Archive for February, 2022

Who I Try To Please

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

No book giveaway this week. To make up for it I am including a cute photo of our two grandchildren, Lucy and Sam, taken at the Muscatine Art Center’s lego display. You’re welcome.

Muscatine Art Center Lego Exhibit, Sam and Lucy
Muscatine Art Center Lego Exhibit, Rubber Duckie
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Quarry's Blood
Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Patience – another book giveaway will come. I just don’t want to detract from the release today (Feb. 22) of Quarry’s Blood. And winners in that book giveaway, will on that date be able to post reviews on Amazon.

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And speaking of Quarry’s Blood, I want to share this great review from Ron Fortier at Pulp Fiction Reviews:

By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime

Max Allan Collins has been writing stories about his Vietnam veteran hitman since 1976. It was obvious from the start that the author and his creation were the same age making it easy enough for him to place the stories in time. Collins did a few Quarry books and then walked away from them. When Hard Case Crime came along, publisher Charles Ardai, a fan of the character, urged Collins to bring Quarry back. Collins, obviously older, as was his hero, realized he had a golden opportunity to write a finale.

What his crystal ball couldn’t predict was how successful “The Last Quarry” would become among his ever growing audience. And there was Ardai wanting more. Collins pulled a very neat hat-trick and went backwards with “The First Quarry.” Which of course meant dusting off his own memories of those long ago times and their social environs. All of which he did making it seem effortless.

Having thus given us the alpha and omega, it seemed we mystery/crime fans had seen the last of Quarry. Again we’ve been proven wrong in this new “Quarry’s Blood.” It’s pretty much a gripping fast paced epilogue and so much fun. We catch up with an aging Quarry, almost about to reach seventy and widowed for the second time. He’s content with living a quiet, if lonely life, until a very savvy female writer named Susan shows up on his doorstep. As it turns out she’s the author of a bestselling true crime novel that was clearly inspired by Quarry’s lethal career and she’s convinced he is the real hitman she researched in her book.

Unnerved by all this, he maintains his false innocence and sends her packing. The following day, while taking a pre-dawn swim at a nearby indoor pool, he’s nearly killed by two professional assassins. No way is it a coincidence and Quarry finds himself once again being pulled into his old world of hunter/prey, kill or be killed. But what’s the connection to Susan? And who, after so many long years, wants him dead and why?

This is one of the best Quarry books ever. Maybe we think that because we’re seventy-five, a Vietnam veteran and often times think about all our brothers who never made it home to their families and loved ones. Who never got to drink another cold beer or read a damn good book like this one. Thanks, Max, for all of them.

Thank you, Ron, for reading them. When a Vietnam vet reacts well to these books, I am especially pleased.

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Okay, so sometimes I’m wrong.

Ten years ago, I thought The Amazing Spider-man with Andrew Garfield was lousy. But because I really liked the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which all three big screen Spider-men were deftly woven into one narrative, I decided to pick up a 3-D Blu-ray of Amazing Spider-man (cheap) and Barb and I watched it tonight.

We loved it.

Part of this is our affection for Andrew Garfield in other films he’s been in that made us more open to his casting, and of course he’s very good in No Way Home. Part of it was how terrific the film was, really taking its time to explore the origin of the character in a way that was at once faithful to the original comic book and at the same time fleshed it out. Also, the attention by the filmmakers to mimicking artist Steve Ditko’s classic poses for Spider-man was thrilling to someone who had followed the character from Amazing Fantasy #15 and The Amazing Spider-man #1 to the end of the John Romita-drawn run.

Mostly our positive reaction, however, came from meeting the film on its own terms. This is true of novels and short stories, too. I’m a big believer in that, but I sometimes don’t take my own advice. In retrospect, I disliked the Garfield version of Spider-man, ten years ago, because I felt it was superfluous – that it was too soon to do a reboot (a term I don’t believe was in use yet). As a Sam Raimi fan – I saw Army of Darkness in a theater on its first release – I liked his version just fine, though the third one was not up to snuff. But Toby McGuire’s Peter Parker/Spider-man (should I have inserted a “SPOILER ALERT” there?) seemed definitive.

Now reboots are part of the plan, and No Way Home has rather brilliantly found a way to make all three versions of Spider-man at the movies exist in the Marvel Universe.

I mention this not just indicate any growth on my part, but as an adjunct to discussions here (on the update/blog itself and in the comments) about the value of reviews. I don’t recall if I reviewed Amazing Spider-man here ten years ago, but if I did, I probably panned it.

A review is just an opinion, and a snapshot of how the reviewer reacted to a film or novel at that time. Opinions can change, and they often should. I am always after my readers to post reviews at Amazon, and have made my preference for receiving good reviews no secret. But it really doesn’t have much with making me feel good (okay, a little), but mostly to help market the books. To draw attention to them and encourage new readers.

In the comment section last week, Bill P said the following:

So, if you as an author realize this is a collaboration with the reader, do you have an archetype in mind during writing for the intended audience? Does thinking of their acceptance/rejection of your choices guide you or limit you? And when you try to grow from that core audience from book to book, do you find some reject you extending those boundaries because they want the constancy of the world you have previously created?

I answered this last week, in the comments; but I think Bill raises topics worth discussing in a bit more depth.

I love my readers – money gets sent to my house because of them. But the truth is I write for only two people – Barb and myself. Primarily I write for me, because I am always trying to write a book that I would like to read. I am trying to satisfy my needs and express my ideas and to make something. Create something. Barb is secondary in this process, but incredibly important. I cannot imagine writing if she were not reading what I’ve written.

Now, that doesn’t mean she reads everything – she certainly skips introductions and essays and such that I occasionally write. But all of my fiction goes to her as my first reader (with novels, a chapter at a time). One reason for that is her abilities as a writer – even before she developed her skills along those lines, she had incredible story sense, and a remarkable bullshit detector. She knows when something isn’t working in a scene.

Also, and you’ll have to forgive the sentiment here, but I love her and want to please and impress her. To make her think I was worthy of her spending her life with me. I need to impress her because a lot of the time I am a buffoon.

Being my critic-in-chief isn’t an easy role for her. I hate criticism. I have a thin skin. (Not a desirable trait in a writer.) (Or anyone.) Sometimes I don’t react well. But generally she knows how to handle me (sad that she has to) and I know she is trying to protect me. Yes, from myself.

I don’t make any attempt to please readers by writing the same kind of thing every time out. For a long time, in the movie and TV tie-in days, I had to write all sorts of things to make a living. It was good for me, because I learned a lot writing in different genres – the movie novels, as I’ve mentioned here, included war, western, romance, science-fiction, sword and sorcery, horror and other themes forbidden to me in my narrowly defined role as a mystery writer.

But within mystery fiction, not everything I do pleases every reader of mine. When I do something like John Sand, occasional howls of displeasure have arisen. It’s probably no surprise that fans of Quarry might not be interested in the cozy comic Antiques novels. Quarry and Nolan fans sometimes find the longer length and historical approach of Nathan Heller off-putting, though Heller and Quarry and Nolan are cut from similar cloth.

I can’t help that. First, I need to make a living, and second, I need to stay fresh and interested. If I were doing one Quarry novel after another, in a row, I’d likely grow tired and to hate him. As it is now, it’s like spending time with an old, good friend (who kills people).

I do make concessions both to publishers/editors and to the type of book I’m doing. I have a sense of what’s appropriate for a given title. For John Sand, Matt Clemens and I decided to be very sparing with the “f” word – we hardly use it at all, whereas Quarry and Nolan and Heller readers know I am not fucking afraid to use it. In the Fancy Anders novellas and The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, that kind of effing profanity just didn’t seem appropriate. It wouldn’t be in the Antiques novels, either.

To me that’s just bringing to a given novel what is appropriate for that novel, and, yes, its audience. I don’t think that’s selling out – I think it’s being a conscientious professional.

I don’t know how to answer Bill’s archetype question. All of the first-person narrators are me – me in different circumstances, but me. In writing tough guys like Nolan, Quarry, Heller, even Mike Hammer, I strive to make their surfaces – and their inner lives – reflective of each being a real person. Not a type.


Bulldog Edition

Tuesday, February 15th, 2022

It’s amazing! After my brief discussion/defense of the Ritz Brothers last time, fan clubs for the boys have sprung up all over America!

Okay, maybe not.

I’m just softening the blow that I’m not doing a book giveaway this week. Maybe next week. I am working on the new Nate Heller and found myself scrapping my intended final two sections and plotting instead one second section. This required re-reading a ton of research material and re-thinking it. I have been taxing my wife Barb’s patience utilizing her as a sounding board whose ideas and reactions are always helpful.

And how about that Super Bowl? Actually, as I write this, it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t care about it, so Barb and I will be going to the new Death on the Nile at a time when the theater should be largely empty.

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Barb and I have now seen Death on the Nile (in an almost empty theater!) and we both found it a whipsawing experience. Kenneth Branagh’s version of Poirot is perfectly acceptable and often pays attention to detail courtesy of the Christie (and Suchet) characterizations; but he falls prey to an out-of-character attraction he has to a raucous blues singer, based on Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose music is used throughout in a sometimes jarring way – where we should be getting a John Barry-esque score over the majestic Nile as backdrop to all this glitzy but murderous melodrama, we get guitar-driven blues (and a traditional soundtrack playing at a barely audible level, as if the theater left its Muzak going). I like guitar-driven blues, but as the soundtrack to Agatha Christie?

Kenneth Branagh in Death on the Nile

Though relatively faithful to Christie in general, the substitution of the blues singer and her manager/niece for the drunken romance novelist and her daughter seems at once forced modernity and a clumsy removal of a valid murder motive. A nice WW I origin story for Poirot and his mustache is followed by Poirot in 1937 going to a nightclub and sitting alone at a table watching over-choreographed lascivious dancing in quiet perverse contemplation – it’s a creepy sequence, turning the Belgian master detective into a raincoater in a porn-shop booth.

When the riverboat-board mystery kicks in, the cast proves less than star-studded (and filled, by accident of course, with cancelled or sort of cancelled celebrities of a few moments ago) though the direction is fine, save for circling cameras and other stunts during interrogation scenes that only detract from the importance of the information being gathered. When Branagh hews close to Christie, which he does about two-thirds of the time, his performance and the film itself are fine.

The biggest flaw is Gal Gadot playing the woman-stealing rich girl in a positive manner, not Lois Chile’s grasping, acquisitive proper murder victim of the superior 1978 version. And for all the emotion Branagh tries to stir up, no performance here touches ‘78’s Mia Farrow, the spurned woman of one of Dame Agatha’s most chillingly convoluted plots.

I’m glad to see Christie staying in the popular culture, although Covid and the mine field of who is cancelled by the time a film comes out has done this Poirot film no favors.

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My discussion last week sparked quite a bit of response, after I revealed my negative opinion of a certain James Crumley first sentence, even while granting an I-hope-not-condescending-permission for others to like it. Some of those responses appeared in the previous Comments Section, but still others were sent to me by e-mail. One of the most interesting came in that fashion, and – with permission – I am sharing it here, so I can reply and perhaps have my response seen by more readers than if this had occurred in the Comments Section.

The following is excerpted from a missive courtesy of a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Your blog is your house. I think good discourse is important, but I also respect your site as your medium to transmit your message. No need to raise Cain in another man’s world. That said, I do like the Crumley line and state it here, privately. (NOTE FROM MAC: Privately until I got hold of it.)

“Perhaps it’s because, when my Dad was in the creative writing program in Montana, he met and drank with Jim (called some of his work mediocre too…you might have liked that!). Maybe it was the many ‘ramshackle joints’ like that one described that my Dad dragged us to as kids. Maybe it is because my college roommate was from Sonoma, who had an alcoholic father that just might have drank in the same bar. Maybe it is because I have never thought about a bulldog that was an alcoholic, much less an owner who would give him such a big name as ‘Fireball Roberts.’ Those all play, I’m sure, and made me want to know more. But, having lived on the Gulf Coast in my young adulthood, I know what it is like to ‘drink the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.’ Maybe you can’t go back, but that sentence fragment brought me there for a short moment.”

My anonymous correspondent has made – or anyway implied – a point that I tried to make last time. It’s part of the overall concept of the reader as collaborator. I’ve discussed that my propensity for providing what some think is over-description (of clothing, or setting, etc.), and have tried to explain that this comes from my desire to be the in-charge half of the collaborative team.

First, I would like the reader to experience what I imagined, what I conjured, as close to the way I did. Second, I don’t think it should be the reader’s responsibility to do the writer’s work. Why should you have to clothe the damn characters? Why should they be allowed to run naked through the pages, unless it’s a sex scene or set in a nudist colony? Why should you have to describe the circumstances of where these fictional people live and put the flesh on the bones the stingy writer did not deign to provide?

Now I say this specifically in regard to my work. I don’t propose it as a schematic, or “rules,” other writers should follow. This approach reflects, as it has no choice other than to do, my way of seeing things. In the comments, one reader agreed with me about the overwriting in the Crumley line, then started quoting Elmore Leonard’s rules, most of which I disagree with…for me, not for Leonard. He was excellent at following his own rules and came up with something special…and his. I was a fan of Charles Webb, the little-known author of The Graduate, and he was the stingiest writer I ever encountered – he gave you nothing but the action and words of the piece, which may be why his famous novel became an even more famous movie…it was already almost a screenplay.

My anonymous correspondent’s comments about his dad, and the way his father related to bars and drinking (I am almost a non-drinker, despite the mimosa I had this morning), are him bringing himself to the party. He can’t help doing that any more than I can avoid bringing my opinions and personal history to the party. And neither of us should try otherwise. That’s where the collaboration between writer and reader becomes interesting.

It’s also why you can love a writer, and recommend that writer to a perfectly intelligent friend, and then have your own intelligence questioned by that friend because of your terrible taste in books. (This obviously also applies to movies and music.) That is why all reviews – mine included (see Death on the Nile above) – are essentially worthless…because none of us have the same experience when we read a book (or see a movie or listen to music).

You can tell somebody a book is great, but the truth is the version that person experiences will be at least somewhat different from yours, and probably a whole lot different. I have spent my life dueling with people who don’t like Mickey Spillane. I have very little respect for their intelligence. And they have very little respect for mine. Neither of us is wrong, at least not entirely.

The one area where I would disagree with my anonymous correspondent is a style issue. I don’t object to any of the things Crumley jams into the sentence (well, I think “Fireball Roberts” is a terminally cute name for a bulldog, and Abraham Trahearne is almost as bad for a human), it’s just the show-offy way he goes about it. It’s impossible (or difficult) (or maybe I’m just slow) to chug-a-lug all that one sentence’s information.

What I do like about that line is that it provides information even as it raises questions – that’s how many, perhaps most, good first sentences succeed. A good first sentence doesn’t require you to read it more than once to make sense of it, to process it, unless you think it’s a bad idea to pull your reader down immediately into the narrative and make forward progress.

This is a first sentence that I much admire:

“Later that summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June 7th, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.”

That’s plenty long, but you are right with it, and solid facts accompany cascading questions. It’s the first sentence of The Bad Seed by William March, and you can have your drunken bulldogs named Fireball What’s-It.

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I can’t resist reprinting this great review of Tough Tender from Booklist.

Tough Tender.
By Max Allan Collins
Mar. 2022. Hard Case Crime, paper, $12.95 (9781789091434)

Collins’ Nolan series, starring the no-nonsense thief Nolan and his younger partner, comics crazed Jon, was written from the sixties into the eighties, but it had been largely unavailable for decades, until Hard Case Crime began reissuing the series as twofers under new titles. This is the third in that sequence, following Two for the Money (2021), and it combines Hard Cash and Scratch Fever. Nolan has no interest in robbing the same bank twice, but he’s blackmailed into doing so by the bank manager, who wants a share of the take this time. Naturally, it all goes crazy wrong. Scratch Fever picks up the story years later when Nolan and Jon encounter hairstylist-turned-entrepreneur Julie, who scammed them on the bank deal. Naturally, they’d like to get their money back, and just as naturally, Julie would like to get rid of them altogether. Collins displays his usual ability to round out the flat edges of what seem initially like stock genre characters, but he really outdoes himself with Julie, surely one of the most memorable femme fatales in hard-boiled fiction (“everything she touches turns to dead”).
— Bill Ott

And here is (incredibly enough) a really nice review of Double Down, another Nolan two-fer, from Kirkus.

Nolan also gets love at, which gives me great pleasure, as it’s a site devoted to Lee Van Cleef. Scroll down when you get there (linger over the naked blonde if you like).

Finally, Road to Perdition gets a spot on this list of Best 21 books about the Mafia.


The Ritz Brothers? That’s What You’re Reading?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2022

We will be sending Tough Tender out tomorrow, and I remind those of you receiving copies that you can’t post Amazon reviews until the book has been published, which will be March 15. Same is true of the Quarry’s Blood winners, although that date is sooner – February 22nd.

I am mulling doing a giveaway of No Time to Spy next week. It’s such a big book that postage will be nasty, and I may limit the giveaway to five copies. We shall see.

I am working on the new Nate Heller right now and am about at the half-way point with an April 1st deadline. With luck I will make it, although I have jury duty next week. I actually enjoy jury duty (I’ve served twice in the past) but would rather write Heller.

I’ve talked a lot about the writing process lately, and bitched about reviewers. So for a change I thought I’d write some reviews, or at least reactions, myself to what I’ve been reading and seeing. Probably the question I get asked most – particularly by people who don’t read these updates and don’t already know the answer – is, “What are you reading?”

Again, frequent visitors here know I read very little fiction these days, and almost no crime fiction other than re-reading books by people who influenced me, like Spillane, Cain, Hammett, Chandler, Stout and Christie. (Most of my reading is non-fiction research.) The crime fiction I do absorb tends to be on TV or at the movies…but particularly TV. I’ll talk about what Barb and I have watched and enjoyed lately, but first…what have I been reading?

Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge is a massive and quite wonderful trip through every Christie novel about the Belgian detective as well as most of the short stories and the various adaptations, including films and TV. Though published with the Christie estate’s blessing, the book is not afraid to criticize (if fondly) the fiction and does not hesitate to find fault with adaptations, though never in a mean-spirited way. Amazingly, the book talks about each novel, intelligently, without revealing the solutions to any of the mysteries. And I was particularly pleased that the author agrees with me that Evil Under the Sun (1982) with Peter Ustinov is “an unmitigated joy” and the best Poirot film.

The Ritz Brothers by Roy Liebman is absolutely the best book on the Ritz Brothers ever written. Also the only one, but it’s damn good if organized in a somewhat head-scratching manner. The Ritz Brothers would be one of my prime guilty pleasures if I considered pleasures found in books and films and TV anything ever to feel guilt about. I say this fully cognizant that their film The Gorilla (1939), despite having a guy in a gorilla suit in it, is truly awful. I’ve seen it half a dozen times.

Sidebar: why do I like the Ritz Brothers? I find their eccentric dancing amazing and their lookalike goonery amusing. The biggest factor is probably Harry Ritz, the “funny” one (think Curly) (or, later, Shemp), without whom we would not have had Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar or Mel Brooks. Oh, and Jerry Lewis. That’s why. Also, their Three Musketeers movie is one of the best versions of one of my favorite stories, with the added benefit of getting Beaver Cleaver into a lot of trouble when he wrote a book report based on that movie.

Blake Edwards: Interviews edited by Gabriella Oldham. The man who gave us Peter Gunn, The Pink Panther and The Great Race, but also gave us some films that make The Gorilla look pretty good, has fascinated me for years. Plus, he wrote and directed the first Mike Hammer TV pilot. And I bet he would have agreed with me about the Ritz Brothers.

Noir City Annual 2020, Eddie Muller publisher, Vince Keenan editor. This publication routinely ignores me and my work, and yet I remain (largely) unoffended because Noir City is so great…and now is publishing as a monthly magazine. This annual covers postwar Japanese noir and actor Jo Shishido (my son Nate and I are fans) as well as Harper and Point Blank, Hubert Cornfield (who directed Bobby Darin in Pressure Point), Christa Faust on older women in noir, and so much more. (Drawback: no Ritz Brothers.) If you haven’t joined the Film Noir Foundation yet, there is still time to save yourself and do so.

That’s it for books lately (25 others are stacked and waiting by my bedside) but there’s been lots of TV. When I write all day, which is most days, I spend the evening with Barb (also writing most days) watching TV and enjoying stories other people have come up with. We binged (well, over two evenings) on the first part of the fourth season of Ozark, in which no one was safe (nor should they have been). I may discuss the series in depth when the second half of this last season appears later this year; but I will say it strikes me as the only true rival to Breaking Bad, with the exception of Better Call Saul.

We watch far more British mystery and crime series, however, than stateside stuff. I had to buy from an e-bay seller of current British (legal) DVDs to see season eight of Endeavour and season 6 of Shetland. (Amazon UK, where I used to do a lot of business, has hiked their shipping fees to the sky since Brexit and Covid, both of which are nasty diseases.)

The sixth season of Endeavour is three movie-length (90-minute) episodes linked by the increasing emotional isolation and drinking problem of its hero. Actor Shaun Evans, who has done the impossible by following the legendary John Thaw into the role of Morse (the young Morse admittedly), is a master at conveying little through his dialogue while conveying much through an understated yet absolutely readable performance. He is matched by another master of understatement, Roger Allam, as DI Thursday (his surrogate father), whose approach recalls Michael Caine at his best. The final episode of the three stumbles a bit, as writer Russell Lewis discovers how difficult it is to do an Agatha Christie-style closed-environment mystery – it entertains, but you will likely (as did Barb and I) glaze over during the convoluted solution. A season nine has yet to be confirmed, but there’s certainly more story to tell.

Shetland’s sixth series is one six-episode, six-hour story, rich in character and plot. Often locales are cited as characters in stories, and mostly that’s an exaggeration, but the austere beauty of the Scottish archipelago here rises to that. The storytelling approach is unique – long shots of cars on a narrow highway go on longer than might seem necessary, cliffs and oceans and fields stretch forever, cars pull up to lonely houses and people get out and walk slowly up to the door; but the leisureliness of that (normally a negative) is offset by crime stories that have twists and turns and characters who suffer one small (and occasionally large) crisis after another. The protagonist, Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), is always on the move, making a steady progression through crime scenes and the police station itself, even his own kitchen at home, a presence knifing through the quiet. This is one of the best of the UK shows, and that’s saying something. A season 7 has been announced.

Netflix has two mystery-oriented shows that provide very different comic takes on crime.

The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is, as its title tells you, a parody of the current female-dominated psychological thriller – everything from Hallmark movies to books (and movies) with titles like The Girl on the Train or, well, The Girl Most Likely. The star is Kristin Bell, Veronica Mars herself, and I guarantee that any working mystery writer will be uncomfortable at times, as the series nails the cliches all of us occasionally fall into.

I’m not sure whether Bell is the woman in the house or the girl in the window – depends on your perspective – but the series is just a good enough mystery to stay compelling despite the wonderful silliness (like the dim-witted handyman who is repairing the same mailbox throughout all eight episodes). Mostly it’s just amusing, but from time to time some truly outrageous moment – right out of Airplane! – will blindside you with hilarity. A few episodes in, the woman (or the girl?) played by Bell turns amateur detective; seeing Bell in Veronica Mars mode again, even in a spoofing way, is a pleasure…as I say this as one of the producers of the Veronica Mars film (well, as someone who gave enough to the KickStarter campaign to get a t-shirt). We watched one episode and wound up bingeing on the entire eight.

Or, as the girl (or woman?) would say, “Bingo!”

The other Netflix mystery series, derived from a UK source, is Murderville, which is essentially Police Squad Meets Whose Line Is It Anyway. A demented Will Arnett, making his Arrested Development role look grounded in reality, is Detective Terry Seattle in an unnamed big city. In each episode he is confronted by a murder to solve, and burdened with a new homicide department trainee – played by a celebrity with no script, who must muddle through the plot and the indignities with no one to help but Arnett, who basically is there to make their lives miserable. Every guest star did well, but Conan O’Brien, Kumail Ali Nanjiani and Ken Jeong are the standout trainees. We found it hilarious.

You know – like the Ritz Brothers.


Not Another Book Giveaway! Also, Entertain or Impress?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022
Tough Tender Cover
Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Kindle Purchase Link Google Play Books Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Books-A-Million eBook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link Apple Books Purchase Link

Yes, just one week later and it’s another book giveaway.

Hard Case Crime continues its wonderful (to me, anyway) series of Nolan reprints, with two novels to a volume and terrific, movie poster-ish Mark Eastbrook covers. Tough Tender, including both Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, will be published March 22. I have ten advance copies for readers willing to do a review at Amazon (and/or other Barnes & Noble and other review sites). This is USA only and (IMPORTANT) you must include your snail-mail address, even if you’re entered and won before. [All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support!]

These novels were the last in the original Nolan cycle – all of them (save Scratch Fever) were written for Curtis Books in the early seventies, and later minorly revised when Pinnacle Books picked the series up. Only Bait Money and Blood Money (the first two) saw publication from Curtis Books in 1973. Scratch Fever was written expressly for Pinnacle, and would be the last Nolan until Spree in the eighties. Spree, designed to be the last in the series, has been followed by a “coda” novel, Skim Deep, out last year.

I continue to emphasize the importance of reviews at Amazon in particular. Some of these books – the Hard Case Crime titles and Titan titles – you can find in your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. But the likes of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (by Dave Thomas and me, and a book I really love), Fancy Anders Goes to War (I love you, too, Fancy!) and No Time to Spy (the new John Sand omnibus by Matt Clemens and me) can only be ordered online – Amazon probably your best bet.

* * *

As I mentioned in recent posts, I’ve decided to slow down my rate of production. In 2021 I amped things up, and you’ll be seeing the results in the coming months, in part due to this year’s 75th anniversary of the debut of Mike Hammer in I, the Jury. I am hopeful that Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (the biography by Jim Traylor and me) – will get some special notice. An Edgar nomination is the dream, but Mickey Spillane on Screen by Jim and me, which I remain very proud of, was roundly ignored. Skim Deep got great reviews and was mentioned on not a single “Best of 2021 Mysteries” lists.

I talked a bit last time about books like mine that aim to entertain rather than impress. It’s the books that try to impress (and are often no fun at all) that get the acclaim. Frustrating as that can be, I don’t envy my peers who get the accolades. For one thing, I’ve had my share of honors over the years – maybe more than my share. For another, to be jealous of another writer you have to be willing to trade your book for one of theirs. I might like Angel in Black to have the sales and reputation of The Black Dahlia, but I wouldn’t swap it for a box of Edgars and a boxcar of money.

If writing isn’t about the writer, it isn’t about anything at all.

I mention The Black Dahlia only because a genuine frustration I feel comes from the countless times some well-meaning reader says to me, “You are one of two favorite writers. The other is James Ellroy.”

I usually don’t comment on other writers, and I won’t here, except to say Ellroy is the rare fellow writer I have at times admitted not caring for (his work – personally, our encounters have always been friendly). It just makes a writer’s brain hurt and maybe explode when fans say their other favorite writer is somebody whose work that writer deplores.

But it makes sense that somebody who likes Ellroy’s fiction might like both his and mine. We work the same side of the 20th Century true-crime street, which is enough to attract the same readers. Sex and violence and traditional hard-boiled themes occur in both of us. What somebody like me has to wrap his head around is this: a reader may have the capacity to like two very different approaches to the same subject matter. In fact, a reader should have the capacity to do that.

Writers, however, often have tunnel vision in this area. For me writing is a trial-and-error process. I don’t mean the plotting or the story selection or any of that. I refer to the actual word-for-word hammering it out, the way sentences are assembled, the way paragraphs get put together. On another level, thematic concerns come into play, albeit often subconsciously – world view.

What I am trying to do, in a perhaps stumbling way, is what I’ve been doing all along: attempting to perfect my approach to storytelling. This is one reason why I don’t read much fiction anymore, especially mystery/crime. I’m no longer interested in being influenced. On some perhaps naive level, I am trying to come up with The Way to Write Crime Fiction.

I should be glad that Ellroy’s approach differs so drastically from mine. I should understand that the reader is somebody who goes along Restaurant Row and sometimes eats Chinese and sometimes Italian, and loves both. Nothing wrong with that.

With Ellroy, I have encountered too many smart people who like his work to dismiss their opinions. I have come to accept that I have had a strong element of envy in my reaction to him, because he is more successful in terms of readership, acclaim, earning power, etc. But where he isn’t more successful (and is in no way trying to be) is as the author of Max Allan Collins novels.

Shakespeare said the play is the thing. From this we extrapolate that the novel is the thing – the fiction (short stories and movie scripts, too) a writer creates is the thing. I congratulate any writer who can manage to make a living doing this throughout a lifetime – even me.

Even James Ellroy.

Smart people’s tastes vary. Here is the sentence many consider to be the best first sentence in private eye fiction; it’s by James Crumley in The Last Good Kiss:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

You may like it very much, and you won’t be the only intelligent human who shares that opinion. I think it’s a lousy first sentence, overloaded and too cute and trying way too hard. Really, just horrible.

We’re both right.

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Speaking of right, here’s a lovely review of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton from Ron Fortier.

Road to Perdition, the graphic novel, has made a list of the best 110 “thriller books.”

The film is highly regarded here.

And here.