Archive for June, 2014

A “New” Writer Reflects

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

As I write this, SUPREME JUSTICE has hit 548 reviews and maintains a four-star average. This is a testament to Amazon’s marketing ability, and has taught this old dog some new things, if not tricks.

I continue to be surprised by the confidence of readers who are quite sure that I’m imitating writers who I’ve never read. Any number have scolded me for trying to do Jack Reacher, and are particularly annoyed that my character Reeder’s name is so similar.

Those of you who have followed these updates for a while know that I am notoriously unfamiliar with the work of other suspense/mystery writers of my time. I am strictly a Hammett/Chandler/Cain/Spillane guy. The last hardcover mystery I bought and read was the final 87th Precinct novel. My idea of a new mystery writer is Donald E. Westlake.

I did the original synopsis of SUPREME JUSTICE – and this pre-dates Matt Clemens’ involvement – seven years ago. I’d never heard of Jack Reacher, and frankly my first familiarity with the character was the Tom Cruise movie – I obviously go to a lot of those. Reeder’s name had nothing to do with Reacher. I’ve never read Tom Clancy either, though I’ve seen most of the Jack Ryan movies.

But Amazon reviewers are confident in this case, and many others, that I’m doing Lee Child or Clancy or Grisham or Sandford or any number of writers I’ve never read. By the way, I mean no insult to them or any writer. I have stated here numerous times that (a) my reading time is largely taken up by research, and (b) I am a natural mimic and avoid reading other suspense fiction for that reason.

There’s another reason, and it goes something like this…other people’s mystery novels fall into one of three categories: worse than me, about the same as me, better than me. Why would I want to read something worse than my stuff? Why should I bother reading something that I could write myself just as well? As for those better than me, well, screw them!

Yes, I’m kidding, sort of, and I do occasionally read contemporary crime fiction, as when I’m on an Edgar or Shamus committee, or when one of my writer friends has something out. Thankfully my writer friends are very good – people like Ed Gorman, Steve Mertz, Bob Goldsborough, Bill Crider, Bob Randisi, John Lutz, and half a dozen more.

And I know that a lot of writers continue to read voraciously in their own fields, so this is probably a weakness on my part. But I mention this chiefly to make the point that if I’m setting out to work in another writer’s wheelhouse, it’s more likely to be Mickey Spillane or Rex Stout than John Grisham or Lee Child.

But there’s something else odd – and frankly disturbing, and certainly humbling – that turns up in a good number of these Amazon reader reviews. A lot of these readers think I’m a “new” writer; a fair amount of ‘em go out of their way to say they’ve never heard of me.

I realize I’m not John Grisham or Lee Child, but while I have not read either of those very popular writers, I am aware of their existence. As someone who spends plenty of time wandering in bookstores, and studying the section where my work is shelved, I have a strong awareness (without reading them) of scores of writers in my genre. I read Mystery Scene, Crimespree, The Strand, Deadly Pleasures, always read the review column in EQMM, and attend Bouchercons frequently. So I know who my contemporaries are.

Yet these mystery fans, writing Amazon reviews…some of them, anyway…haven’t noticed I’m alive during this forty-year career of mine. Haven’t noticed my byline on ROAD TO PERDITION or CSI or the Spillane collaborations or…anything. It’s as if they know only the authors whose names they’ve encountered in airport gift shops.

So when I see SUPREME JUSTICE with 500-plus Amazon reviews, and, for example, KING OF THE WEEDS sitting at 21 reviews, I am as disappointed about the latter as I am thrilled about the former.

And sadly convinced that marketing is king.

Here I thought it was writing. What a schmuck!

* * *

Speaking of EQMM, reviewer Steve Steinbock has nice things to say this month about THE WRONG QUARRY and ANTIQUES CON, and other projects of mine. Here’s where you can see it on line; the reviews in question are toward the end.

A very cool new Facebook page dedicated to Mike Hammer and Stacy Keach is here.

The SUPREME JUSTICE reviews on the Net are starting to hit, like this one from Crimespree’s site.

Here’s another…

and another[Note from Nate: This one’s got a drawing for a free copy too!]

and another.

ROAD TO PERDITION continues to make best comics-to-movies lists.

Finally, here’s a very nice KING OF THE WEEDS review from Nerdspan.


Shamus Times Two

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Seduction of the Innocent

I’m very pleased to have two Shamus nominations this time around, for SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT in Best Paperback and the Spillane/Collins “So Long, Chief” in Best Short Story. I was a little surprised that SEDUCTION got nominated, and disappointed ASK NOT didn’t. But you never know about these things, and I would be especially thrilled if “So Long, Chief” won (it lost the Edgar) because it would be a nice honor for the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

This makes, I believe (math is involved, so…), 21 Shamus nominations. There are other writers who have won more times than my two, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has lost the Shamus as many times as I have. That will be me, somewhere mid-crowd the night of the awards, waving a giant rubber “We’re #1” hand.

SUPREME JUSTICE continues to do very well on Amazon. It’s #3 overall among all e-books, and #1 in both political thrillers and crime. The reviews have hit 315 as I write this, fairly astonishing when you consider that QUARRY’S EX has 14 reader reviews. We continue to get a lot of nice four- and five-star write-ups, with continued sniping from conservatives offended by what I consider to be the very mild political content. I received copies of the finished book today and it looks very nice (unfortunately, the infamous “Glock” mistake was not corrected in time – boy, do the gun guys hammer us on that one).

Not all conservative readers have tried to sabotage the book with an unfair rating or review. A good number make some passing comment about the hero’s liberal leanings, but go on to say positive things about the novel. I have to say that Matt Clemens and I never saw this coming. We really thought we’d struck a neutral tone.

But the problem comes from readers assuming the lead character of a novel speaks for the author. If that were true, then I’d be a right-wing vigilante, as the co-author of the Mike Hammer novels, and a sociopath/misanthrope based upon the Quarry novels. (Some who know me well may go along with that last assumption…).

It’s been an interesting ride, and I hope it will continue when June is over and the book is more widely available. I think it’s fair to say this is a more mainstream novel than what I usually do, although I’ve always felt that the Heller novels have mainstream appeal, but no publisher (with the exception of Amazon with the reprints) has ever played that up.

It’s odd to see myself compared to (and sometimes accused of ripping off) novelists I’ve never read, like Grisham and Balducci. Some of my mystery-writer approach seems to throw the thriller readers – Matt and I consciously have injected a mild mystery element into both SUPREME JUSTICE and WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, with surprise villains that aren’t incredibly hard to figure out but do give the narrative a little twist. Most thrillers i.d. the villain up front. Also, some Amazon readers have complained about the “rushed” ending, which to me is just a typical picking up of the pace as we head to the resolution. As Mickey used to say, nobody reads a book to get to the middle.

But I have no intention of leaving out what I’ve learned writing mystery and suspense from any thrillers I may do…as if these labels were anything truly useful.

* * *

My son Nate and Mrs. Nate (Abby) came to visit over Father’s Day weekend. I am still recovering from finishing KILL ME, DARLING (and my back injury), so it was a fairly low-key weekend, although we installed Roku in both my TV viewing areas (living room and office), which was fairly intense and topsy-turvy-making (in a non-Gilbert and Sullivan sense). Thank God for Nathan’s savvy about such things. The electrical hook-up in my office was similar to the one for the Christmas tree in A CHRISTMAS STORY.

We saw a very funny movie, 22 JUMP STREET, which is one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen largely because of its contempt for sequels, and for the “bromance” genre. All of us loved it, and Barb wants to see it again.

A few non-Amazon reader reviews for SUPREME JUSTICE have started to appear on the Net. Here’s one from the intriguingly named 5 Minutes for Mom site.

And here’s another from Night Owl Reviews.

This site describes the SUPREME JUSTICE “blog tour,” which is an advance look at sites where reviews and interviews will be appearing.


Supreme Debate

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

SUPREME JUSTICE continues to ride high on the Kindle bestseller charts. I am under no delusions about this – it’s a book a lot of readers are getting free this month, but it still feels good to have a #1 bestseller and to have so many new readers exposed to my work. (I should say “our” work because Matt Clemens was my co-conspirator on this one.)

The Amazon reviews are pushing 150 at this point. Keep in mind that the recent Heller novels are lucky to get over 30 reviews (hint hint), and Quarry novels often stall out in the mid-teens. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT has been sitting at 14 Amazon reviews for some time now, and even TRUE DETECTIVE – which also hit #1 on Kindle when it came out a couple of years ago – has yet to break 100, even with the fresh sales from confused readers who think it’s the HBO show’s source (some revenge, anyway).

What’s most interesting about the reviews is the continuing debate over the book’s supposed liberal bias. There continue to be far right readers who give the book a one star rating without having read it – they’ve just heard the book is a liberal screed, or have been misled by the Amazon write-up, which rather overstates that aspect of the book. Others do read the book, or some of it, but are offended by what they see as a caricature of Clarence Thomas. This is of course odd, since Clarence Thomas is a caricature….

On the other hand, a growing number of conservatives who have read the book seem to like it. Some continue to find more liberal bias than I think is in there, but I may be too close to see it. (Note the Clarence Thomas crack above.) But I am grateful when these readers express themselves honestly and react to the book and not what they’ve heard or assume about it.

I’ve done some limited commenting on reviews, and had an extended, civil exchange with one reader who claimed I’d called conservatives “Nazis.” I pointed out that the word appeared nowhere in the novel. He said I’d used “fascists” and that that was the same thing. I said it wasn’t, no more than “Commie” and “socialist” were the same thing, and so on. The back and forth was respectful and even illuminating. And I tried to make the point that I didn’t call anybody anything – one of my characters did.

Anyway, a new post went up from a prospective reader who had read this exchange, and I thought it was pretty great. Here it is with my response:


I am staunchly conservative and staunchly Christian. I was reviewing the options for the Prime First this month and was reading the reviews for your book. I am getting to the point where media has become exhausting as it tends to lean heavily towards the left. Almost all Hollywood politically set movies make the conservative the bad guy. So as I was reading the reviews, I almost decided to skip past your book as the other reviewers have stated it leans left and I figured it would end up bashing my beliefs as most other forms of media do.

Now, let me tell you why I am not going to do that. This exchange between you and Todd has completely changed my outlook on my decision for reading the book. I refuse to watch any movie that Sean Penn is in, regardless of the content, because I choose not to support him. I will however watch anything Tom Hanks is in for 2 reasons. One, he plays amazing characters. And 2, he has his beliefs, and they side with Sean, but he keeps it to himself. So I choose to support him with my money.

So with all that being said, I will read your book even though, I believe I will feel like it leans to the left, but it will be because I want to support you. Seeing that you were willing to come here to have a civil discussion regarding your book was great. Your first line made me think it was going to head in a direction of an angry internet commentor. “I do my best not to respond to bad reviews… (But I’m going to bash you and your conservative beliefs now.)” That’s not what you did and I respect you enough to support your work. So I will read your book and I will give you an honest and fair review when I complete it. Best of luck to you.

MY REPLY: This was a very thoughtful post, and I appreciate you giving my novel a try. I admit to being a little surprised by the fuss, because the novel was not intended to be liberal or conservative. In fact, I strongly considered having a conservative hero defend the lives of liberal justices. The important thing was that a man be put in the position of defending people he disagreed with…powerful people. I think some conservative Christians misread my use of Rowe V. Wade being overturned by a (fictional) conservative Supreme Court. The idea was not to say anything in favor of or against that move, but to choose a topic that dealt with life and death — that could inspire someone to resort to violence to change the balance of justices. There’s a remark in the book about zealots that I think was probably misjudged on my part, because it’s easily taken as a swipe at Christianity when the intent was to criticize someone viewing his opinion about something as if it were a religious belief. On the other hand, readers who limit themselves to books whose protagonists mirror their own beliefs are…well, limiting themselves. Again, as the writer who Mickey Spillane chose to take over the Mike Hammer books, I am quite accustomed to attacks from the extreme left. And if SUPREME JUSTICE does have a political message, it’s the dangers of extremism. It’s been said that the place the far right and the far left meet is a book burning — they’re just bringing different books. Thank you again for these comments.

* * *

For those keeping track, I have completed KILL ME, DARLING and over the weekend sent it to Titan in the UK via the miraculous Net. I may talk more about the writing experience on this one, much of which occurred while I was on heavy painkillers for my back injury (doing fine, thanks).

* * *

I talk about a lot of movies here, and it must be obvious that Barb and I see a lot of them. We usually go at least once a week. But I can’t remember the last time I reported having seen a great film.

Edge of Tomorrow

EDGE OF TOMORROW is a great film. It’s basically a science-fiction/aliens-attack take on another great film, GROUNDHOG DAY. I don’t want to say much about this other than to advise you to see it, and on a big screen, and preferably in 3-D. Tom Cruise is excellent in the film, and it’s time to admit that whatever we might think about his Scientology lifestyle, he is a superior screen actor who brings passion and commitment to his roles. He’s never been better, and Emily Blunt is every bit as good as he is.

I am, I admit, a sucker for time travel movies. And GROUNDHOG DAY is in my top ten films of all time. I’m also a fan of the 1993 TV movie 12:01 from the Richard Lupoff short story that started it all. EDGE OF TOMORROW is a film I’ll revisit many times. It has genuinely frightening aliens, the likes of which I’ve not seen, and could be viewed as a less overtly satirical STARSHIP TROOPERS. Bill Paxton is wonderful, by the way, as a top sergeant. Does anybody play gung-ho, slightly dim military men better than Paxton?

The ending is controversial. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so mostly I’ll just say, “Works for me.” You can’t take Bill Murray through the GROUNDHOG DAY experience without having him emerge a better and breathing man. When John Wayne screened THE ALAMO for Mickey Spillane and asked his take, Mickey said, “Change the ending.” Wayne said, “Mickey – it’s the Alamo! You can’t change the ending.” And Mickey said, in his politically incorrect way, “Nobody wants to pay three dollars to see a bunch of Mexicans kill John Wayne.” THE ALAMO was a flop that almost ruined Wayne financially.

EDGE OF TOMORROW, incidentally, is from a Japanese novel, ALL YOU NEED IS KILL, from Viz, who have published several books translated by my son Nate, including the current BATTLE ROYALE.

If you’ve seen EDGE OF TOMORROW, here’s a really good explanation of the ending. The comments are worth a read, too.

* * *

Here’s a nice SUPREME JUSTICE review.

Here’s more on SUPREME JUSTICE.

And finally, here’s a lovely KING OF THE WEEDS write-up.


Supreme Justice Hits #1

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Last Sunday, June 1st, was in many respects a typical Sunday for Barb and me. We had an early lunch at the Riverside Café, Barbie did yard work and sunned, and I worked on a Mike Hammer chapter. We had supper at the Peking Restaurant, and watched the first two episodes of PENNY DREADFUL (did not care for it, despite some fine actors). She went to bed early to read, and I went back to helping Mike Hammer kill thugs for a couple of hours.

Two things made June 1st special. First, and of secondary importance but pleasing, SUPREME JUSTICE became available to Amazon Kindle readers a month early and quickly rose to #1 on the Kindle bestseller list. As I write this, it’s still there. (I only knew this because my co-author Matt Clemens gave me a call while Barb and I were grocery shopping) (left that off the list of events above).

By the way, that means anyone who received an advance copy of SUPREME JUSTICE can post a review any time now. The reader reviews so far have been great, with the exception of several (including comments) from conservatives who dismiss the book as “liberal drivel.” Most of them proudly admit that they haven’t read the book, and are responding to Amazon’s description of it. This only proves my theory that are plenty of idiots on the far right to along with my corollary theory that there are plenty of idiots on the far left. (The latter often review my Mike Hammer novels as right-wing drivel or words thereabout and, yes, without reading them.) Since the detecting team of Reeder and Rogers spend the entire novel trying to save the lives of conservative justices from a leftist attempt to re-stack the Supreme Court, these rightist reviewers just may be misguided. Call me crazy, but I think you should at least try to read the book itself before posting a review on it, negative or positive.

The really important thing about June 1st is that Barb and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. As you may have guessed, we did not actually celebrate on the 1st, choosing instead to take Friday the 30th off so that we could go to two of our favorite restaurants that aren’t open on Sundays. Those restaurants are Lagomarcino’s in the Village of East Davenport, a home-made candy store that has been around forever and serves great lunches (any place with Green River at their soda fountain is jake by me). For supper we went to an old favorite, the French bistro Le Figaro, which began decades ago in Muscatine as Rachid’s. We’re talking serious food here – Dover Sole for Barb, Veal Oscar for me. Whether the goofy smile on my mug is for the veal or my beautiful wife, I leave for you to decide. Whatever you come up with, you’ll be basing it on more evidence than certain nincompoops writing Amazon reviews.

MAC and Barbara 40th Anniversary

“Nincompoops” was one of my late father’s favorite words, by the way, and I find I use it more and more because (a) it reminds me of him, and (b) there really are a lot of them out there.

Speaking of SUPREME JUSTICE, this blog announces the book and uses our editor’s Alan Turkus’s nice take on why he bought the novel.

The film version of ROAD TO PERDITION continues to make the lists of best comic-book movies. Here’s just one of the recent ones.

Finally, this straight review of the film shows how PERDITION is only gaining in stature with the passing years.