Choice Reviews!

January 6th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Quarry's Choice

QUARRY’S CHOICE comes out this week, and I’ve been a little worried because there hadn’t been a single advance review, despite Hard Case Crime sending out a bunch of ARC’s.

Just recently, though, two of my favorite writers – Ed Gorman and Bill Crider – have posted excellent reviews of the novel, one of which is getting some decent play at other blogs (more about that below). But QUARRY’S CHOICE could still use a boost, so if you’re a Quarry fan, and get and like the book, please consider posting an Amazon review.

Also, if you have a blog or some other place where you review books, contact me at and I’ll try to rustle up a review copy for you. (Please, no one tell Nero Wolfe I used “contact” as a verb.)

I thought THE WRONG QUARRY was about as good a Quarry as I could muster, but I have to admit CHOICE seems to me at least its equal. It’s set very early in Quarry’s career (still working as a hitman for the Broker), so if you haven’t read one, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Meanwhile, I have completed the new Heller – BETTER DEAD – and I feel like I fell out a high window, which is not coincidentally one of the crimes covered in the novel. This one is about the McCarthy era and Bettie Page is in it. Do you suppose Heller gets frisky with her? No, I better not spoil it for you….

When I say I’ve completed the book, I should say “completed,” because I will spend the next couple of days giving it a last read-through, looking for typos and tweaking things, hoping to God it all hangs together. I always feel that I’ve got a solid chapter written before going onto the next, but I also always fear that the pile of chapters will not assemble coherently into a book. This has never happened, but I live in terror of the time it does.

* * *

I’m going to discuss something at the risk of sounding like a total prick. For some, that will mean only the added adjective. But here goes….

I have helped a lot of writers in my time. I taught for twenty-some years at a summer writer’s conference, for example, out of which a good ten published writers emerged from my classes. Matthew Clemens was a student of mine there, and he turned out not half-bad. I also taught a summer program at the University of Iowa a couple of times. The great Hugh Holton was one of my students.

So I am not against helping writers. I probably won’t teach again, but I’ve put in my time, and have nothing to apologize about.

But I keep running into a kind of writer locally – I mean right here in Muscatine, Iowa – who imposes on me in a way that drives me crazy. Or at least, I feel imposed upon – I might be wrong (that’s where the total prick thing comes in). Here are a couple of examples.

On three different occasions in the last few months, the same man – friendly, nice – approached me at various functions…two parties, once a dance my band was playing at (during a break where I needed to catch my breath)…and pumped me hard for writing advice. Well, not writing advice so much as publishing advice. This ranged from where he should send his stuff to how to approach the people he would send it to, etc. I don’t know this man, particularly – he was a friendly acquaintance of my father’s. But he buttonholed me three times and pumped and pumped.

What I suppose makes me feel like this is an imposition is this: not once did he mention anything I’d written, not even saying he’d seen the film of ROAD TO PERDITION. He was not a fan. I sensed he’d either not read me or had and wasn’t impressed. What impressed him was that I was a professional who lived in his hometown who he could utilize.

Not long ago Barb and I went to a fall cook-out down the street. A woman from our neighborhood who I did not recognize came over to the picnic table where I was sitting and handed me a five-page essay she’d written. She was taking some kind of college class and wanted to know why she hadn’t received a better grade. At this social function, with people around me roasting and eating hot dogs and S’mores, I sat and for at least half an hour dealing with her, reading the paper, giving her a critique, showing her the good, the bad. Here’s the ugly: when I was done, she wanted to know if she could e-mail me her future papers for my critiques, apparently to have me check them before she handed them in. I said no, I just didn’t have time. She was offended.

This next example isn’t a writer. It’s a nice guy down the street who comes out and talks to me when Barb and I are out for a walk, and who at neighborhood parties gravitates to me for a talk. Generally I find him pleasant and smart. But he continually talks to me about mystery and suspense writers he’s reading, telling me his opinions, which is mostly how good they are – I know more about Lee Child than most people who have actually read him. He never mentions my work. Never indicates he’s ever read me. Finally I gave him a couple of books of mine. He’s never said a word about either (one was TRUE DETECTIVE).

This strikes me as peculiar. He obviously thinks because I’m a mystery writer that I would like to hear his opinions on the genre. But if he doesn’t read me, or have any interest in my work, why should he care what I think? And why should I listen?

The phenomenon seems to be strictly hometown – I can’t think of a parallel with (let’s call them) real readers who I encounter at a convention or at a bookstore (sometimes an event, sometimes just somebody who recognizes me and stops to say something nice about my work).

Do I have a right to tell somebody looking for free help that I’m at a social event and don’t care to talk shop? Or something? Should I ask my neighbor why he wants to talk to me about mysteries when he doesn’t read or like mine?

Just wondering.

* * *

What a pleasure to read a great, insightful review from a writer you admire. Here are Ed Gorman and Bill Crider reviewing QUARRY’S CHOICE.

KING OF THE WEEDS has made another ten best list!

Check out this lovely review of BYE BYE, BABY.

Here’s a very solid New York Times article on movie and TV tie-ins, in which I am quoted.

Here’s a great look at the Disaster series.

I have written an introduction for a collection of pre-Disney ZORRO comic books for Hermes Press. It’s a lovely book and the stories are great fun. This reviewer isn’t much impressed, but it’s still worth checking his review out.

And finally here’s a very nice write-up about my work in general and Nate Heller in particular.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Choice Reviews!”

  1. That seems to a job hazzard for writers. People have said it before. You wouldn’t stop a doctor on the street and ask him for free advice. They never seem to realize that if you helped everybody who asked, when would you have time to write yourself, let alone relax.

    Oh, by the way, the UPS man just delivered QUARRY’S CHOICE while I was writing this comment.

  2. Joe Menta says:

    I deal with a mini-version of your dilemma all the time, and I’m afraid I’m a bit of a lapdog when it occurs. I’m the guy who writes the press releases, corporate magazine articles, and related stuff at my company. I also compose the verbiage on employees’ retirement plaques and the message in our annual Christmas card.

    I enjoy a lot of compliments from my fellow staff for all these things (especially the “more creative” stuff like the plaques and the cards), but I also get LOTS of requests to “just take a look at” an employee’s husband’s Rotary Club speech, a son or daughter’s school paper, biographies of an employee’s deceased relative (which will appear in the deceased’s funeral program), etc., etc. Because most colleagues are nice about it, I just do it, even if it’s a week where I’m swamped (these requests never seem to occur when it’s a day I’m just idly surfing the ‘net to kill time until lunch).

    The real problem occurs, of course, when the thing I’m asked to “just look at” really needs a lot of work before it’s ready for public consumption, and there goes two hours of my day. But, as said, I’m a lapdog and I just do it– especially if it’s something like a funeral bio that will badly reflect on the employee if I don’t clean up my colleague’s grammar and poorly-stated ideas.

    I don’t think YOU should feel bad about trying to control this sort of thing, though, especially if the people aren’t all that gracious and sensitive about the importance of your time. As for me, I’d only ask an established writer for publishing advice (ha, I’m a bit conceited and think my writing itself is just fine) if I could do something nice for the writer in return, such as listen to the advice over a steak dinner for two where I’m buying. I mean, sheesh, isn’t it all about having manners and not making everything “me me me”? If you want something from someone, then do something nice for them, too!

  3. Frank says:

    Max, two comments
    1. I am a dentist and people approach me for free dental advice at weddings, funerals, the grocery store, etc. all the time. Most annoying.
    2. When will the new Heller be appearing ? Waiting anxiously. Ordered the new Quarry today.

  4. patrick foster says:

    As a graphic designer, I get that all the time; can you tell me how to make a website, can you design something for me/my group/my charity for free? I usually ask what they do—”Oh, you’re a plumber? You sell cars? You’re a contractor?” and then offer to trade work for a new kitchen, or a hottub, or a new car. They usually leave pretty quick.

  5. Joe Menta says:

    And, by the way, is it me or does the depiction of Quarry on the cover of the new book look a lot like actor John Krasinski? Funny.

  6. Craig Childs says:

    If you ever move to my neighborhood in Lakeland, TN, you can come to my parties, and I’ll tell you how much better your Quarry novels are than the other suspense/mystery series out there.

  7. Gerard says:

    As a librarian I never get questions asking for professional advice.

  8. Tom Zappe/St. Louis says:

    It’s tough being a Prophet in your own land, sometimes merely absurd.

    It’s no surprise that you find dealing with people an easier matter when you are at a convention or on a book signing tour. I first saw you at the Irish Democrat in Cedar Rapids before a book signing next door at the Mystery Cat Book Store. I was half way through my hamburger when you, your lovely wife and a few others walked in to fortify yourself for the coming onslaught. I jumped up, extended my hand and complained about how the pirate [Todd Myer] who owned the bookstore had forced me at gunpoint to buy and read all your books and what were you going to do about it? You said that you would encourage him at every turn, or something to that effect, we had a nice little chuckle and then met up again an hour later for a delightful evening of book chit chat and related niceties.

    Everybody knew their part and played it with great enthusiasm.

    Dealing with home folks can be more awkward. I have been a [mostly] jazz musician all my 66 years. [Reading your introduction to Chicago Lightning felt strangely autobiographical for me.] Since it’s not something that most people can make a living at, much less get health insurance, I have always had a “day job” for necessities as such as food, shelter and a saxophone collection.

    One night, after sitting in with some brand name talent coming through St. Louis, I had a young listener ask me who I was and what band did I play with? I said I was just a local guy who sold advertising and played music on the weekends at weddings, supermarket openings and saloons. She refused to believe that some home boy could stand up there with the Out of Town Experts.

    One year at the Office Christmas Party they used a Karaoke machine to encourage people to display their lack of musical talent. Kind of like the Gong Show with your co-workers. I got up, sang all six verses of “Mack The Knife” like I had been doing it for years [which I had] and got a great and unexpected reception. Great in that there was much applause and unexpected in that thereafter I would occasionally be serenaded with that tune by the guy in the next urinal while I was trying to take a leak.

    Some people just don’t know how to respond to close at hand talent.

    With regards to dealing with people who want you to proof their manuscripts, just tell them that when you get the chance you would just LOVE to sit and listen to them read it to you and that you would make corrections along the way while they take notes. That should run off at least 96% of the freeloaders.

  9. Max Allan Collins says:

    I appreciate all these smart comments. The prophet in his own land thing hits home — with the exception of a couple of very hot years when Crusin’ was the top band in my home area, my various bands have been under-appreciated in Muscatine. Out of town we were often a fairly big deal. I do get lots of nice comments about my work and people who just generally do the, “Are you Max Collins?” thing and sometimes ask for an autograph. All great. What I resent is being hit up on my home turf by people who have no interest in me except as a resource. I am taking to heart everything said here — thanks — and the same to a few of you who wrote me privately.

    Quarry as depicted on the Hard Case covers has been all over the map. I think the Quarry of THE FIRST QUARRY looks like Mike Nelson of MST2K/RiffTrax. My favorite depiction is THE LAST QUARRY, which uses the actor from the short film “A Matter of Principal” as the model. If the TV show happens, I look for the depictions to suddenly come together….

  10. Pat Malone says:

    Just a quick comment. you have a perfect right to simply ask for a level of privacy at social events.
    having said that, if i ever see you at an event, count on me to come up and rave about your work…
    and i’ll be sure and ask for advice on something, just to make your day complete…