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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Big Kill

cover image By: Spillane, Mickey (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Signet Books 915)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 374: PS3537 .P652 B5 1951b
Contributor: W. Hepfer


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Mickey Spillane Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1951  |  Original Date: 1951 Setting: urban Motives: Mike Hammer is intent on finding the person responsible for killing William Decker, a reformed ex-con desperate enough to cry, and orphaning his one-year old child. The child's mother had died of cancer the previous year.

Plot Summary

Mike Hammer is sitting in a bar feeling misanthropic when William Decker enters crying and carrying a baby. He leaves the baby inside and goes outside where he is quickly shot to death. Mike vows to find the killer and avenge the crime for the sake of the orphaned child. He learns that the dead man was an ex-con trying to go straight when he was tricked into consorting with racketeers. Mike battles with low lifes and high-living hoodlums in the course of seeking his own brand of justice.

Major Characters

Mike Hammer adult male, private investigator

Marsha Lee adult female, beautiful, feminine, tawny brown hair, precocious breasts, former actress

Lou Grindle adult male, 40s, dapper, hair that looked painted on, boxing promoter, racketeer

Mel Hooker adult male, tall, thin, facial scar

Ed Teen adult male, well-dressed, looked like a banker, bookie, gangster

Dixie Cooper adult male, bleached hair, buck teeth, loan shark

Toady Link adult male, obese, frog face, protruding eyes, ex-photographer, bookie

William Decker adult male, "a little squirt who looked like he never had enough to eat," reformed safe-cracker, ex-con

Pat Chambers adult male, police captain of homicide department

Velda adult female, coal-black page-boy hair, beautiful, shapely, Mike Hammer's secretary, licensed as a private investigator

Ellen Scobie adult female, leggy brunette, district attorney's assistant

William Decker, Jr. child, male infant, a little over a year old


handguns, fists

Level of Violence

Mike Hammer fights rough and inflicts lots of pain. He shoots to kill when he must, and survives a pistolwhipping when he is outnumbered. He regards his own fighting and killing as a justifiable means to an end. Some of the villains come to gruesome ends when they are run over with a car or shot in the face.


Mike Hammer has sexy flirtations with Marsha Lee and Ellen Scobie.

Gender Roles

Mike Hammer is profoundly moved when he sees William Decker crying. It makes him realize how desperate Decker was. He tells Pat Chambers, "It isn't nice to see guys cry.not grown men. It's worse to see a little kid holding the bag. Somebody's going to get shot for it." Although Mike takes temporary custody of the child rather than see him turned over to an agency, he leaves the baby with a retired nurse neighbor for most of the book. The infant provides occasional comic relief by showing unusual curiosity toward Mike's .45 handgun. Mike and Ellen track down Dixie Cooper at The Glass Bar, which is referred to as "that fag joint" whose customers are "queers."


there is an incidental mention of a "colored pianist" playing at a bar.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

cigarette and cigar smoking are commonplace. Alcohol is present but not abused. Drugs are not mentioned.

Law Enforcement

Mike's friend Pat Chambers is a homicide captain. When Pat tries to arrest Mike for murder, Mike finagles enough extra time to clear himself and disprove the district attorney's case against him. An information leak inside the D.A.'s office is troublesome for police, who are respected but restricted by regulations that Mike feels justified in ignoring.

Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Hammer, Mike/ Murder/ Revenge/ Detectives, Private

Psychological Elements

Mike Hammer explains his antisocial behavior to a drunk woman at the beginning of the story: "I don't like people. I don't like any kind of people. When you get them together in a big lump they all get nasty and dirty and full of trouble. So I don't like people including you. That's what a misanthropist is."