Tahlequah Daily Press

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August 2, 2006

It’s a mystery: ‘Whodunnit’ this time?

One of the most famous detective novelists recently died, but his work, and that of others, continues to thrill audiences.

TAHLEQUAH — Does the name Mike Hammer ring a bell? Were you reading a Mickey Spillane novel on the night of the 21st? Which novel was it, and who gave it to you?

You enjoyed it, didn’t you?

When Spillane sat down to begin his first novel, “I, the Jury,” he may not have envisioned just how popular crime novels - and especially those dubbed “whodunnits” - would become in the 20th and 21st centuries. Spillane died July 17, at age 88, but his novels remain an intriguing example of why the genre has captured so many readers’ attentions.

Spillane considered himself a writer out to make a living, not an author seeking fame, as he told the Associated Press during a 2001 interview.

He introduced Mike Hammer, the tough, shoot-’em-up detective whose adventures and mysteries have garnered the attention of millions. Hammer’s dealings were spread through 13 books, several of which made it to the big screen, including “Kiss Me, Deadly,” and “The Girl Hunters,” in which Spillane also starred.

Tahlequah Police Detectives Nate King and Jeff Haney both believe investigative TV shows have drawn attention to the act of solving crime in a book, on the TV screen or in the theater.

The two real-life detectives have read a few detective novels, including those of Robert B. Parker; however, their office bookshelf isn’t lined with Sherlock Holmes or Mike Hammer stories, but instead with non-fiction books - “real” detective tomes.

King pulled a few of the books out for reference that dealt with scenarios detectives may actually encounter on the job, such as forensic cases and courtroom information.

“These are the books we prefer,” said Haney. “They show how another department missed something in a case – something like that, something we can actually use.”

“Whodunnits” are often credited with introducing aficionados to terms such as “an inside job,” “false suspects,” a “locked-room murder” and a “final twist” in the plot. The books are known, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, for leading readers through a story toward a conclusion that reveals “who did it,” and all other details essential to the case.

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