R.I.P. Emma Peel…and a Wolfpack Spy Revealed

September 15th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

I am, obviously, at that age when the icons of my youth are going on ahead of me into whatever lies ahead. Emma Peel is gone. Not at all forgotten.

Still, losing Diana Rigg at 82 sounds much too soon – she was still displaying her considerable acting skills and powers of personality in Victoria and the forthcoming Black Narcissus.

The British Invasion was the Big Thing when I was in high school, and that of course immediately brings to mind the Beatles and their fellow rock ‘n’ roll invaders. But the British Invasion was also James Bond, and the Spy Craze – even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an Ian Fleming brainchild (thought that fact has been lost in the shuffle a bit). Sometimes the rock aspect collided with the spy craze, as when Johnny Rivers did the theme song for Secret Agent (as the Brit Danger Man was retitled for USA consumption). And would Michael Caine’s career have gotten its jump start if Harry Palmer hadn’t brought John Lennon to mind in The Ipcress File (1965)?

From the UK came the greatest of Spy Craze TV series, The Avengers (well, let’s call it a tie with The Prisoner). Emma Peel’s predecessor – as the black catsuit-clad partner of bowler-and-bumbershoot-sporting John Steed, portrayed by urbane Patrick Macnee – was Cathy Gale. The original distaff martial-arts Avenger (to “boys” my age, those Marvel Avengers should be called the Pretenders) was Honor Blackman, whose final curtain call preceded Diana Rigg’s by just a few months.

The Bond connections are many. Honor Blackman was (could anyone reading this really not know) Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964); and Patrick Macnee was James Bond’s Lordly sidekick in the Roger Moore entry, View to a Kill (1985). Macnee was not, as some would have, the cousin of (sort of) James Bond, David Niven (Casino Royale, 1965), though the two actors did appear together in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950).

Most significantly, Diana Rigg portrayed Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and became not just the love of Bond’s life but his wife, albeit briefly. The former Emma Peel was, not surprisingly, appealing in the role and her presence shored up the place-holder presence of George Lazenby as Bond in what was the greatest James Bond movie Sean Connery never made.

Diana Rigg was an accomplished and much-lauded screen actress, and I won’t go into all of her remarkable list of credits here. I’ll mention only my favorite performance by her, after Emma Peel and Tracy di Vicenzo, which is Arlena Stuart Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982), the best of the big screen Poirot movies (feel free to disagree, but do so knowing I’m not listening).

What is significant about Diana Rigg, it seems to me, is how she managed to be an actress of incredible sex appeal and at the same time convey an undeniable, even intimidating intelligence, at a time (the first Bond era, remember) when “birds” were mostly mini-skirts, eye make-up, and lots of teased hair. She could even smirk with intelligence, and the way she and The Avengers spoofed the inherently absurd spy fad gave the series its special zing. Her range as an actress is astonishing. I always had a sense that she wanted to give the audience her best, but if they didn’t like it, that was their problem.

So it is with a bittersweet smile, and a gathering sense of my own mortality, that I blow a kiss goodbye to Emma Peel, knowing that she and Diana Rigg will live forever.

Now, hoping it’s not a display of bad taste, I will segue into finally announcing the series that Matt Clemens and I are doing for Wolfpack. You’ll see the connection in a moment, or perhaps as soon as you hear the title of the first novel: Come Spy With Me.

Matt and I created the lead characters and developed the premise for the series twenty years ago in a couple of little seen short stories. John Sand is a recently retired British secret agent whose cover was blown world-wide when a famous series of novels by an ex-spy colleague of his became best sellers. The stories – at least the trilogy we have agreed to produce – take place in the, shall we say, Swinging Sixties.

John Sand has married a wealthy young woman named Stacey and, in Come Spy With Me, we join them on their honeymoon, where if we had any sense of propriety we wouldn’t witness their carnal conduct. I’ll leave it to you to decide how much propriety Matt Clemens and I have.

But not to worry. The mushy stuff is temporary – carnal gives way to carnage soon enough, and John Sand is as hard-edged a man of action as, well, the famous fictional spy that was based on him.

The name “Sand,” by the way, is a very much conscious tip of the jaunty ‘60s cap to the mono-named lead of Ennis Willie’s series of novels written in that era, which influenced me almost as much as Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark, and Ian Fleming.

You will hear more about this series as the weeks progress – the first book will, as I’ve indicated, be out well before the end of the year. We’ll have a cover to show you before too very long.

When Matt and I discussed getting an advance blurb from an appropriate author, only one name came to mind: Raymond Benson, author of officially licensed James Bond novels (and short stories and video games) and the landmark The James Bond Bedside Companion. Raymond is also the author of the Black Stiletto novels and Hotel Destiny – A Ghost Noir.

Raymond was gracious enough to look at Come Spy With Me in manuscript, and this is what he says:

Come Spy With Me is a heck of a ride! The characters are smooth, the real-world cameos are fun, the action is electric, and the sex is rightly retro. This homage to Mr. Fleming, Mr. Bond, and all the other pulp spy thrillers of the 1960s will leave you craving for the next installment!”

* * *

This is a lovely review of the forthcoming second Ms. Tree collection from Titan – Skeleton in the Closet.

Here is a compendium of reviews of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, mostly very good.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I, will be discussing Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher next Sunday, September 20, at 1 pm Central. Join us with your own questions.

M.A.C.

“Real” Books Now Available from Wolfpack!

September 8th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

This will be a brief update because my office is shutting down for my son Nate to install a new computer with various new programs.

But I will take the time to announce the following: print versions of both Mommy and Mommy’s Day are available for $9.99. Be sure to click on PAPERBACK at the listing to get the right price (and cover). [Note from Nate: The links in this update go directly to Amazon.]

Also available as “real” books from Wolfpack are Murderlized – the collected short stories of Matt Clemens and me (10.99); all four Eliot Ness books, The Dark City, Butcher’s Dozen, Bullet Proof, and Murder by the Numbers ($10.99 each); and Murder His and Hers, stories by Barb and me ($9.99).

Your support of these titles will be much appreciated. Their success paves the way for new original books (and further reprints) by me, me and Matt, and me and Barb.

Yeah, I know – that’s an obnoxious amount of “me” – and “I” know it.

* * *

Here’s a great Kiss Her Goodbye review, reprinted from a long-ago post.

This is a rather tepid endorsement of Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher.

Finally, here’s a list putting a story by Mickey Spillane and me on the “must-read” list.

M.A.C.

Charles Dickens, Anthony Newley and Real Books

September 1st, 2020 by Max Allan Collins
Dark City (Wolfpack Edition)

The physical editions of my books at Wolfpack have started to kick in! You can get Murder – His & Hers right now. And all four Ness novels are individually available – [Amazon links] The Dark City, Butcher’s Dozen, Bullet Proof, and Murder by the Numbers. They share the same cover as the Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus, but with variant colors.

* * *

Barb and I – thanks to the efforts of our son Nate – were able to watch Bill and Ted Face the Music on its opening night, streaming it. We love Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and also like the sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; I would put this long awaited third installment on at least a par with the sequel.

Like its predecessors, it’s a very smart movie about a couple of lovable dudes who are perhaps not as dumb as they appear, rather are just of their time and generation. As Nate commented, in the midst of this Covid/Trump reality, for one sweet funny evening, the world felt normal again. Like nothing had changed.

But we shouldn’t get too cocky about the past. Of late, Barb and I have been watching a lot of film and TV adaptations of Charles Dickens novels, escaping from 2020 into the 1800s. That escape, though, has an uncomfortable number of parallels – homeless people (check), government-abused kids (check), an unfair court system (check), corrupt politicians (check), an uncaring wealthy class (check), pollution (check), disease (check)…and on and on.

Still, it’s another time and place and kind of a relief to be anywhere but here. So I’ll recommend a few of the really worthwhile Dickens adaptations. All of these are available on DVD and some on Blu-ray, with many available for streaming.

If you have the time, nothing beats the eight-hour-plus stage version (on video) of Nicholas Nickleby (1982), the Hamilton of its day. Standouts in a huge cast are Roger Rees in the title role and definitive Dickens actor Alun Armstrong as (among other characters) the ignorant, sadistic schoolmaster Squeers.

David Lean was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his two Dickens adaptations are as good as movie versions get: Great Expectations (1946) with John Mills and Alec Guinness; and Oliver Twist (1948) with Robert Newton and Anthony Newley (not the main actors but favorites of mine). Add to that list, of course, Scrooge (1951) with Alistair Sim (which I’ve lauded here many times).

Andrew Davies has scripted two relatively recent BBC mini-series that are the gold standard of Dickens TV adaptations: Bleak House (2005) with Gillian Anderson and
Charles Dance; and Little Dorrit (2008) with Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012), scripted by Gwyneth Hughes, is first-rate, too, especially Drood actor Matthew Rhys, who is now (of course) Perry Mason.

As good as David Lean is, the BBC’s early ‘80s long-form renditions (often a dozen half-hour episodes, which suggest the serialized format of the original Dickens works) are in some ways superior, as they tend to adapt each novel in its near entirety. When certain colorful incidental characters in Dickens are, understandably, omitted from films two hours or less in length, much of the richness and humor of the original novels is lost.

Also, aspects of Dickens are distorted in the shorter form of films and TV movies. Yes, there are wild coincidences, but when woven throughout a very long narrative, filled with characters, those coincidences seem a part of the fabric of life and not convenient plot devices. And without the deeper characterizations, the principal characters can seem to be chess pieces Dickens is moving, a feeling one doesn’t get from the books.

For example, not just including David Lean’s version, Great Expectations has been filmed a number of times quite effectively. The BBC mini-series with Gillian Anderson and David Suchet is excellent. But the far less lavish 1981 BBC mini-series, with its six-hour length, tells the entire story of the novel, with much deeper characterizations than any other adaptation, especially for Pip (Gerry Sundquist) and his convict friend (Stratford Johns. The definitive Miss Marple, Joan Hickson, turns outalso to be the definitive Miss Havisham, bringing remarkable depth to a character who can be a cartoon.

Less celebrated Dickens novels come to worthwhile life, too, in the longer-form ‘80s and ‘90s BBC adaptations – Domby and Son (1983), another Andrew Davies script; Martin Chuzzlewit (1994) with Paul Scofield and Tom Wilkinson; David Copperfield (1999) with Bob Hoskins and Maggie Smith; and Our Mutual Friend (1998) with Steven Mackintosh and Keeley Hawes.

I mentioned actor Alun Armstrong above. Of the films and TV versions I’ve mentioned here, he is in about half. He has played villains, lovable sorts, and even made a great Inspector Bucket. We thought he did a great job in Martin Chuzzlewit, too, until we realized that was Pete Postlethwaite.

Look, there are plenty of good and at least watchable Dickens adaptations. But these are worth your time. Are there any that aren’t?

Hard Times (1994) with Alan Bates and Richard E. Grant is a hard go. Bates is a fine actor but he hams it up here, in a grotesquely arty, misjudged take on Dickens.

The Old Curiosity Shop (1979) is, in my probably worthless opinion, as bad as Dickens ever got; he seems to be spoofing himself without his readers realizing it, like the Turtles doing a parody of themselves with “Elinore” (“I really think you’re groovy, let’s go out to a movie”) and nobody getting it. But the novel deserved better than the 1979 BBC mini-series with its cringingly over-the-top Trevor Peacock’s Quilp at centerstage.

Of course, the ridiculously villainous Quilp is part of why I think Dickens is having a laugh at himself and his audience (right down to, SPOILER ALERT, killing Little Nell). Much better, though little seen (particularly in its longer, richer version), is Anthony Newley sending Quilp and himself up in the 1975 musical variously known as Mr. Quilp and The Old Curiosity Shop. The assumption that audiences who enjoyed Carol Reed’s recent Oliver! would adore Dickens’ dreary self-parody was probably the first mistake; still, this version is pretty good.

Newley, who as a child star made his first major claim to fame playing the Artful Dodger for David Lean, was coming full circle with his outrageously over-the-top Quilp, throwing in for good measure a solid score he wrote himself (not his best, as that was invariably reserved for his collaborations with Leslie Briccuse). Newley, who died at 67, enjoyed a final triumph starring in the Briccuse musical Scrooge on the West End and touring the UK provinces.

I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned Newley here before. He is on my very short list of “ideels” (as Li’l Abner described Fearless Fosdick). It’s a list including people like Bobby Darin, Mickey Spillane, Audie Murphy and Jack Webb. My ideels, each and every one it would seem, somehow demand defending – Darin was an obnoxious pretender, Spillane ruined mystery fiction, Murphy couldn’t act, Jack Webb was a joke. I have defended all of them and will continue to do so till my dying day.

As for Newley…

He is a genuinely quirky and willfully mannered performer, his distinctive vocal style the kind of thing that kept impressionists in business in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He is also the primary influence on David Bowie as a singer and performer, something Bowie often admitted.

With Briccuse, Newley wrote two great Broadway scores, each filled with standards: Stop the World I Want to Get Off and Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. With Briccuse and John Barry, he wrote the theme for Goldfinger. He and Briccuse wrote the music for Willy Wonka – “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” and even the ditty sung by the Oompah Loompahs.

While to my knowledge it’s never been revived (Stop the World has been a number of times), Roar of the Greasepaint has not. Among the songs are “Who Can I Turn To,” “On a Wonderful Day Like Today,” “The Joker,” and the remarkably resilient “Feeling Good.”

In 1965 in New York, on summer vacation with my parents, I saw Roar of the Greasepaint at the Shubert Theater. I have seen many musical plays, including any number on Broadway and many more in Chicago, and countless concerts by stars of both the Vegas variety and the rock persuasion.

I’ve never seen anything better than Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. Nothing as compelling or as funny or as mesmerizing. Newley’s was the single best performance I’ve ever seen. He was not unsupported: Captain Hook himself, Cyril Ritchard, was a regal “Sir” to Newley’s cockney Cocky – both were tramps, bums, with more than a hint of circus clown. Amid urchins out of Oliver!, with other contestants a beautiful woman and a black man, they played the Game of Life, with Sir making up and changing and rearranging the rules as they went.

I am going to share with you some of what I saw that night. Newley, right around the time I saw him performing at the Shubert, appeared on Ed Sullivan. In costume and in character, he delivered an amazing “Who Can I Turn To,” a song brilliantly conceived by its authors to work as an unrequited love song and, in the show’s context, as being addressed by Cocky to the God who has abandoned him. Have a look.

We’ll talk about his film Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? another time.

* * *

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher is deemed one of six true crime books you should be reading right now.

Finally, you kind of have to dig for it, but a discussion of one of my Batman stories can be found in this essay about Batman vs. Batman.

M.A.C.

Murder – His and Hers, Venturing Out & Tracy One Last Time

August 25th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins
Murder - His & Hers
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

On September 2, Wolfpack’s new Kindle edition of Murder – His and Hers will be available at Amazon.

This collection was previously only an expensive hardcover by Five Star. This new edition will be followed soon by Too Many Tomcats, and before too very long a companion volume, Suspense – His and Hers.

These books collect short stories that Barb and I have written together as well as some written by us individually. Too Many Tomcats, which I edited, is mostly Barb’s solo stories, but all of these will be marketed as by “Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins.” Wolfpack wants to focus the books as part of their M.A.C. publishing program, so don’t think it’s my ego run (further) amok.

I am hoping that Wolfpack will eventually be publishing our the two collaborative novels, Regeneration and Bombshell, that preceded the long-running Antiques series of mysteries. Those, our first two novels together, were originally published under both our names and later, by Thomas & Mercer, as by “Barbara Allan.” We’re reverting to a joint byline for marketing purposes. All of these will soon be available in print editions (stay tuned).

We also have a collaborative short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, though we haven’t been told in what issue yet – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” – set at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con, which seems like a very long time ago and a different world now. (I also sold a collaborative Spillane/Collins story to EQMM – “Killer’s Alley,” which will be the first Mike Hammer story ever published in those pages; naturally, it will be in their Black Mask section. Barb and I are both thrilled to be contributers to EQMM.)

My bride and I have been writing together for a long time. The process is similar to the one Matt Clemens and I use, although I don’t sleep with Matt, a situation he and I are both fine with. One difference is that I tend to come up with the initial idea when writing with Matt. Usually Barb comes up with the initial idea. Then she and I plot the story together, she writes the rough draft, and I do the second draft. It’s the same for both short stories and novels.

Tomorrow (Monday, as I write this) I will begin work on the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery novel – Antiques Carry On. Barb has completed her draft and I will start in, revising and expanding (she has given me 250 double-spaced pages and I will write 300 to 350 double-spaced pages). The only unusual factor this time is that I’ve already done my draft (from hers) of the first three chapters. That was necessary because we moved to a new publisher and needed to provide a substantial finished sample of the book to that publisher in the effort to land a contract.

We fully intend to keep going with the series, but we are at a funny (odd) juncture, which I trust is one many mystery writers with long-running series are experiencing. In plotting the next book, do we set it pre-pandemic or post-pandemic, or even during pandemic? The problem with post-pandemic, of course, is that none of us know what that will look like.

For seniors like us – and I have underlying health issues that magnify the situation – even a post-pandemic world will be tricky. Maybe it’s already occurred to you that you may have eaten at your last buffet. Or that how (or even if) you go out to the movies will be radically different.

Today, suffering from almost six months of cabin fever, we ventured tentatively out. Prior to Covid-19 we almost always took a day off every week that included going to either the nearby Quad Cities or Iowa City/Cedar Rapids for shopping, dining and sometimes a movie. We also have a nice movie theater here in Muscatine, and often took in films there – you may remember how often I did little movie reviews here back in the Good Old Days.

Since then, trips out for groceries and meds have been about it. I’ve cancelled doctor’s appointments and – although going to the local hospital for blood work – have had my consultations over the phone. We have been essentially sheltering in place since fairly early March.

But today we drove to the Quad Cities. We went through the drive-through at Portillo’s and got delicious food, which we ate in the car. We went briefly into the Davenport Books-a-Million, where masks are required and where the filled parking lot places were fairly sparse, and shopped a little and used the restroom (carefully) and drove home. An outing. An honest-to-God outing. On the way home we took the river road, which is scenic as hell and includes the quarry that Quarry was named after. We were listening to the audiobook of Quarry’s Ex read by the fabulous Stefan Rudnicki, so it was fitting.

In terms of what we used to do, it was kind of pitiful. After six months of sheltering, it was fabulous.

I don’t feel like we took any risks worse than our weekly grocery run. I know a lot of seniors get their groceries delivered, or pull up outside the supermarket for curbside service. But I rather pathetically look forward to a weekly grocery run – it’s early morning (we get up at six a.m. to make it there by seven) and it’s worth it, because the music is oldies, not country western, which you may have noticed I despise. The joy of hearing Bobby Rydell singing “Wild One” or Bobby Darin doing “Things” while I look for mini-cans of Coke Zero is difficult for me to articulate.

Meds we get going through a drive-up.

Also, I have a new appreciation for McDonald’s and Burger King.

So. What world will Barb and I write about when we do the next book about Brandy and Vivian Borne, if we’re lucky enough to get to keep going (as writers and as living breathing human beings)? How much zany laughter does a pandemic produce, anyway? I am planning to write a new Krista and Keith Larson novel – should I set it during the pandemic? Would that be interesting? Or will this be a period that no one will want to re-live? Yes, we look at movies made during the Depression, but mostly they are full of guys in tuxes and gals in ballgowns, or maybe Toby Wing wearing nothing but a great big dime.

And why is anybody still on the planet who would make a Toby Wing reference?

And yet the beat goes on.

* * *

This past week found me finishing up the second novella in the new series I’m doing for Neotext – more about that soon – and cleaning my office and dealing with copy-edited manuscripts and clearing my desk of smaller projects before I dive into Antiques Carry On.

One of those projects is writing the introduction to the 29th volume of The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for IDW. I have written introductions to the previous 28 volumes, too.

And now, with Intro 29, I will have written about the entire run of Chester Gould’s Tracy. This volume ends immediately before my fifteen-year tenure begins. Writing about the last, less than stellar year and a half or so of Chet’s work – though that work definitely has its rewards – was a bittersweet experience. My intro gets personal, as during this period my pal Matt Masterson and I were, every six months or so, getting together with Chet at his Tribune Tower office and dining at the prestigious Tavern Club for lunch. On the first such visit, I met my future collaborator, Rick Fletcher. At the time I had no idea that I would be the second writer on this great, important comic strip.

So writing this final intro was indeed a bittersweet thing. Like this damn pandemic, it was gave me a real sense of my mortality – although once you’ve had open heart surgery, your mortality’s on your mind quite a bit, actually. Like – am I dying, or is that just gas? When I first met Chester Gould, he was 72. My age now.

I hope you Tracy fans are taking the time to read my little introductory essays, which I think are pretty good. And fans of mine who haven’t been collecting these Tracy volumes ought to start – but not with the last one. Try something from the ‘40s or early ‘50s and see just how good Chester Gould was at his peak.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother. Scroll down for it.

And here’s a Quarry’s Choice review. Again, scroll down for it. This may be my favorite Quarry novel – definitely my favorite “list” book.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.