velda, has been kidnapped by the Mob. In rescuing her, Mike beats one mobster to death and shoots through the eye one Dr. Soberin, who had referred Berga to the sanitarium. But a
terrible surprise is in store for Hammer: The girl he had
presumed to be Lily Carver is, in reality, Soberin’s mistress;
she has been using him as a patsy to get the narcotics.
Allowing Mike a last cigarette, she gloats and torments
him with one last kiss. Mike thumbs his cigarette lighter
and ignites her rubbing alcohol-soaked body. He struggles
away from the flames, his survival uncertain.