Stang shares the story of his father, who, he claims, inspired the hard-boiled detective in Mickey Spillane’s popular crime novels.
This debut biography opens in 1947 at a bar and grill owned by the author’s father and located on the New York waterfront. A cub reporter narrates, remarking on a casual conversation between two friends—a large, intimidating bartender with piercing eyes, Jack Stang Sr., and crime writer Spillane. The book then flashes back to 1932, when Jack Sr. was 9, and continues chronologically in Jack Sr.’s voice. Growing up, Jack enjoyed life with his parents and two younger brothers; he was popular in school, a football player and a natural leader who protected the weaker kids from bullies. In 1941, while at the family bar, he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio. He decided to quit high school and join the Marines, and his impressive military career spans more than a third of the book. The remainder covers his subsequent career as a policeman, and his occasional forays into Hollywood, where he almost portrays Spillane’s tough-guy detective Mike Hammer on-screen. Stang’s wife and children, including the author, hover around the edges of the story. The author’s breathless, staccato writing style meshes perfectly with the many tense military scenes: “They hit about 5 guys right away—we fired back—rapid fire—Bucky firing off the Browning as fast as he could.” It’s less effective in the other sections, making many events seem hurried and superficial—more like a series of rough sketches or jotted diary notes than a fully rounded biography. The author’s liberal use of tough language feels appropriate to the time and setting, but readers may find it stilted at times (“Me, being the oldest, and I had a way with animals, became her trainer.”) The biography’s ending, in 1952, feels abrupt, although a short afterword adds closure. A rich 45-page treasury of photos and newspaper clippings rounds out the portrait.
Despite its unpolished prose, fans of hard-boiled detective novels will enjoy this fascinating bio.