Archive for December, 2013

Christmas Royale

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Christmas here with son Nate and daughter-in-law Abby was festive fun. We open our presents Christmas Eve, where among the gifts were a MURDER SHE WROTE complete series collection for Abby, a ZATOICHI blu-ray set for Nate, Marilyn Monroe books/blu-rays/calendars for Barb, and the boxed multi-volume Hefner-written PLAYBOY history set from Taschen for me. Very cold here and we went out only a few times, including for a movie on Christmas Day (47 RONIN – more on that below).

Nate and I were both burrowed in working around and even on the holiday. He was wrapping up a BATTLE ROYALE manga translation, and I was working hard to get QUARRY’S CHOICE up and running, after a nasty bout with flu that put me behind deadline.

Nate had only recently completed the biggest (and in my opinion best) translation of his career thus far – he has done a new translation of BATTLE ROYALE, the prose novel, for Viz. It’s an enormous book, and an important one, and he’s done a fantastic job. I was the in-house proof reader and can honestly say (having read an earlier translation) that he has knocked it out of the park.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami, it spawned a film that was a world-wide success everywhere but America, where its plot of junior high students killing each other on an isolated island in a government-sponsored game ran smack into the Columbine tragedy, getting the work essentially banned in the USA. In the meantime, another suspiciously similar work – the HUNGER GAMES novels – came along. Whether coincidence or homage (French for rip-off), HUNGER GAMES sparked interest in BATTLE ROYALE and the BR film (and its lesser sequel) are widely available here now. For a Japanese-to-English translation, BATTLE ROYALE is about as good as it gets. I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Here’s a brief rundown of films we saw over the holidays, including quick critical takes: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is much better than the first entry in the Trilogy, moving much more quickly than that original, which was more slog than Smaug; ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, a very funny ninety minute movie that is unfortunately over two self-indulgent hours long; 47 RONIN, a much underrated and visually poetic tribute to Asian films of both the samurai and fantasy genres; and SAVING MR. BANKS, a shamelessly manipulative and highly inaccurate infomercial for the dreadful “classic” MARY POPPINS, somewhat redeemed by Tom Hanks’ sincere performance.

I approach New Year’s Eve with mixed emotions: Crusin’ will be making its last regular performance as we end a five-year run of playing bars and clubs on a two- or more times a month schedule. We will be on “hiatus,” during which we will consider only event performances, such as class reunions, weddings, county and state fairs, founder’s day celebrations and the like (mystery cons definitely on that list).

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THE WRONG QUARRY reviews are streaming in, all lovely so far. Here’s one from the Celebrity Café that’s been picked up around the Net.

Here’s Books Are For Squares on THE WRONG QUARRY.

Ron Fortier, a wonderful writer in his own “write,” also likes THE WRONG QUARRY.

And here’s a late entrant among the reviews of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

Finally, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is on this list of the best five crime novels of 2013 (that makes three M.A.C. novels this year to make such lists – ASK NOT, COMPLEX 90 and now SEDUCTION).


Christmas Movies

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

For my family, the Christmas holiday is wrapped up in film, not ribbon. We have our favorites that we watch every year, and they are fairly predictable.

Our top pick is MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (the original, not the terrible remake) with the Alistair Sim SCROOGE a close second. A very close third is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (James Stewart appeared in more great movies than any other actor). I’m one of the few who saw A CHRISTMAS STORY in the theater on its original release and it’s an annual event for us – but it’s more a Jean Shepherd film than a Christmas movie, showcasing his patented bittersweet nostalgia. CHRISTMAS VACATION has found its place on our seasonal special shelf, as well, and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is always worth a look – was Judy Garland ever lovelier?

There are many other worthwhile Christmas movies out there. HOLIDAY INN is easily better than WHITE CHRISTMAS, although the latter has its charms – it’s helped keep Danny Kaye from being forgotten, for one, and my pal Miguel Ferrer’s mom is in it. The Riff Trax and MST2K versions of various horrible Christmas movies are always good for a festive laugh. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) is an old favorite of ours, the movie Kim Novak and James Stewart made together after VERTIGO. With Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs stealing scenes left and right, it’s a precursor to BEWITCHED and might seem a better choice for Halloween, only it’s set at Christmas.

But we decided this year to try some movies that at least one of us (talking Barb and me now) hadn’t seen before. Having done so, we’d like to recommend the following relative obscurities:

THE FAMILY MAN (2000) with Nic Cage, a modern reworking of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Heartwarming and funny. Cage may be an over-the-top actor, but the man commits – he gives one thousand percent to every performance, and this time he has a wonderful movie to do it in. This is a favorite of Nate’s, whose goal in life is to own every Nic Cage movie.

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (2004). Okay, so it’s a shameless reworking of GROUNDHOG’S DAY as a Christmas movie, but this admittedly minor TV movie is funny and rewarding – good-hearted but with a darkly comic sensibility. Steven Weber is excellent as the successful slick businessman (similar to Cage in THE FAMILY MAN) who has twelve tries to get Christmas Eve right. Molly Shannon gets her best post-SNL role.

THREE GODFATHERS (1948). This John Ford western stars John Wayne and is surprisingly gritty and even harrowing before a finale that you may find too sentimental. There’s some humor, too, and Ford’s first color film is visually beautiful. It’s dedicated to Harry Carey and “introduces” Harry Carey, Jr., who is very good, as is Pedro Armendariz (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).

PRANCER (1989). This features an amazing naturalistic performance from child actor Rebecca Herrell. It’s a sort of smalltown/rural variation on MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Is the reindeer the little girl helps back to health really Santa’s Prancer? Sam Elliot is uncompromising as the father who doesn’t understand his daughter, whose mother has died.

We found it a fun way to get ourselves into the Christmas swing by introducing some of these lesser known films into the mix.

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THE WRONG QUARRY reviews have begun, like this great one from Ron Fortier.

Here’s another nice WRONG QUARRY review from Big Daddy.

Mike Dennis likes THE WRONG QUARRY, too.

That Woody Haut “Ten Favorite Crime Novels of 2013” piece, showcasing ASK NOT, has been picked up all over the place, notably at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

And the staff at Greenwich chooses COMPLEX 90 as best mystery, with the two runners-up ASK NOT and Bob Goldsborough’s ARCHIE MEETS NERO WOLFE. Some people have good taste!


A Pee-Wee Herman Christmas

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Pee Wee Herman Wreath

For me, Christmas begins when I receive my yearly Christmas card from Paul Reubens. Sometimes Paul writes a personal note. The cards are always charming and even hilarious, and we have easily two dozen of them. This year Barb made a wreath out of some our favorites.

I went crazy over Pee-Wee with his HBO Special, THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW in 1981. I was doing the DICK TRACY strip at the time, and I put Pee-Wee in the strip – he was on television saying, “My name’s Pee-Wee – what’s yours?” And a TV-obsessed villain of mine replied, “Splitscreen!”

Paul Reubens phoned me shortly after that, delighted by the TRACY appearance, and we chatted. Shortly after that, taking time out from a San Diego con, Terry Beatty and I visited Paul in LA – he was in a small one-story brick house filled with funky toys and oddball memorabilia. We watched a version of THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW that the cast had looped with blue improv material. The Pee-Wee Herman suit was on a coat tree. I asked Paul how many of those he had, and he said, “Just the one.” Then, noting my surprised reaction, he added, “Sometimes Pee-Wee doesn’t smell so good up close.”

Paul knew that I was a movie buff, and he was working on getting a Pee-Wee film going. Late at night, we would talk on the phone and (at his request) I would send him Betamax copies of offbeat films like Eddie Cantor’s ROMAN SCANDALS and Russ Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! He called once every month or two for a couple of years, sometimes when he was off shooting a movie. (One was a MEATBALLS sequel, and I asked him what it was about. He said, “A virgin sees her first dick.” I thought he was kidding till I saw the movie.) Barb and I (and sometimes Terry) would go to live shows of Paul’s, and we’d see him after – we did this in New York and Chicago.

When the Pee-Wee movies and TV show kicked in, Paul changed his phone number and I haven’t heard from him since…except at Christmas. Always a wonderful card, and sometimes a warm personal note. I still love Pee-Wee Herman, and it’s been a nice perk of my minor celebrity that I got to know Paul Reubens a little. It’s very thoughtful and generous of him to send me these fantastic cards every year.

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That great writer and blogger extra ordinaire Bill Crider has posted a lovely review of THE WRONG QUARRY.

Here’s a nice write-up about THE CONSUMMATA, my Spillane collaboration about Morgan the Raider. If you read the Hammers by Mickey and me, you really need to pick this one up, too.

COMPLEX 90 didn’t make this best five books list, but got a very nice mention.

Last week I sent out 14 advance copies of THE WRONG QUARRY. I am cleaned out. I had promised 12 here, planning to keep a couple for myself, but wound up sending them all. I apologize to those I had to turn down. They went the first day.

I do thank those of you who are writing Amazon and other reviews. It’s very important for me and every writer whose work you enjoy.


Write for the Wrong Quarry

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
The Wrong Quarry

The new Quarry novel – THE WRONG QUARRY – will be published January 7. I have a dozen advance copies available to those among you willing to write a review for Amazon and/or other outlets (Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.).

Just write me at, and the first twelve of you – a jury of sorts – will receive copies. This is restricted to the USA only. And keep in mind that you can’t post your Amazon review till the book is out (again, Jan. 7).

[Edit: Nate here — all copies are taken. Thanks everyone for your support!]

In response to many inquiries, we do not have word yet on whether the Cinemax QUARRY pilot will be picked up. News will appear here as soon as we know.

The new Quarry novel is getting some play on the net already, as in this articleat Crime Fiction Lover.

ASK NOT is making some best of the year lists, like this one from Woody Haut.

Jon Jordan, CRIMESPREE’s guru, selected ASK NOT as one of five novels on his suggested Christmas gift guide.

And Publisher’s Weekly gave a fine review to Otto Penzler’s Christmas anthology, and singled out my “A Wreath for Marley.” This means a lot to me, considering the distinguished company (Stout, Westlake, Christie, etc.).