Max Allan Collins's Blog
August 15, 2017
Dick Locher passed away last week.
As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.
I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.
A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.
The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.
Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.
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I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”
I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.
But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.
And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.
The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.
I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?
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Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.
It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.
My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)
How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.
Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.
We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.
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Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.
August 8, 2017
This will be a brief update, because I have just returned from having Cortisone shot into my arthritic big toe. It doesn’t hurt but I am woozier than usual. Yes, after defeating open-heart and lung surgery, not to mention whooping cough (but I guess I did just mention it), I am facing defeat at the hands of a toe.
But it takes more than excruciating pain to stop me from entertaining my public. My wife will, however, tell you that living with when I am not just a pain but am in pain is no effing picnic. Just yesterday she lovingly reminded me that I am more trouble than I’m worth.
I knew that, but an occasional reminder comes in handy.
I’m preparing to get back to writing the new Mike Hammer comic book mini-series (issue #1 delivered) and fighting that just-stepped-off-the-merry-go-round feeling from having shipped Scarface & the Untouchable, co-written by Brad Schwartz. What an incredible collaborator! The level of research into Eliot Ness that Brad pulled off is staggering. Very proud of this – almost 150,000 words, not counting end notes!
A quick note on a movie that you should seek out, either streaming or on Blu-Ray (it’s available cheap, lots of places): Train to Busan, a South Korean film that’s on the list of all-time high-grossers (in several senses) in that country. I avoided this for a while because it’s a zombie movie and I’m kind of zombied out.
But this rivals any zombie movie I’ve ever seen, including Romero ones, and has a lot more going on that just the undead trying to catch a train, or claw their way off one, either. The story is about a business-oriented father and his neglected child, and the theme is our responsibility to each other. It’s always scary as hell. I found it more reminiscent of John Carpenter’s great Assault on Precinct 13 than any zombie film, and that’s high praise indeed.
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Supreme Justice – $1.99
Fate of the Union – $1.99
Executive Order – $1.99
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And here is their announcement for Hardboiled Horror, an anthology of noir horror yarns that includes a new one by me and my frequent cohort in crime, Matt Clemens.
Check out this terrific piece on tie-in writing (from the Atlantic, no less!) that includes sage wisdom from an expert (humility prevents me from saying more).
Here’s a podcast on Wild Dog that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet.
August 1, 2017
Remember how last week I talked about how good the summer movies were, and how Barb and I didn’t seem to be walking out of movies anymore?
Then Atomic Blonde happened.
This was one I was really looking forward to – Charlize Theron as a spy in ‘90s Eurotrash-ville, showing off stylish clothes of the era, a popcorn flick with lots of action and a striking visual sense. Based on the trailer anyway.
And Charlize looks great. The visual style and the ‘90s fashions also look great. Lots of style, plenty of style, oodles of style.
But you know what? I don’t care as long as I’m entertained. Hold me past my popcorn and I’m yours. But after forty-five minutes, Barb and I bailed. Life is too short.
Here’s the thing. The script sucks. It sets up a convoluted structure, where Charlize is getting debriefed (and not in the fun way) by solid actors Toby Jones and John Goodman. But the flashback-and-forth stuff tries to disguise a shopworn espionage set-up. Guess what the Maguffin is? Somebody has stolen a list of all the Western secret agents and if it’s found and they are exposed blah blah blah. Oh, and agent Jane Blonde…you are also try to uncover the traitor in our camp.
Then when you get to the airport, Jane, be sure to climb into the suspiciously waiting car not driven by the guy who’s supposed to pick you up. If you’re confused, just watch the start of Dr. No. You remember Dr. No, don’t you? It was released in fricking 1962!
Then, kids, stay tuned for mindless carnage and Charlize taking lots of baths in tubs full of fake ice cubes between stints of trying to convince you she’s a martial artist and…whoops, the popcorn’s gone.
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So what have I seen that I liked lately?
Bizarre as it may seem, I caught up with two very well regarded films noir that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. Both looked splendid on Blu-ray.
The Prowler, directed by the sometimes obtuse Joseph Losey, is a terrific 1951 crime movie ghosted by blacklister Dalton Trumbo, also responsible for the script of the great Gun Crazy. Van Heflin plays against type (he’s not the friendly rancher of Shane here) as a sort of male “femme fatale” who ensnares lonely housewife Evelyn Keyes in a Postman Always Rings Twice variant. Heflin is a sleazy, smirky cop, and we don’t even see the husband/victim till the murder – previously just been a disembodied voice on the radio. Wonderful.
On Dangerous Ground is from 1952. I can’t believe I never saw this before! The stars are Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino and Ward Bond, and the direction is by Nicholas Ray, produced by John Houseman. Despite this pedigree, the key credits are writer A.I. Bezzerides (who penned the screenplay for Kiss Me Deadly) and composer Bernard Herrmann, who for this low-budget B offers up a haunting score that prefigures every major noir/crime score of his to come. Ryan is a tough cop, as beaten down by his job as the punks he batters confessions out of. Bezzerides is clearly taking Spillane on, three years before Kiss Me Deadly (!), lambasting both tough-guy brutality and eye-for-an-eye justice, by way of Ward Bond’s out-of-control bereaved father. Ryan encounters blind Ida Lupino, a gentle soul who reveals his own metaphorical blindness. The narrative moves a little too fast to be credible, but forget it, Jake – it’s melodrama-town.
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With luck, when you read this, I will have delivered the manuscript for Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. Almost 900 pages, including end notes and bibliography.
So today’s update is brief.
I have things to do.
July 25, 2017
The Quarry comic book mini-series (which will later be collected as a graphic novel) was officially announced at San Diego Comic Con, where I was not in attendance. The splendid cover is included here for your enjoyment, although my enjoyment is hampered by the fact that my name isn’t on it.
I trust this is an oversight that will be rectified by Hard Case Crime Comics, though I admit it rankles when the writer of the other comic book announced did make the cover of that number one issue.
I will leave it to you whether to file this under “What am I, chopped liver?” or sour grapes.
In the meantime, here’s the Booklist advance review of Quarry’s Climax:
Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2017. 240 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781785651809). e-book, (9781785651816).
Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with ‘Climax’ in the title only for the characters).
— Bill Ott
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The title of this week’s update is a line from the Monkees’ “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” which Crusin’ covered for a Monkees tribute CD some years back. But the subject is not rock ‘n’ roll – rather, the now legendary tendency of my wife Barb and myself where walking out of movies is concerned.
We were walking out of so many movies, readers of this weekly update were wondering what movies I might actually be able to tolerate, or perhaps even (choke) like. But others have noticed that there have been no reports of such walk-outs lately.
One possible reason for all the walk-outs has been a spate of overblown, mediocre would-be blockbusters, frequently cribbed from comics or otherwise pop-culture retreads. The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island are typical. CHIPs and Baywatch are the kind of movies where you consider walking out during the trailer, which is all we saw of them.
The truth is, though, something strange happened this summer, at least so far: the blockbuster movie releases have been…how can I put it…good. Here’s a rundown on them, just little mini-reviews to pop like Milk Duds. And what part of the cow is the “dud,” anyway? A few of these I’ve already commented on, in passing.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. A lot of care went into making sure the quirky humor of the first film was maintained, and it paid off. Casting Kurt Russell was a very good move. These movies know exactly how to walk you up to sentimentality and then drop the trap door on you.
Wonder Woman. Chris Pine, channeling William Shatner in the manner of the recent Star Trek movies, contributes humanity and humor while lead Gal Gadot brings provides charm, beauty and athleticism in an epic origin tale craftily set in a vivid Great War setting. And it’s surprisingly faithful to the Golden Age comic book.
The Mummy. The weakest of the non-walkout-worthy summer blockbusters is nonetheless a lot of fun, with Tom Cruise (no matter what you may think about Scientology) bringing his genuine movie-star charisma and skill to the party. A female mummy (Sofia Boutella) is a nice twist, although too much back story and the clumsy inclusion of Jekyll/Hyde (Russell Crowe) is a lame attempt to build a franchise nobody is waiting for.
Baby Driver. A reminder of what it felt like to go to the movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, this is a slick, fast-moving crime film that is propelled by music and moves from one phenomenal, and mood-changing, set piece to another. It’s an outrageous melodrama, with compelling, often larger-than-life characters. Not sure the proposed sequel is a good idea, though.
Spiderman – Homecoming. It took some doing, getting Barb to go along, and she wasn’t won over immediately. But this third reboot (who’s counting?) manages to both re-imagine and yet be quite faithful to the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original (how I wish I had hung onto Amazing Fantasy #15). Tom Holland is a winning Peter Parker/Spidey, though the heart and soul of the movie, oddly enough, belongs to the villain, the wonderfully cast Michael Keaton. Only real flaw is how hard the film works to invoke other aspects of the Marvel film franchise universe, with much more Avengers and Iron Man stuff than necessary. It’s too much salt on an already well-seasoned popcorn.
War for the Planet of the Apes. This may be the best Planet of the Apes movie of all, and as good as the two previous ones are (Rise and Dawn), that’s saying something. There is a grandeur and even majesty to this one, and the believability of the apes is complete and stunning. But it’s also emotionally wracking, action-packed and even frightening. Give Andy Serkis an Oscar already, would you, Academy?
Dunkirk. I’ve never been a Christopher Nolan fan, but I am now a convert. This is the year’s best movie so far. It’s demanding – for Americans, the various Brit accents may mean losing this line or that one, and there’s no Pearl Harbor back story: you’re just thrown right into four or five storylines that crisscross over the running time. The Hans Zimmer score is ruthlessly relentless, and a relaxing time at the movies this isn’t. A few have complained that the film lacks any overview, but the situation is simple: the Germans have driven the British and the French armies to the coast of France with the Channel between the Brits and home. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers are trying to get home, and the advancing German army as well as their fighter pilots are trying to stop that, while British civilians in their own little boats are heading across the Channel to take soldiers home by the handful. That’s all you need to know. There is heroism and cowardice and various other shades of humanity, but also a sense of patriotism in a just cause that today somehow seems remote. Churchill’s famous speech, read by a soldier from a newspaper, is a reminder that giants once guided government.
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My pal Bud Plant has found a supply of the first Ms. Tree trade paperback. It’s cheap and it’s here.
The Hard Case Crime announcement of Quarry’s War made at SDCC was picked up all over the Internet.
July 18, 2017
The History Channel’s documentary on Amelia Earhart as a Japanese POW in Saipan has been called into question. “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which I watched on July 9, was two hours with seemingly an hour of commercials, a docudrama restaging an investigation into Earhart’s (and navigator Fred Noonan’s) disappearance at sea eighty years ago.
Utilizing a documentary style more suited to Bigfoot, ancient aliens or maybe an episode of Pawn Stars, the show did a fairly good job of summarizing the theory I explored in the 1999 Heller novel, Flying Blind. Islanders were interviewed, actual locations visited, a supposed gravesite excavation undertaken, and so on. Admittedly, it had a real Geraldo/Capone vault feel.
I know a lot of Heller fans were watching, the media having gone gaga over a supposedly newly discovered photo of Amelia and Fred on a Marshall Islands pier taken just after they disappeared in 1937. Forensic examiners declared the vague figures in question were “very likely” to be Earhart and her navigator.
The ratings had barely settled when Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano called foul on the photo, citing the inaccuracy of the declared date, saying the picture had been published in a Japanese-language travel book in 1935, two years before Amelia, Noonan and their Lockheed fell off the planet.
I chatted with my son Nate about this, and shared some thoughts, seeking his wisdom as someone who knows a lot about Japanese culture. Nate has lived in Japan and, as many of you know, works as a freelancer translating Japanese books, manga and video games into English. The kid knows his stuff. (The “kid” is also in his early thirties.)
My reaction was this: the media was instantly accepting of the validity of the photo; and then just as immediately took the debunking at face value. What amused me was how many “experts” on line and on cable news said that if the Japanese had taken Amelia prisoner, and then she died in captivity (possibly executed), their government would surely have come forward and told us. After all, we’re friends now, right?
I’m sure the friendly folks who brought us Pearl Harbor would say “So sorry” and admit to imprisoning and slaughtering one of America’s most beloved historical figures. Right?
This isn’t to say that I think the debunking is fake. It does strike me that no one in the United States (that I know of) has examined the book in question – that the evidence comes only from Japan. And it’s all too typical that we immediately accept the debunking, just as quickly as we did the new “evidence.”
Nate has looked into this and thinks the blogger is legit, and the debunking is likely the real thing, not a Japanese government-engineered hoax, to save face. But I maintain the latter is a possibility.
And despite the Loch-Ness-Monster-is-Real approach of the “documentary” from History Channel, the Saipan theory is more than just a theory – it’s the basis of a Nate Heller book! And most likely true.
Speaking of Nate Heller, Better Dead just won something that I had almost nothing to do with, but which nonetheless pleases me very much – a “Best Cover” award!
And, for those who are wondering, I will spend much of the second half of this year working on a new Heller novel. The Better Dead mass market paperback won’t be released until the next hardcover comes out (which I have to write first).
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Here’s another one of those movies-you-didn’t-know-were-from-comics articles, with nice M.A.C. mentions.
July 11, 2017
Remember a few weeks ago when I encouraged everyone to buy books at their favorite brick-and-mortar store? By this I wasn’t suggesting that you find a store where you can buy brick and mortar. Rather, I was hoping you would not spend all of your money online, hastening the death of retail.
One of the bookstores I encouraged you to frequent was Barnes & Noble. With Borders gone, and some communities having no indie bookstore, B & N is about all that’s still standing. We have a BAM! (Books-a-Million) in nearby Davenport, and I trade there a lot. If you’re a member of their frequent buyer club, you get a discount coupon for at least $5 on a $25 purchase every week. Nice store.
Barnes & Noble is good about giving members of their club 20%-off-a-single-item coupons frequently. These are nice little surprises in the snail mail every couple of months. Such things take the sting out of buying a book or blu-ray at a price higher than the online option. B & N is weird in that department, by the way – they are routinely cheaper online, and the stores don’t (or won’t or can’t afford to) match their own online price.
A bigger problem is that B & N corporate has made some decisions about their brick-and-mortars that are not helping the whole decline of retail thing. And now a personal story. (Warning: I’ve told better ones.)
I tend to work six days a week and take one unashamed day off. But when I am really swamped, as I have been lately, Barb and I will take half-days off, usually a morning where we drive to the nearby Quad Cities, have breakfast or an early lunch, shop at BAM! and B & N (that’s where I go – Barb usually has other retail destinations), and are back very early afternoon for more work. Such is our devotion to our readers. And the bill collectors.
On my last two trips to the Davenport Barnes & Noble – a lovely, big store with very nice and often knowledgeable staff – I have had several of those 20% off coupons burning a hole in my billfold. Now I am about as hard to get money out of at a bookstore as convincing a sailor on leave that debauchery is worth paying for.
And twice I have spent not a dime.
Here’s the problem. Barnes & Noble has been rearranging their stores in a fashion that indicates either (a) someone is secretly trying to end the brick-and-mortar aspect of their business, or (b) is desperately trying to get fired. For some years, B & N has had – in each section (Mystery, Biography, what have you) – a display at the head of that section that showcases new titles, face out. The corporate genius in question has decided to instead salt those new titles through the existing stock. Occasionally the new titles are face out, and of course the bestseller type books sit out on various new releases tables.
But for the most part, as a shopper, you either have to have the patience to sort through everything in a section to find new titles, or know exactly what you’re looking for. In the latter case, it’s obviously easier to do that online.
Someone clearly doesn’t understand the shopping experience. Someone associated with bookselling actually doesn’t seem familiar with the term “browsing.”
If searching within a section (Science Fiction, Humor, whatever) isn’t enough to frustrate you, might I suggest the B & N blu-ray/DVD/CD section? (Not all B & Ns have those, but many do.) To further make your shopping experience a Bataan Death March chore, B & N has abandoned individual sections to put all CDs (except classical) together, alphabetically. So you can pick up both the Sid Vicious and Frank Sinatra versions of “My Way” in the same area, if you know your alphabet.
For a blu-ray collector like me, the best (and by that I mean “worst”) is yet to come. The blu-ray section is no more. Instead, a massive section combining DVDs and blu-rays now awaits your browsing pleasure (I also don’t really mean “pleasure”) (sarcasm is fun). Blu-ray buyers tend to be snobs – they avoid DVD unless absolutely necessary. I’m not sure my son buys any DVDs any more. And I would under no circumstances buy a DVD of something available on blu-ray.
Also, the new release blu-rays were formerly displayed on a little shelf above the bins. No more. End caps and other displays may showcase new titles, but again blu-rays and DVDs are mixed.
This may in part reflect the cutting back on help in that section of the B & N stores. With no one to ask, “May I help you,” there are fewer places to look. If you know your alphabet, you’re in business! Hope you have plenty of time on your hands and don’t have to get home to entertain America with your fiction.
What these new policies at B & N are doing is discouraging the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It’s now not only cheaper and easier to shop online, it’s no longer less fun. By which I mean, it’s more fun.
I still encourage you to shop at B & N, but also to politely complain about the new user-unfriendly sections throughout their stores. If I can go there twice on shopping expedition and return with my 20% off coupons still tucked away, something is seriously, seriously wrong.
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July 4, 2017
My writer pal Raymond Benson posted one of those “make a list” challenges, in which the premise is to enumerate your favorite fifteen novels, alphabetically arranged by author. I’ll take an annotated swing.
Every one of these books represents an author whose work I admire (and collect). I make no apology for the authors who don’t appear here, Hemingway and Fitzgerald for example, whose work I also like but would never describe as “favorites.” Decades ago, a teacher at the University of Iowa who I found patronizing told me once that anyone who had never read Proust was an uneducated lout. That has kept me Proust-free in my lifetime, unapologetically.
1. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain. Cain’s novel is where I learned how dialogue can drive a narrative, and also how a crime novel about two terrible people can work as a love story. Without this, no Gun Grazy or Bonnie & Clyde, not to mention a third or so of all Gold Medal paperbacks. “I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.”
2. Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. This is where it all came together for Chandler – a plot that actually works (unlike the shambling wonder that is The Big Sleep), filled with hardboiled poetry and a cast of memorable grotesques with Marlowe at his wise-ass best. “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
3. Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie. Christie was such a underrated writer. The idea that she wrote mere puzzles is more a reflection on a reader’s lack of insight than any deficiency in the work of this tough-minded, tricky writer. She wrote excellent dialogue, playwright that she was, and remains the gold standard of mystery fiction. “The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget…there is evil everywhere under the sun.”
4. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. I love this little book, with its vivid characters, running gags and self-serving protagonist, who views the rustic relatives she’s sponging off as a fix-‘er-up project. The original BBC adaptation with Alistair Sim is woefully absent on home video since an early VHS release. “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”
5. Dr. No, Ian Fleming. I got into Fleming when he was marketed as a British Spillane, and thought his books were terrific. I still do, most of them anyway, and this is a fine example. From Russia with Love is arguably better, this one is pure Bond at his undiluted best. “What’s your name?” “Bond. James Bond.”
6. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. My favorite book. Hammett defines and perfects the private eye novel, and walks away, undefeated. “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”
7. The Southpaw, Mark Harris. Harris is somewhat forgotten, but he’s a wonderful, adventurous novelist. I am not a big baseball fan, but the four Henry Wiggen novels (Bang the Drum, Slowly is the most celebrated) use a first-person voice as American as Huck Finn and Philip Marlowe. “First off I must tell you something about myself, Henry Wiggen, and where I was born and my folks.”
8. The Bad Seed, William March. I have called March a coherent Faulkner, and I stand by that. If you’re familiar with the Mommy movies, you know how highly I regard his sad story of the mother of a monster. “It seemed to her suddenly that violence was an inescapable factor of the heart, perhaps the most important factor of all – an ineradicable thing that lay, like a bad seed, behind kindness, behind compassion, behind the embrace of love itself.”
9. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Horace McCoy. For a novel so little discussed, it could hardly be more influential – Jim Thompson comes from this ambitious first-person account of a brilliant psychopath, one of the most ambitious noir novels of the formative era. “I squeezed the trigger and the bullet hit him in the left eye and a drop of fluid squirted and the eyelid fell over the hole as a window shade falls over a pane of darkness.”
10. Prince of Foxes, Samuel Shellabarger. Shellabarger, once hugely popular, now unjustly forgotten, wrote sprawling novels wherein a swashbuckling fictional character was woven into a well-researched historical fabric. He was as much an influence on me as Hammett, Chandler, Cain and Spillane. “It illustrates the adage that the deeper the dung, the richer the rose. Who remembers the dung when the rose has blossomed?”
11. One Lonely Night, Mickey Spillane. The wildest and craziest of the early Mike Hammer novels also happens to be the first I read (at age thirteen). I have never been right-in-the-head since. “Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this.”
12. Too Many Cooks, Rex Stout. Picking one Nero Wolfe novel is tough – I often cite the hardboiled Golden Spider as a particular favorite. But this is a delightful one, with Stout’s humanely leftist leanings coming through as well as his humor via Archie Goodwin and first-rate mystery plotting (an area in which he didn’t always excel). “Nothing is simpler than to kill a man; the difficulties arise in attempting to avoid the consequences.”
13. Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson. I discovered Thompson in high school and remember reading this in study hall. The psychotic sociopath as narrator/protagonist hit me hard, and played a role in the shaping of Quarry, although my guy is neither psycho nor sociopath, despite the opinion of some. “I’d been chasing females all my life, not paying no mind to the fact that whatever’s got tail at one end has teeth at the other, and now I was getting chomped.”
14. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk. I love Wouk’s work and consider him underrated and unfairly dismissed. I tried to pay tribute in Red Sky in Morning, which will soon be reprinted by Brash Books under my preferred title, USS Powderkeg under my own name (not “Patrick Culhane”). Wouk, still around at 100, is a wonderful storyteller, and few writers have ever created a more memorable character than Captain Queeq. “Life is a dream, a little more coherent than most.”
15. Rambling Rose, Calder Willingham. Willingham was one of my first non-mystery-writer enthusiasms. This is a lovely book, but I like virtually everything of his, from End as a Man to Eternal Fire. He wrote about sex in a way that was at once playful and dead serious. He was one of the great screenwriters, too (Paths of Glory, The Graduate, Little Big Man, Rambling Rose). “I will call her Rose. On a broiling August afternoon in 1935 when I was close to thirteen years of age, a big towheaded girl came to our house with dusty shoes, runs in her stockings and a twinkle in her cornflower eyes.”
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The IMDB entry on Quarry is worth a look.
Here’s a write-up on Hard Case Crime and its move into comics with some nice (if brief) mentions of me and Ms. Tree.
Finally, here’s a nice little bit about the Spillane centenary from the great Rap Sheet.
June 27, 2017
How about an advance look at what’s planned for Mickey Spillane’s 100th birthday next year?
Two books will share centerstage – The Last Stand and Killing Town. Both are really special. The Last Stand will feature two novels – a short one circa early ‘50s, A Bullet for Satisfaction, which I co-authored from an unedited rough draft; and a full-length one, entitled (appropriately enough) The Last Stand.
The latter novel is the last book Mickey completed. My contribution has been to give it an edit, based upon comments Mickey made to me when he and I discussed the book shortly after I read it. This was probably around two weeks before he passed. Mickey was working on The Last Stand and two other novels simultaneously, The Goliath Bone and Dead Street (both of which I completed for him).
With his wife Jane Spillane’s permission, I held back The Last Stand until now for several reasons. First, it’s not a typical Spillane novel – it’s more of an adventure novel along the lines of Something’s Down There, the last book published during his lifetime. While we discussed having it published as the first book after his death, ultimately we decided to set it aside, probably for the centenary. I felt it was better to make the Mike Hammer novels a priority – to get them finished and out there. I’ve obviously been doing that, as well as completing (for publication by Hard Case Crime) Dead Street and The Consummata, both crime novels in keeping with a typical Spillane approach.
The Last Stand is a fun novel, a modern-day western and a disguised rumination on the tough guy entering old age, and readers will be very entertained. But I thought for those who might be confused by a lack of certain expected Spillane elements, including the more typical A Bullet for Satisfaction would make for a nicely balanced volume. Satisfaction is a rogue cop revenge tale with lots of sex and violence (the hero’s name is Rod Dexter).
Hard Case Crime will be doing the book in both hardcover and paperback, something they only do occasionally. Publisher Charles Ardai also brought a loving hand in the edit.
So we have the final Spillane novel.
And we have the first Mike Hammer novel.
Killing Town is another manuscript I salted away with the centenary in mind. It’s a substantial manuscript, longer than those I’ve been dealing with of late, and it represents Mickey’s first go at doing Mike Hammer, probably circa 1945…predating I, the Jury. I will tell more of the story behind it later, but it’s a novel that takes place in an industrial town in upstate New York with Mike Hammer running a dangerous errand for an army buddy. It could not be more typically vintage Spillane in tone and approach. Titan is publishing in hardcover.
I have not begun my work yet, but it’s the next big project.
We will also in 2018 have the mass market edition of The Will to Kill, the paperback of the Caleb York novel The Bloody Spur, various new audios, and more.
Those of you with blogs might want to think about doing a Spillane piece for 2018. (His birthday is March 9.) I will be writing something for Mystery Scene, and hope to complete a non-Hammer short story for The Strand.
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Here’s a nice piece on Hard Case Crime with an emphasis on comics.
And finally here’s a NSFW link that shows a reader enjoying an advance look at Quarry’s Climax.
June 20, 2017
A few months from now, Quarry’s Climax will appear. How the demise of the TV show will impact the book series remains to be seen. A graphic novel is coming, for sure, from Hard Case Crime Comics – Quarry’s War (in four issues, then collected). I have discussed a novel called Quarry in the Cross Hairs (or possible Quarry on Target) with my editor at Hard Case, but don’t have a contract yet.
I would like to keep going, and I hope the higher profile given Quarry by the TV series will keep us alive. But it’s a small miracle – maybe not so small – that after all these years, I was able to produce more novels about the character than I did on the first go-round back in the mid-‘70s.
The book business, from the author’s end, is a weird and troubled one, and unless you are an airport author, not terribly secure. But then the book business from the retailer’s end is just as bad – maybe worse.
Barb and I have always made shopping a big part of our recreation, particularly when we go off on a day trip to the Chicago suburbs or Des Moines. I now realize – looking back on the book-, record- and video stores I have frequented – that we experienced a kind of Golden Age of shopping. It says something that my favorite shop of all time was a laser disc outlet. I would spend about three hours there.
Yesterday (Father’s Day), we celebrated my day and Barb’s birthday with a Des Moines trip – actually, we mostly go to Clive. There’s a fine Half-Price Books on offer – the place where all my enthusiasms have gone to die – and a big, well-stocked Barnes & Noble. I shop at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Oak Brook and Cedar Rapids, as well, and another Barnes & Noble in a different part of Des Moines.
Picking a few things out in the DVD and CD area of the store, taking advantage of a 40% off sale, I noticed no one was at the register – no one around to ask me if I needed help, which I never do (not in a bookstore, anyway). I had noted the same thing at both the Cedar Rapids and Davenport stores over the past month or so. A sales person came back to see how things were going, and I asked about the lack of personnel in this department, apparently chain-wide.
“I used to work with fifteen others,” she said. “Now I’m one of five.”
And it’s a big store.
Those of us who love books need to support bookstores. That sounds obvious, and there’s no question that Barnes & Noble helped drive many indie bookstores out, even pushing Border’s off a corporate cliff. But they are what we browsers have left. I also trade at BAM! (Books-a-Million), who took over the space of a much-missed Border’s in Davenport, and have filled the gap well.
The decline of retail, obviously, is one half of the story, the other half being the rise of Amazon and other on-line ordering options. I am not anti-Amazon. One of my publishers is Amazon’s in-house suspense line, Thomas & Mercer, and all of my books at various publishers have benefitted from the success of my T & M books – none of which are easily found in any brick-and-mortar outlets…as if not selling Amazon-published books will “show them.” As we say in the comics business, “Sigh.”
What can a consumer of books and magazines and DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs do about the apparent slow death of bookstores?
I don’t suggest never ordering from Amazon. I order there a lot, particularly Blu-rays, mostly because Best Buy (where I used to buy my movies) has cut back so far on what they carry. With Amazon and other on-line services, I can pre-order discs and often get guaranteed lowest prices.
The nastiest thing Amazon does, where books and so on are concerned, is give prominence to secondary sellers – who offer used or even new copies at somewhat lower prices than even buying from Amazon itself. Book publishers send out a ton of review copies, and a lot of those freebies wind up as copies available from secondary sellers. When you use that option to buy, you are denying both author and publisher any income.
What do I suggest?
Well, I can share my personal policies, as a consumer of books and more. When I see a book in Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, I didn’t know existed, that is where I buy it. I don’t look it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it is. And when I do buy a book (or any media-type item) from Amazon, I buy it from them, not a secondary seller – I want the author and the publisher to benefit, so that more books can happen.
I also buy magazines from B & N and BAM!, unless the title has become hard to find, in which case I subscribe. But I enjoy the little thrill of seeing the new issues of my favorite mags, just as I have since childhood. If the editors/publishers of your favorite magazine request that you subscribe, because it will help them more than newsstand sales, by all means do so.
Just last week I received the final issue of one of my favorites, Video Watchdog, in the mail – a long, glorious run from Tim and Donna Lucas. Bless them both. Such deaths are small things but they add up to a publishing apocalypse.
Keep ‘em flyin’ – keep buying.
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My pal Bill Crider, at his indispensable blog, has revisited a book of mine from the misty past of the ‘80s.
June 13, 2017
When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.
Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.
When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.
For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.
Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.
Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.
Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.
So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.
Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.
Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.
As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.
Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”
I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”
For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.
Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.
Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.
Farewell, Adam West.
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