Physical Media Lives – Sort Of

November 8th, 2022 by Max Allan Collins

A couple more great reviews for The Big Bundle have come in.

Big Bundle Cover
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:

This is from the DIS/MEMBER web site:

The Big Bundle
by Max Allan Collins

“What kind of world are we living in, Nate?” “A world where men like us can get ahead, Bob. Can make a nice life for ourselves and our families. But it’s also one where men of envy and greed and stupidity and flat-out evil are ready and willing to take everything away.”

The President of Chicago’s A-1 Detective Agency makes his grand Hard Case Crime debut in The Big Bundle. The latest from living, breathing noir encyclopedia and prolific genre staple Max Allan Collins.

The year is 1953 and six-year-old Bobby Greenlease, son of Kansas City Cadillac magnate Robert Greenlease, has been kidnapped. Following a series of cartoonish attempts to ransom the boy, Chicago detective Nathan Heller is called to K.C. Having been appealed to by the boy’s desperate family and hired on as one of the many caseworkers, both local and federal, drawn into the crime.

But what starts as a kidnapping quickly spirals into something much, much more complex. Pitting Heller against crooked Teamsters, thuggish cabbies, out-of-luck bent cops, and Robert F. Kennedy on the warpath for the mob. All immaculately strung across a colorfully detailed, powerfully researched depiction of the 1950s. A time when Jimmy Hoffa was in every newspaper and “The Outfit” (aka The Mafia at it’s height) kept everyone looking over their shoulders.

Though standing as the 18th Nathan Heller Novel (excluding short story collections and “casebooks”), The Big Bundle is immediately accessible for those who might be coming to the series fresh. From page 1, Collins provides a wonderfully succinct primer on Heller’s exploits thus far. Economically delivered and chock full of rich characterization, Collins eases readers into the life and immensely readable voice of Heller.

Better still, the novel’s main case is truly compelling. Made even more so by the liberal peppering of real-life history Collins deploys throughout the book. The Greenlease Kidnapping was huge news and compared to the Lindbergh case at the time. Yet another canny connection to our man Heller. But as such, Collins adapts and reconstructs real history, people, and places into the narrative. Providing his driving, constantly twisty plot with sumptuous detailing.

To say any more would spoil The Big Bundle‘s best turns. But trust when I say, if you are looking for old-school, eminently readable crime fiction, The Big Bundle is a damn safe bet. Chock to bursting with character and deftly delivered by well-practiced hand, this new effort from Hard Case Crime does right by Chicago’s A-1 gumshoe. And providing him a welcome new home at the publisher.

The Big Bundle by Max Allan Collins is available for pre-order now and releases December 6th.

Joe Maniscalco has done a review for Good Reads and Amazon that’s worth sharing:

After first meeting Nate Heller in True Detective back in 1983, this reader has eagerly read each of Max Allan Collins’ novels featuring the life and times of a former Chicago cop who goes on to meet some of 20th centuries’ most famous and most infamous. Nate Heller begins as a reluctant cop, who encounters the Chicago underworld, and then eventually morphs into the famous owner of the A-1 Detective Agency with several branches across the United States.

The Heller novels are notable for Collins’ extensive research that bring the felons and politicos of the years of each of the books to life. (And sometimes felons and politicos describe the same person.). Heller has gone on to solve real life historical mysteries, and even occasionally bedded some well known women of the day, not widely thought of as femme fatales.

The Big Bundle is set somewhat mid career for Heller as he is called on to investigate the kidnapping of a child of a wealthy businessman. Heller had investigated another kidnapping that made worldwide news twenty years earlier, thus his presence in this job makes perfect sense.

There is a moral principle that Heller follows which determines how much of his investigations remain strictly legal, but always justifiable. Here Heller deals with small time hoodlums, famous union bosses, and a young politician about to make his name as he investigates organized crime.

Heller himself hints that the union boss, the politician, and he will meet again, and perceptive readers will likely have some inking how those meetings will turn out, and will change the course of American history.

Readers do not have to start with Heller’s first “memoir.” What’s certain is that nearly 40 years after his first appearance, the author and his creation have not lost any of their power to entertain and put a new spin on twentieth century history and the mysteries and crimes which have brought us into the twenty first century.

Let me remind you that a dock strike in the UK means the availability of the physical book (what I like to call a book book) of The Big Bundle will be delayed till January 2023; but the e-book will be available Dec. 5. I will be doing a book giveaway of the trade paper ARC (the book itself is a hardcover) in a week or two.

In the meantime I am deep into the next Heller – the RFK assassination Heller – Too Many Bullets. I’m at 302 manuscript pages with five chapters left to go (plus the bibliographic essay).

Perhaps because the degree of difficulty – I no longer have George Hagenauer helping me on the research side – has made this one such a bear, added to health issues throughout, I am seriously considering making the follow-up to Too Many Bullets my final Heller.

On the health front, I had a very good report from my heart doctor and will soon be seeing my general practitioner about various other fun and games. But keeping the heart beating is a high damn priority and that looks positive right now.

* * *
‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’

The time has come to discuss physical media.

First let me say I am fine with e-books for those of you who find them handy and dandy. They have their place – for example, on a commuter train or when a reader needs to control of the size of print to be able to read the stuff. Where they don’t have a place is on a bookshelf.

Now understand that e-books have kept me and my career alive. Thomas & Mercer (who have lost interest in me as a current contributer, but that’s another story) chose me a decade ago as one of three authors whose back list they would use to plump up their e-book library. The other two were Ian Fleming and Ed McBain, and if there’s better company than that I don’t know who it might be.

Even now the monthly sales of Heller, Mallory, the Disaster Series and the Reeder & Rogers Trilogy add up to a tidy little paycheck – of varying sizes, but steady. Readers having access to my backlist is a great thing. Heller sales are up over a million copies because of Thomas & Mercer’s good efforts. So I am not one to cast aspersions on e-books. They have kept me afloat.

And yet. They are not books. They are not those wonderful things with pages and covers and images on covers that can sit on shelves and be plucked out from the pack for perusal at a moment’s notice. I can tell you with certainty that books from the ‘30s and ‘40s are already disappearing. Even with ABE, you can’t find copies of any number of things, sometimes by authors who were fairly famous in their day.

Then there’s movies. I have far too many DVDs, Blu-rays and, yes, laser discs. If the Internet of a few years ago (and even now) was to be believed, all movies would soon be available to us with a mouse click. Anything we could dream of seeing, we could see, at our whim. Of course that was bullshit.

Any of us who have been paying attention know that a vast number of films are already gone, from the silent days on. A bunch of Charlie Chan movies starring Warner Oland are in the ether, for instance (of course the rest will probably be turned into guitar picks over political correctness, but never mind). And if you look something up on SEARCH on your Roku, you will discover that plenty of stuff is either not available or you have to pay for it, for a temporary rental or a “purchase” (which of course is air you’re purchasing, not something physical you can hold or put on a shelf). We are already used to Netflix and other such services announcing what titles are leaving this month. HBO Max has been one night of the long knives after another.

The death of physical media is more murder than natural causes. So I am not about to divest myself of my library of movies, which will be left to my son, who is also smart enough to know that physical media has its place.

If you think I overstate, take a spin into Best Buy, which for decades made movies a loss leader that brought movie fans in to go through aisle after aisle of cinematic and televisionary offerings. Yesterday, in Cedar Rapids, I entered a Best Buy and the child working the door asked me, “What brings you in today?” Really? I need an excuse now?

Well, maybe I do, because the Blu-rays and 4K discs on offer were a pitiful selection that took up so little space its former grand area was just partitioned off and empty. Shades of Suncoast, Tower Records, and Camelot….

So I come to celebrate the Blu-ray labels that are devoting themselves to obscurities – horror and science fiction and noir, giallo (Italian crime/horror), B movies, C movies, Z movies, and the two who tower over the rest for their superior packaging and extensive bonus features are Severin and Vinegar Syndrome. They are not alone, but these labels are outstanding in their bold selection. Also praise worthy (among a number) are VCI, Shout Factory (Scream Factory), and especially Arrow, who bridge the gap between Criterion’s arty fare and Severin/Vinegar’s aggressively grungy selections.

Severin, for example, recently offered a 4K release of The Changeling, a first-rate George C. Scott haunted house film; My Grandpa is a Vampire, a so so movie for older kids more than redeemed by a valedictory performance by Al Lewis (I hope you don’t have to be told he was Grandpa on The Munsters and a staple of Bilko); and two (so far) Blu-ray boxed sets of Christopher Lee’s European output.

Vinegar Syndrome has recently released The Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman (with an 80-minute documentary about Spanish cult horror star Paul Naschy as a bonus feature!); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on 4k with voluminous bonus features; and Cutter’s Way with Jeff Bridges in a VHS-style box. Vinegar Syndrome also does a lot of classic porn for those of you who think the words “classic” and “porn” can reasonably appear together in the same sentence. Like all their stuff, the porn has fancy schmancy sleeves and classy presentation.

Look, not all of this material is for everybody. Some of it seems to be for nobody, so we’re in that fuzzy area between “buyer beware” and “how cool!”

But this is a world of physical media that has been spawned by the real world’s lack of interest thereof. So we can find Arrow Video releasing Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers and (on 4K) Mike Hodges’ Croupier. And Scream Factory releasing a 4K of Army of Darkness and a boxed set of Jackie Chan (1976 – 1982).

Best of times, worst of times. Take your pick.

* * *

And, no, I haven’t forgotten Classic Flix. I am recording a commentary for Mickey Spillane’s The Long Wait tomorrow. And here is a terrific review of their I, the Jury 4K/Blu-ray/3-D release.

Finally, my friend and editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime has a wonderful interview with my buddy Andrew Sumner of Titan about Charles’ terrific Gun Honey comic book, the archive editions of Ms. Tree, and a little something I like to call…The Big Bundle!


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9 Responses to “Physical Media Lives – Sort Of”

  1. stephenborer says:

    D__n fine news on your medical report ! As our parents would say, “Keep ‘em flying!” / Also, you remain correct on physical books and media.

  2. Raymond Cuthbert says:

    I’m very much looking forward to the physical media return of Nate Heller!

  3. Fred Blosser says:

    Good report from your cardiologist is good news under any name. // The local Wal-Mart and Target seemed to boost their DVD and Blu-ray section for a time during the Covid lockdown, when sales probably rose, but they’ve cut back again now to bare bones. // Kino Lorber is another outfit that keeps the Blu-ray banner flying with releases of movies that disappeared from cable years ago and may/may not be streaming. They aren’t as adventurous or typically as lavish as the other labels you mentioned, but they usually include good audio commentaries and restored prints. I doubt I would buy THE RAY DENNIS STECKLER COLLECTION from Severin, but bless ’em for making this stuff available to fans who would. // Re books in print form, I wonder how long second-hand bookstores will hang in over the next decade as viable brick/mortar businesses? With the shrinkage of the mass-market paperback trade, even chains like Half-Price seem to have more and more empty space on their pb shelves. From the era when the very look and feel of a book set my pulse pounding, whether Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard with Frazetta covers, or Richard Stark and Sax Rohmer with McGuiness art, I feel more and more like we’ve lost something I thought would last forever.

  4. Mike Doran says:

    Here’s what happened to me yesterday – that is, Tuesday the 8th.

    After lunch, I went to the middle school gym and voted – no problems, in and out in about a half hour (P.S.: my side won all the way, but that’s another story …).
    With the rest of the day ahead of me, I decided to take the long trek to Evanston -two and a half hours at least on the CTA – because I hadn’t been to the big Barnes & Noble up there since COVID happened.
    So I make the trip (three transfers all told), and what do I discover –
    – that big B&N isn’t there anymore!
    Oh, the building is still there, but it’s now the Northwestern University Medical Center (and that sort of transformation takes some time).
    I hadn’t kept up, of course, and that’s on me, but still …
    That’s three B&Ns that have shut down on me in recent times; I went on the website when I got home to check on some others I knew of, and the ones I found that I remembered are even farther away from me than Evanston (and public transit is even less of an attraction, now that I’m in my 70s).
    I’m afraid to look up the used bookstores I used to know (lost a bunch of them too, but that’s another story …).

    So anyway, how was your Election Day?
    I’ll make the educated guess that you and Barb voted early from home; based on what little I know about Iowa politics in the 2020s, I’m guessing that your outcomes weren’t as favorable as my South Side Chicagoland ones were …
    … and that’s the end of politics from here.

    We seem to be coming to the end of fair weather up here, which means I’m looking at another reclusive winter, with most of my shopping being done online.

    Ah Well/Oh Hell …
    … I’ll see ya when I see ya.

  5. Dan Collins says:

    Check out Dollar Tree about three or four times a year they have a couple thousand DVDs for sale. Each store has different movies and I have found some real gems in the stacks.

  6. stephenborer says:

    Dan Collins is right about Dollar Tree – the two up here often have surprise DVDs. And in the bigger cities, don’t forget Goodwill . :)

  7. Bill P says:

    I hear you on physical media. I think it started with iTunes and then crept into film. Convenience and portability led to everything going streaming. I like services such as Bandcamp, where I can buy the physical media while also receiving a complimentary digital copy that is available to stream on their app or on laptop via the internet. They give much more of a percentage to the their artists and it means I can have it portable AND hard copy. I’ve spent countless $$$ purchasing the music I love and the hard copies remain stashed away in protective storage in my basement. And yes, many don’t exist anywhere online. Even some that had a fairly decent success remain currently unavailable due to some legal or ownership issues (e.g. Zebra’s first self-titled). Most music sections in big box stores these days are pretty thin on CDs (also a Best Buy loss leader that used to draw me in to the store), but now have growing vinyl sections. Go figure? Maybe film strip projectors will make a come back in 20 years?

    I’m a fan of keeping my physical DVDs too. When done well (and not removing licensed popular music for schlocky Muzak versions), they are excellent ways to relive old memories and watch what you want to watch. As a fan of cheesy B-movies and the like, I wonder if we all enjoy them because that was the niche stuff we’d find on a Friday night at the Video Rental store when all the copies of the latest blockbuster were taken? I love Shout Factory and the like for bringing those exact movies back out. They won’t make enough to put on a streaming service or release individually, but throw 30-50 of them in a box set and you get hours of enjoyment for low cost.

  8. Thanks for all these comments.

    Fred, I should have mentioned Kino, but they are an odd duck — they are so indiscriminate about what they release that I wind up buying things with glowing write-ups that are flat out lousy. Their film noir boxes, which I always purchase and pretty much like, are filled with very questionably labeled “noirs” (and I am looser about that than most).

    Mike, I hadnt heard that B & N’s were closing! That’s alarming. Is the nice big store at Oak Brook still there? What’s the status of the great Centuries and Sleuths?

  9. Dominic Husband says:

    Great comments about physical media. I’ve been in the category of ‘real books at home, Kindle on the train’ for a long time, even buying some books in both formats. Since the lockdowns, I work from home all the time, so I’m piled up with real books! The biggest problem with electronic media is that as soon as you’ve read or watched it, you basically forget about it. In tests, it was found that people’s recall of what they read on a Kindle is significantly less than of a paperback. Since I moved out of London, I’ve also actually been putting wallet-stored Blu-ray discs back in cases and getting them back on shelves.

    While a section of the public embraces streaming and downloads, I feel it’s very much being foisted on us by publishers and studios. I’ve had to go to great efforts to buy CDs of old radio series, because Penguin Random House (who publish old BBC material in the UK) have decided to go streaming-only and aren’t replenishing existing stocks. Many of those great BBC radio series from half a century – or more – ago will slide to the bottom of Audible recommendation lists and vanish. I’ve finally got all of the BBC Radio Sherlock Holmes episodes (Clive Merrison and Michael Williams’s complete run of the Conan Doyle stories) and all of Hancock’s Half Hour. Some have had to be bought second hand for a lot of money.

    The UK version of B&N, Waterstones, has also closed many stores and the modern stores are more like gift and coffee shops with books. The limited content available means that I have to buy from Amazon and (Amazon-owned) Abe Books. You won’t find any non-Stephen King Hard Case Crime at Waterstones and radio plays take up less than quarter of a shelf! Similarly, I have to buy directly from Eureka, Arrow and Indicator to get hold of niche company movies, because there are few shops still selling physical media. My home town is unusual in that it still has a branch of HMV.

    Glad things are going ok with the cardiologist, Max. My Mum has heart trouble, so I understand the concerns and I wish you the best. Looking forward to getting The Big Bundle for Christmas.