I, the Jury
|Publisher||E. P. Dutton (h/b)
Signet Books (p/b)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Followed by||My Gun Is Quick|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2008)|
Although she runs a successful private psychiatric clinic on New York's Park Avenue, Dr. Charlotte Manning — young, beautiful, blonde, and well-to-do — cannot get enough. In order to increase her profit, she gets involved with a group of criminals — a "syndicate" — specialising in both prostitution and drug-trafficking. The brains of the "outfit" is Hal Kines, who has had plastic surgery, making him look much younger than he really is, and this is precisely how he gets hold of the young women whom he then turns into prostitutes. Manning herself has a rich and "ritzy" clientele — people who would not want their addiction to become public knowledge. But instead of weaning them off drugs in her private and exclusive clinic, Manning makes them even more dependent on both the drug — heroin in most cases — and on herself by procuring the stuff herself. On the surface, Charlotte Manning keeps up appearances and leads a respectable life as a renowned psychiatrist.
When Jack Williams, a former New York cop who has lost an arm in World War II saving his friend Mike Hammer's life, falls in love with Myrna Devlin, a young heroin addict whom he stops from jumping off a bridge to commit suicide, he asks Manning to admit her to her clinic for psychotherapy. After Myrna has become clean, she and Williams become engaged, and the couple keep up a casual friendship with Charlotte Manning. This is how Williams's growing suspicions about Manning's business lead him to privately and secretly investigate even further into the matter. When he realizes that Hal Kines, one of Manning's college students who has spent some time at her clinic and who has become one of her casual acquaintances, is in fact a criminal, he wants to talk to her about it and tells her so. When, at a party given by Williams in his apartment, Charlotte Manning sees some old college yearbooks whose contents (and photos), if made public, would expose Kines's double life, she has to act fast. After the party, she goes home but on the same night, undetected by Kathy, her maid, goes back to Williams's apartment (Myrna, his fiancée, does not live there) and shoots him in the stomach using a silencer. She does so in a particularly sadistic way, watching him die slowly. Then she takes the college yearbooks and leaves.
None of the guests at Williams's party has a watertight alibi, but to both Pat Chambers, the cop investigating the murder, and Mike Hammer, a friend of his and private investigator, none of them has a motive either. Throughout the book, as more and more immediate suspects are eliminated (shot) ("If this kept up there wouldn't be anyone left at all."), Hammer briefly ponders the question if the killer could be an "outsider" — someone wholly unrelated to the group of people who have been at Williams's party, for example someone Williams was after in his capacity as investigator for an insurance company. Chambers also thinks along similar lines: Williams's (secret) connection with Myrna's former drug dealers might have cost him his life. But they soon abandon that theory.
When Mike Hammer sees Williams's body ("For the first time in my life I felt like crying"), he makes a solemn vow: He promises that he will find the murderer and execute him himself, avoiding the U.S. judicial system altogether. He says that if he left it to the courts to punish the perpetrator, some clever lawyer would surely achieve an acquittal and the murderer would get away with his crime. This is why he himself will be the jury – and the judge, for that matter. Throughout their basically separate investigations, Hammer and Chambers work closely together, exchanging information and evidence. But each of them hopes he will be the one to find the killer in the end.
The immediate suspects Hammer finds himself confronted with are:
- Esther and Mary Bellemy, identical twins in their late twenties living in a New York apartment hotel, rather attractive women of independent means, with a large estate somewhere in the country. Both are unmarried and obviously looking for husbands. Later, Hammer finds out — through first-hand experience — that Mary Bellemy is a nymphomaniac. Esther Bellemy, whom he never gets to know intimately, is no virgin either, but much more reserved than her sister Mary, with whom Hammer actually has sex on two separate occasions.
- George Kalecki, whom Hammer knows to have been a crook — a bootlegger, to be precise — but who has obviously achieved a clean record and who now appears to be Hal Kines's paternal friend, paying for the latter's tuition and giving him food and lodging. (In fact it is the other way round: Hal Kines, the "big shot" and the brains of the syndicate, has a hold on Kalecki: Hidden away in the vaults of some bank he has documents proving that Kalecki is a killer on the loose.)
- Hal Kines, who poses as a student of medicine but who is in fact the head of a criminal organisation specializing in prostitution and drug-dealing. His very sophisticated — and complicated — way of procuring willing women for his "outfit" can only be understood if one considers the morally repressed society of the late 1940s: Again and again, he assumes the role of John Hanson, a student in some provincial college (for example in the Midwest), pretends falling in love with a female student, makes her pregnant, forces her to have an illegal abortion, and then deserts her. By now the girl's life has been ruined, she has been ostracized by both her family and most likely all her friends and acquaintances. Then a car arrives, picks up the desperate young woman and drives her straight to one of the New York "call houses" operated by his syndicate. Once there, there is no way for her to escape.
- Charlotte Manning, with whom Hammer falls in love and who, as far as he can see, has no motive whatsoever to kill Williams. Hammer, the first person narrator of the story, describes her as "radiating sex in every manner and gesture" ("Mary [Bellemy] only had sex. Charlotte had that plus a lot more."). Charlotte confesses her love for him, and he says that he has never been in love before. Soon they talk about getting married. Hammer has always admired her "golden hair"; but not before the very end, when she strips, does he find out that Charlotte is a "real blonde". In the course of the action Charlotte Manning kills five people: After committing her first murder, she has to cover up her tracks and murder anyone who might be able to expose her. As Hammer admits, she has an unusual amount of luck helping her to do all that.
- Myrna Devlin, a former "dope fiend" who, as it turns out, does not play any important role in the plot at all except that of one of the victims: At the Bellemys' party (towards the end of the book), Myrna, alone in an upstairs room where most of the guests have left their coats, tries on Charlotte Manning's coat and discovers heroin in one of its pockets. This is the reason why Manning has to shoot her, too.
It takes Hammer and Chambers a long time to figure out what is going on. Manning continues to kill those who have become dangerous for her. At the same time, her relationship with Hammer deepens. We see everything through Hammer's eyes, and for a long time he is completely blind to the facts ("I hope you get him,' she said sincerely."). During a walk through Central Park, while Manning is baby-sitting for one of her friends, she and Hammer are shot at. The sniper is Kalecki, but it does not become clear until later that he was after Manning. He misses.
On a Saturday morning, Hammer picks up Myrna Devlin and gives her a lift. They drive to the Bellemy twins' estate in the country for a gigantic all-day party there. Charlotte Manning says she has some business to attend to and will be there in time for a tennis game due to take place that evening. After an unsuccessful attempt at playing tennis himself, Hammer gets rid of his sleep deficit by spending all day in his room, fast asleep, with "old junior" — his gun — close to him. He is woken up just in time for dinner, during which Harmon Wilder, the Bellemys' lawyer, and Charles Sherman, Wilder's assistant, are pointed out to him. This is a fine — and the final — distractor in the novel: Wilder and Sherman are suddenly missing from the party after Myrna Devlin has been found shot. In fact they had illicit drugs on them and did not want to be found out. During the tennis game, Mary Bellemy asks Charlotte if she can "borrow" Hammer. Then she leads him into the woods where they have sex. They return to the party just as a maid discovers Myrna's body in an upstairs room, in front of a large mirror. Both Pat Chambers and the police are called in, and the alibis of each guest is checked. Again Charlotte can convince everyone that she could not have done anything.
Back home, Hammer retreats into his apartment to think. Finally, he knows the identity of the killer. This is when he goes to Charlotte's place, recapitulates the whole crime and finally shoots her dead, despite her efforts to pull the trigger on him.
By the time the book was adapted into a film in 1953, it had sold 3 500 000 copies.
The first film version of I, the Jury was shot in 1953 and was released through United Artists. After a four-picture contract was signed with Spillane, the movie was filmed, in 3-D, featuring Biff Elliot as Mike Hammer, Preston Foster and Peggie Castle. The plot from the novel was toned down for the film version. It grossed $1,299,000. The cinematographer was John Alton.
References in Popular Culture
The novel's reputation for raciness and violence has outlasted the popularity of the book itself.
- The book was featured in "Dino Checks Out," an episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold! The book was given to Arnold within a box of personal mementos; however, Arnold's grandfather takes it, saying "I'll just hold on to this until you're 10."
- In "All The Way," the first episode of the television sitcom Happy Days (set in the 1950s), Potsie gives Richie a copy of the book to study before his date with a girl with "a reputation."
- In M*A*S*H episode #208, Season 9, "Operation Friendship", a wounded Klinger ask Charles to read him the novel.
- Edward Piercy: "I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane"
- 1953 version of I, the Jury at the Internet Movie Database
- 1982 version of I, the Jury at the Internet Movie Database