Archive for August, 2021

The Book Giveaway Suspense Is Killing Me

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

The time has come…for another book giveaway.

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support! —Nate]

Suspense His and Hers giveaway copies

The book, which publisher Wolfpack describes (accurately) with a secondary title of “Tales of Love and Murder,” collects short stories written by Barb, by me, and both of us together. It’s about 300 pages and includes some of our best stories, including the recent “Amazing Grace” by me and “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” by mostly Barb. The Edgar-nominated Ms. Tree short story, “Louise,” is included, and two Quarry short stories, “Guest Service” and “Quarry’s Luck.”

This is a new collection, a follow-up to Murder – His & Hers (also available from Wolfpack) – and is a plump 300 pages or so. The cover is terrific. I remain very impressed with the packaging that Wolfpack is coming up with.

The point of the exercise is for us to generate reviews in particular at Amazon (the e-book is exclusive to Kindle). We encourage you to support not just us – or us when we send you a free book – by any authors whose work you enjoy through online reviews. That can sound intimidating, but reviews can range from a line or two to lengthy looks. The point (from an author’s POV) is to build the “star” rating up for titles and get more readers to try your work.

That’s why I release you from your obligation, in a book giveaway, to do a review if you hate the book (although of course you still can if you choose).

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Nolan cover collage from Neotext article.
Image taken from NeoText. See the article linked below for much more.

For the weeks running up to the Oct. 5 publication of Fancy Anders Goes to War I am devoting the time usually spent here to doing an essay on something or other to an installment of my serialized literary memoir, A Life in Crime, at the excellent web site of Fancy’s publisher, NeoText.

Response to the first installment – “Why Mystery?” – has been excellent.

This week I focus on “Nolan.”

Read it here.

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The other big project for NeoText is The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton by Dave Thomas and me. I spent much of the weekend going over the final galleys of this 90,000 word novel.

I am not always the best judge, but this feels like a very special novel, combining elements of noir on the one hand and science-fiction on the other. I should add that its time frame is contemporary and not futuristic. I will have more to say about this one soon.

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Reminiscence promo photo

Speaking of noir/s-f hybrids, Reminiscence (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max) is a good one, despite its lousy Rotten Tomatoes ranking. Visually stunning, the film has an effective Hugh Jackman at its center and the always interesting actress Rebecca Ferguson as a mysterious femme fatale. It consciously invokes both Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (there’s a Velda and also revenge) and Vertigo, and alternates between moody mystery and action thriller.

The dialogue is more than a little arch, and it does occasionally trip over itself in a Chandler-esque narration (minus any humor), but if you can forgive it that, it’s a worthwhile, even haunting experience. The machinations of the plot are clever and it’s a rare film that gets better as it goes along.

Also streaming right now, on Hulu, is the six-part documentary, McCartney 3,2,1 starring (obviously) Paul McCartney and record producer Rick Rubin. The emphasis is on The Beatles with some side trips to McCartney’s solo work and Wings. It’s basically an informal interview centered around revisiting (and fooling around inside) the mixes of various tracks (mostly Beatles). Rubin proves a knowledgeable questioner, though with his bird’s nest bushy white beard he comes across alternately as a homeless guy who wandered in while McCartney waits for the cops to answer his 911 call and a wide-eyed goofball sitting cross-legged before a bemused guru.

That aside, it’s a wonderful ride and, for an aging Baby Boomer like me, a nostalgic trip that invokes grins and tears and all stops between. McCartney comes across as unpretentious and a very successful idiot savant of a musical genius who has a clear-eyed view of what he’s accomplished, and a sense of the luck and magic involved in these four Liverpool kids coming together.

While Yoko is barely invoked, it’s clear Paul and John loved each other, were two puzzle pieces that fit together into one amazing picture, and the break-up of the group (which we all know was Yoko’s fault and I don’t want to talk about it) hurt McCartney deeply. Both Lennon and McCartney did brilliant work apart, but rarely the equal of their collaborations, even when one was mostly just looking over the other one’s shoulder.

Most fascinating is how McCartney has become a self-professed Beatles fan himself now, appreciating the synergy of the group, and how he reflects on his old view that he was making music with a “bloke” named John but now understands he was making music with John Lennon.


My Life in Crime Begins

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

For the next seven weeks, leading up to the publication by NeoText of Fancy Anders Goes to War – as both a Kindle e-book and trade paperback – I will be writing a kind of literary memoir about my various book series.

These will be fairly in-depth essays of around 2500 words each. Installments on Nolan, Quarry, Heller, Ms. Tree and Road to Perdition will culminate in a piece about Fancy Anders. They will appear at the NeoText web site – a very entertaining affair with in particular great material about film, particularly the genre stuff from the last seventy years or so that has tended to get lost in the shuffle.

NeoText has invited me to continue writing these essays in support of other books of mine that will be appearing over the next several years, not necessarily published by them. It’s very generous and is allowing me to sum things up about my writing life in a more focused manner than the (I hope) fun but willy nilly manner I indulge in here.

For these seven weeks, the essays will be the primary content of this update/blog. There will continue to be news and links and occasional blathering, but mostly I will be confined to writing these essays.

Here is this week’s – I think you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll find it lavishly illustrated, as will be all the future entries.

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My Mike Hammer editor at Titan, my pal Andrew Sumner, has been ailing of late. But he’s on the mend, which is great news. Here’s his latest interview with me.

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Tom Helberg of Sentai Filmworks led a discussion of the Lone Wolf and Cub series (manga, films, TV, etc.) featuring film reviewer Ed Travis and myself, with an emphasis on how Road to Perdition was influenced by Lone Wolf.

And here’s the trailer for Sentai’s streaming of the 1973 Lone Wolf and Cub TV series.

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I was not a huge fan of writer/director Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. The film held me but I was unable to fix upon what point he was trying to make – were the rich the actual parasites? The poor? Both? And the resolutely downbeat, violent ending seemed imposed upon the material, not the natural resolution.

But many disagree with me, smart people at that, so it’s just might be I was wrong. Perhaps I’ll revisit it someday. I do know I very much liked Bong Joon Ho’s earlier (2003) film, Memories of Murder (out on Criterion Blu-ray). It’s a police procedural based on a notorious real case in South Korea. The early tone is almost farcical, as the incompetent smalltown cops deal with a serial killer ways alternately buffoonish and thugish. After a young, cool big city inspector joins them to get the case on track, the tone gradually shifts but still has comic moments.

But the story edges toward the abyss as the serial killings continue and the cool cop becomes haunted and frazzled by the crimes. The conclusion will unsettle viewers today, but I warn you not to read anything about this film before giving it a try and, if you have the excellent Criterion edition, make sure to reserve time to watch the supplementary material about the real serial killings and their surprising resolution.


Fancy Anders, Nic Cage, A Suspenseful Release and More

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021
M.A.C. and Barbara Collins holding Suspense - His and Hers
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link

Suspense – His and Hers (subtitled Tales of Love and Murder) is available now, both in Kindle e-book and a handsome trade paperback. It collects stories by Barb and me both individually and together. Two Quarry short stories are included (“Guest Service” and “Quarry’s Luck”) and a rare Ms. Tree short story (the Edgar-nominated “Louise”). It’s a pleasantly plump collection (almost 300 pages) and I think you’ll like it. Wolfpack did a marvelous job on the cover.

Fancy Anders Goes to War: Who Killed Rosie the Riveter?
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

Speaking of marvelous covers, feast you eyes on Fay Dalton’s cover for Fancy Anders Goes to War, which is available now for pre-order at $2.99 in Kindle form. There will be a trade paperback edition as well, but that isn’t up for pre-order just yet. This is the first of three novellas I’ve done for NeoText about Fancy, who is a 24-year-old (obviously) female detective in Los Angeles during World War II. The subtitle is Who Killed Rosie the Riveter? The fantastic Ms. Dalton has, in addition to the cover, provided a full-page illustration for each of the ten chapters.

If you like to read on Kindle, an advantage is that Fay’s artwork is presented in color (well, a couple were intentionally left black-and-white for film noir reasons) whereas only the cover art will be in color in the trade paperback. These are short novels (hence the term novella) but longish ones, running 30,000 words each. They will make nice additions to the shelves of Luddites like me who prefer “real” books.

It is my intention, my hope, that the three Fancy Anders novellas will be collected in one book with the Fay Dalton art properly showcased. (The Fancy Anders trade paperbacks are POD and only the cover will be in color.) I had a wonderful time doing these stories and hope more of Fancy’s cases will find their way through my fingers to the pages of books. These may not be as hardboiled as Quarry or Nolan or Hammer, but then what is? Fancy is like a younger Ms. Tree and is not shy about taking bad people down violently.

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My classic rock band Crusin’ will be performing at the Muscatine Art Center’s Ice Cream Social this coming Sunday. Details here.

Right now this is the final scheduled gig of our short season. I had hoped to line up a few more, but with the surge in Covid the better part of valor for Crusin’ is to fade into rehearsals for our much-postponed CD of original material. Rehearsing and recording that CD is our winter project. It was supposed to be last winter’s project, but….

Here is a link to a video of the second set of our recent Sunday Concert series performance. I warn you that the instrumental is waaaaay back – you can barely hear the keyboards and the punch of the guitar is dialed down from the actual event. That’s because this is a sound board recording and you get mostly vocals.

I’m providing this because I do think it captures the casual intimacy of the event, which is quite different from working a larger venue. Thanks to Chad Yocum for shooting the video and providing the link.

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Nicolas Cage in Pig (2021)

As I may have mentioned, my son Nate and I are fans of actor Nicolas Cage. It’s odd to be a Nic Cage fan, because you never know whether the film at hand will be gold or dross, or something in between.

Some time ago Cage began taking (apparently) any job that comes his way if his price is met, and that price must not be sky high considering how many jobs he takes. This practice began some years ago when he had a tax problem that sent him spiraling from A-list to Direct-to-Video.

Cage was always quirky and for some an acquired taste. But here’s the thing: Nic always gives 100%. The film can be utter shit (and occasionally is – a few have caused even the loyal Collins boys to bail) but you never know when something really special is going to crop up.

Willy’s Wonderland, with the sublime premise of a defunct Chucky Cheese wanna-be restaurant becoming a haunted house for its mechanical animal musicians, has Cage giving a full-bore eccentric performance that almost elevates it to something special. Not quite, but for some of us, essential viewing. Primal is terrible, A Score to Settle rather good. You never know. A Cage movie is the surprise package of cinema.

Now and then, however, Nic and his collaborators knock it out of the park. Often he does extreme action and/or horror stuff – common among low-budget indies – and Mandy is something of a masterpiece. It’s sort of The Evil Dead without the laughs (except very dark ones) or the zombies. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any even mildly adventurous movie fan.

But the current Pig (streaming for a price at the moment) is a reminder of just how great an actor Cage can be when a director handles him well and the material is strong. On the surface, it seems to be a revenge story, but that’s an assumption you’ll make that will prove wrong. It has tension and one violent scene, but it’s not an action movie. The premise sounds fried even for Cage: a hermit in the forest survives on the truffles he and his truffle pig find, which are sold to a city-boy hustler regularly; somebody beats Cage up, steals the pig, and Nic goes to the big city (Portland) to get his pig back.

If this sounds like you asked somebody to imagine a movie that even Nic Cage would reject, you’d be very, very wrong. It’s a wonderful movie and about all sorts of things, but revenge isn’t really one of them. Unexpectedly it becomes about being a chef, as opposed to a hermit, but really it explores loss and father-son dynamics. Pig centers on (get ready for it) an understated Cage performance that is Oscar worthy, and includes one of the best scenes you’ll ever see in any movie – what is that scene about? The hermit makes a chef cry in the latter’s trendy restaurant.

You can dismiss me as a crazy hermit who lives in Iowa if you like, but the loss will be yours.

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Here is a delightful review of Antiques Carry On from Ron Fortier’s Pulp Fiction Reviews. But…it isn’t written by Ron! Suspense killing you? Read on…

A Trash ‘N’ Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
Severn House
Guest Reviewer -Valerie Fortier

Ron isn’t into Cozy mysteries and when this one arrived in the mail, he dropped it on my desk top with the suggestion I give it a go. Months later it’s still sitting there and I decided to give it a try. As a Mom myself, I totally get the mother-daughter dynamics. Sometimes they gel, other times they are nothing but oil and water.

I would recommend you take time to meet Vivian and Brandy. The mother-daughter team that never misses a chance to inject humor and fun while investigating a new mystery. I really enjoyed the book; especially the great twist at the end in regards to who done it. Just when you think you’ve got it solved, there’s more to be revealed.

The book offers up a truly wonderful cast of characters to “cozy” up by the fire and share some time with.

Final note – This is the start and end of my reviewing career. Thanks, Ron.

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Finally, here is an interesting, in-depth look at the film of Road to Perdition.


Rock Oldies, London Praise, and I Love Suicide Squad

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

My band Crusin’ played its second gig of what will be a short season (one more for sure, maybe two) and it went well. A nice crowd joined us on an upper floor of the local library (!) for the Second Sunday Concert series. We delivered two eclectic sets and the audience seemed to love it, and really responded to our off-the-cuff, often tasteless jokes. And son Nate helped us load in and out – thanks, son!

Crusin', Second Sunday Concert Series August 2021
Crusin’ — Second Sunday Concert Series, Muscatine.

M.A.C. with Crusin', Second Sunday Concert Series August 2021
M.A.C. performing with Crusin’, Second Sunday Concert Series

Somebody has unearthed an early (possibly first?) Seduction of the Innocent gig at San Diego Con in 1988. Worth a look. Miguel on drums. This is before Chris Christensen joined up and shared drumming duty with Miggie and guitar duty with Bill Mumy.

Barb and I went to the Happy Together Tour concert in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the restored and beautiful Paramount Theater. About half the audience (including us) wore masks. The older demographic meant most were vaccinated, but this was our first venture into a concert, and while we had a blast, I think the vaccination rate will have to go up before we do so again.

The Cowsills – a band I had no respect for or interest in back in the day – were the best act, hands down, vocally, instrumentally, with great showmanship. They opened, which was wise, as it got the crowd whipped up right off the bat. Everybody was good, though a couple of the acts hid the fact that no (or very few) original members were part of the INSERT NAME OF BAND HERE. Two of the original Association members made that line-up of three more valid than most, but the Association appearing alone has a full stage of singers and players whereas here they used the backing band everybody did.

But Gary Puckett was charismatic and in a fine voice, and a genuinely impressive stylist. My band the Daybreakers opened for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap on a mini-tour in Iowa in early 1968 (we were promoting “Psychedelic Siren”). Their equipment didn’t arrive by plane as planned and we loaned them ours (equipment, not plane) – they struggled through with our garage band gear and gave us a signed picture.

Would have loved to reminisce with Mr. Puckett. He was essentially the headliner, coming on right before the Turtles wound up the show and getting five songs (not the usual four), with the pre-recorded announcer bringing him on and off. The Turtles are really just a Turtle now, with Mark Volman very funny but not up to singing much and the great, ailing Howard Kaylan (the lead singer) replaced by Ron Dante of the Archies. He did “Sugar Sugar” and the probably mostly diabetic audience lapped it up.

That sounds like a less than glowing review, but it was really a fun, fine show, the backing band excellent, with the hit after hit nature of the beast pulling the nostalgic heart strings. “Cherish” was our song, Barb and mine, and even a stripped-down Association had its way with us.

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A nice surprise came recently when the London Times gave a rave review to the second of the Eliot Ness non-fiction tomes by Collins and Schwartz, in honor of that book appearing in trade paperback. That review appears below (minus an incredible color photo of Kevin Costner as Ness in the DePalma Untouchables film):

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by Max Allan Collins and A Brad Schwartz review — the thrilling history of the torso murderer

One evening in September 1935 two boys playing softball in a run-down area of Cleveland, Ohio, found a young man’s corpse hidden in undergrowth. The body was naked except for a pair of black socks, and bore the marks of torture. Its genitals and head were missing. Decapitation seemed to be the cause of death.

Detectives were perplexed. They were used to seeing mutilated bodies. Yet as one noted, this was usually done “to prevent identification, but almost never to kill. It’s a hell of a job to remove a human head.”

Police later worked out that the dead man was Edward Andrassy, a small-time drug dealer, pornographer and pimp who worked shifts in Cleveland’s City Hospital. And his was not the only body they found that day. Dumped 30ft away was another male corpse, similarly abused. No one ever established who this second man was. But he and Andrassy would come to be known as victims of a serial killer known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer or the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. During the next three years ten more chopped-up cadavers appeared around the city, and the case became notorious across America and as far away as Nazi Germany. It embarrassed Cleveland’s police, who could do nothing to stop it. And it dogged the man in overall charge of the force: the fabled American crime-fighter Eliot Ness.

Ness is one of the most famous names in the annals of American crime-fighting: he was the inspiration for Dick Tracy and the 1950s TV series The Untouchables. The latter was supposedly based on Ness’s exploits in Prohibition-era Chicago, when he helped to build a case against Al Capone’s mob. But it was almost entirely fictitious. So there is much in his life for historians to explore.

Max Allan Collins and A Brad Schwartz are Ness aficionados. Collins has written several novels and a one-man stage show featuring Ness; Schwartz, an academic, has been obsessed since childhood. They collaborated on a previous book, Scarface and the Untouchable, chronicling Ness’s clash with Capone. But when Capone went to jail, Ness was in his late twenties and barely halfway through his life. What, the authors ask, did he do next?

Well, in 1934 Ness moved to Cleveland, to shut down illegal alcohol distilleries. Within a year, however, he was made city safety director, overseeing the police and fire services. He was not a detective (still less an FBI agent). And he seldom carried a gun. Rather, he was a conscientious, stiff-necked stickler for standards in public life, an intellectual, a progressive and an ardent believer in institutional reform.

Ness believed that urban life would be safer and happier if young men were kept out of jail and encouraged to serve their communities. He hated bent police officers and placed his trust in “untouchable” types — like himself — who would not be bribed or bullied by criminals or politicians. He thought officers should be fit, sober and alert. He loved technology and pioneered the use of police cars fitted with two-way radios. He used journalists and ad campaigns to portray his policies in a favourable light. Most of these were radical ideas in the 1930s, and not universally popular. But Ness took police professionalism seriously and saw it as a force for social change. “I want to prove what an honest police force with intelligence and civic pride can do,” he once said.

Sadly, none of this high principle counted for much when there was a crazed killer on the loose. The detectives who worked the Mad Butcher case under Ness may have had car radios, but they did not have access to modern forensics or DNA testing. Moreover, Collins and Schwarz argue, Ness was a rationalist, who believed crime had logical solutions. “The idea of a murderer who killed solely for satisfaction made no sense to him.” When he did try to get progressive, it was a disaster.

Since the Butcher preyed on Cleveland’s shanty towns, Ness sent officers in to round up the “hoboes, transients and homeless” from the slums and set fire to their shacks. Needless to say, victim-blaming on this scale made for poor public policy. For three years the butcher went about his demented business. And he was never caught, although Cleveland police investigated thousands of suspects. In 1939 an immigrant called Frank Dolezal was tortured by sheriffs outside Ness’s jurisdiction into confessing to one murder, and died, supposedly of suicide, in his cell. The other prime suspect, Frank Sweeney, an alcoholic medic and army veteran related to a senior Cleveland politician, was committed to a mental asylum but never brought to justice. After Ness left his post in Cleveland in 1942 Sweeney wrote him cryptic postcards but stopped short of a confession. When Ness died of a heart attack in 1957, after a post-police career of failed business ventures, heavy boozing and spiralling bad luck, the case remained unsolved.

In arranging this slab of Ness biography around the Butcher case, Collins and Schwarz are on slightly thin ice. Today many pious historians turn up their noses at murder narratives that focus on (or glorify) killers and cops, arguing that we should instead elevate the victims. Moreover, in using the salacious horror of the killings as a peg for what is really a much broader chronicle of Ness’s post-Chicago years, the authors give the Butcher somewhat more prominence in Ness’s life than he deserves.

All the same, this is a deeply researched book — the source notes run to more than 100 pages — which reads like a thriller and sheds new light on a poorly understood modern American icon. Crime history doesn’t get a lot better than that.

As much as I am thrilled by this review, I disagree with aspects of it (are you surprised?). First of all, Ness was a detective and man of action. Second, I feel Brad and I make it clear who the Butcher was. In writing a non-fiction book, however, we had to leave it up to the reader to draw that conclusion from the evidence we present. Still, this is sweet UK kudos for a book that was, I’m afraid, woefully ignored in the USA.

The possibility of a Showtime Ness/Capone series is written up here (as you may recall, Scarface and The Untouchable has indeed been optioned by CBS and a Showtime deal made – resist holding your breaths, however, for the show to appear).

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The Wild Dog/Suicide Squad fuss continues to be covered on various comics sites, thankfully ignored largely by the wider media. Many comics fans think the creators of a character should shut up and let subsequent writers do whatever they like.

Okay, the problem here is that Wild Dog is a hero and only a criminal in the sense that Batman originally was and Zorro always was. Re-purposing the character as a right-wing lunatic who led the Jan. 6 Insurrection and took a proud dump on the Speaker of the House’s desk reflects a lazy, disrespectful writer and a quietly contemptuous editorial/publishing staff with zero regard for the original intent of the creators.

The Suicide Squad concept is villains being traded reduced sentences for taking on dangerous missions (The Dirty Dozen). Wild Dog isn’t a villain. And even if you allowed him to be viewed as one and arrested and imprisoned by the Justice System, tying him to the most notorious domestic terrorist act in modern times is a cheap shot I can’t let pass without comment.

Bleeding Cool has done the most coverage and their most recent post at least reprints my views and Terry’s, which is really all I ask. I don’t expect the writer or DC to do anything but ignore us and our wishes. It’s not like they’re headquartered in the Siegel and Shuster Building.

So you may be expecting my reaction to the new Suicide Squad film to be wildly, doggedly negative. Nope. I loved it. It’s over-the-top, beautifully written and directed by James Gunn channeling Quentin Tarantino. Oddly, it appears to be nihilistic but betrays a good heart in the final fifteen minutes. I’m not sure the movie would work without Idris Elba, who really, really needs to be the next James Bond. Also, John Cena is excellent after stinking up the joint in the latest Fast and Furious.

Another movie you might expect me to hate: Jungle Cruise. Nope. Loved that, too. It is also over-the-top, in a different way, and Duane Johnson (come on, this is the Rock, you know it and I know it) is just an actual, no kidding charismatic movie star and there’s nothing to be done about it. Emily Blunt is charming, too. It’s one of those movies that is somehow stupid and smart all at once, and if it veers too heavily into Pirates of the Caribbean mode in the second half, well, they are both Disneyland rides, aren’t they? At least we haven’t been subjected to a It’s a Small World After All flick (my mother used to sing that song to me because she knew it drove me into an absolute rage but would get me out of bed).

But we streamed both movies. As much as the Happy Together Tour pleased us, and how great it was for Crusin’ to appear as part of the Second Sunday Concert series, Barb and I are both getting paranoid about Covid again. We have grandkids we don’t want to infect, and being fully vaccinated doesn’t seem to be enough.