Archive for December, 2022

Bob Dylan, Private Eye? Also, Christmas 2022!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2022

We had an official Christmas at the Collins household this year. My definition of an Official Christmas includes the following:

1. Receiving a Pee Wee Herman Christmas card from Paul Reubens.

2. My wife’s Christmas cookies (her late Grandmother Mull’s recipe).

3. Spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Collins and our grandchildren, Sam, 7, and Lucy, 4.

4. Watching the Alastair Sim version of Scrooge

5. Watching the original Miracle on 34th Street

Barbara Allan sitting in front of a Christmas tree.
Children and grandchildren sitting in front of a Christmas tree.
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As was the case with so many of you, we here in Iowa were gifted with weather that looked like Christmas and felt like Hell. It did not get in the way of our excessive exchange of gifts and consumption of food, all of which went off as planned. That Nate, Abby, Sam and Lucy live just seven houses up the street from us made Christmas almost as joyful as Covid lockdown.

The Philosophy of Modern Song cover

Among the many gifts I received – physical media like books and CDs (remember those?) – was a tome entitled The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan. To discuss that volume properly, I need to back up over almost sixty years ago to share with you my relationship with Bob Dylan.

No, I never met him. But he was a major part of the regular poker sessions I attended with my high school buddies, including such names meaningless to you as Jan McRoberts, Jim Hoffmann, Mike Bloom, Ron Parker, Jon McRae and John Leuck. Others came and went, but those were the regulars. Jan, Jim and Jon are gone, but I am happy to say Mike, Ron and John are still with us.

John was a latecomer to the poker group. He had attended Catholic schools until junior or senior high school sometime; around then he moved in next door to Mike Bloom and they became fast friends – they were both swimming champs. A strikingly handsome young man, John was hipper than the rest of us. More sophisticated.

We always listened to the Beatles, the Turtles and Sonny & Cher while we played cards…except when we played at John’s. He put on James Brown records, which just sounded like ridiculous noise to me at the time. He also played Bob Dylan records. These albums included the pre-electric ones, and I had never heard anything worse in my life. The singing was nasal and off-key and the lyrics to the self-composed songs were gibberish.

My dislike, nay, my contempt was such that on the rare occasions when I was winning at poker, John would smile to himself and put some Bob Dylan on and I would begin to lose. Actually, not “begin” – I would immediately tumble into the abyss of defeat, leaving behind money earned at my bus boy job, money I could ill afford to lose.

Playing in a rock combo as I did, my opinion of Dylan (and James Brown) changed over the coming years, particularly as pertained to songwriting. Some of the latter seemed laughably pretentious (actually, kinda still does), but undeniably a lot of wonderful songs were in there – the Turtles doing “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the Association “One Too Many Mornings,” the Byrds any number of things, all and more were favorites of mine then and now.

John Lennon (among many others) started imitating Dylan’s singing style, only largely minus the nasal aspect and on key. With our comics-professionals band Seduction of the Innocent at San Diego Comic Con, we played the heart-breaking “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (miss you, Miguel) and the audience was properly swept up in it. This continued for…forever, with Tom Petty essentially becoming the Bob Dylan Who Sang in Tune.

Now and then I have actually warmed to a Dylan-sung song, though my hand still goes at once to the radio to get rid of “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Lay Lady Lay.” And, years after the fact, I learned that my musical idol, Bobby Darin, was an early proponent of Dylan’s work (so early on that BD pronounced it “die-linn” in interviews). Now I know that Bob Dylan was (and is) a proponent of Darin’s.

I found this out reading perhaps the best book I received this Christmas (among a number of wonderful additions to my library), The Philosophy of Modern Song by…wait for it…Bob Dylan.

My God, it’s a wonderful read. It is, not surprisingly, an idiosyncratic ride that is at once random and rigidly organized, festooned with fun and apt and sometimes heartbreaking pictures (news photos, movie stills, comic book pages, pulp covers) that illustrate a collection of Dylan’s reactions to various songs and artists. A fun fifties fan magazine-portrait of Miguel’s mom Rosemary Clooney beaming in her front doorway is across from the “Come On-A My House” essay, which terms that jaunty number as “The song of the guy who’s got thirty corpses under his basement and human skulls in the refrigerator.”

Though arranged like chapters, no exact format reveals itself. An essay may be seven pages long (“Black Magic Woman” by Santana) or one paragraph (“Long Tall Sally”). Often the song is discussed by way of Dylan’s personal transformation of that song into a story. Sometimes, not always, such a mini-essay is followed by a knowing, compassionate appraisal of the artist.

This is not a book I consumed cover to cover. I am still reading it – gradually. It’s what I’d call a “bedroom book,” from which I assign myself a few chapters before my mind moves itself away from my problems and concerns into whatever I’m reading – in this case, a talented man’s response to songs that touched him. (It is definitely not a “bathroom book.”) I have gravitated to the subjects that interest me most – his essays on Johnnie Ray, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson and Little Richard were among those I was first drawn to, and impressed by. Some of the songs discussed (and artists) are obscure, and I’ll get around to them in this 300-plus-page book. Entries focused more on song than artist include “Volare” and especially “Where Or When,” though Dion gets some nice attention there. Some essays are a bit befuddling, like the fairly lengthy look at “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” that doesn’t mention Eric Burden and the Animals and barely references Nina Simone.

The biggest surprise to me, however, is the prose style itself. This guy Bob Dylan could have been a great crime writer, a private eye chronicler par excellence. Listen to him riffing on Rick Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool”:

You went on a spree and left a trail of sensitive violated hearts, but that came to an end when you ran up against someone who buckled you, one on one, who made you fall to pieces and eat the dirt. You were brainless, no doubt about that. She played with you and teased you with her happy-go-lucky ways, she was easygoing and cheerful, unbothered. She fondled and stroked you, and with her baby blue peepers she enchanted you, she was a real knockout. She sized you up, she was captivating and shrewd and lousy with lies. Oh yeah, you were an absolute blockhead beyond a doubt.

…Now you’re obsolete and out of date, and you’re walking in the night down by the river, but the water’s dead. You’re moving one leg at a time. Another girl has got her hand on your shoulder….

The Philosophy of Modern Song is filled with prose like this, stuff Chandler or Spillane (not Hammett) might have written. It hits me in a personal place. I am not a reader of poetry. Generally, outside of songwriting, I don’t like it. It makes me think of what Kurt Vonnegut told us, typically deadpan wry, when he visited the Writers Workshop (where a year before he’d been teaching): “Fiction writers resent poets because poets are always between works.”

What I like is poetic prose, if it’s not overdone. Several of my contemporaries in the private eye field (whose names I will not mention) are lauded by fans for wonderful prose…writing that curdles my stomach. Chandler and Spillane could do this poetic prose and hardly anybody since, profundity tumbling out of a mouth with a Lucky Strike dangling out of it. Some writers in crime fiction are smart enough not to try – Don Westlake always said, “Good writing is invisible.”

But, damn, I wish Bob Dylan had just written songs and the occasional private eye novel, or that I had learned to look past the nasal tones and off-key singing and let his personal poetry get through to me, unfiltered.

By the way, Bobby Darin gets two chapters in Dylan’s book, the only artist who does. Check this out for proof.

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This essay says Daniel Craig’s best movie is…wait for it….


Blue Christmas News Flash

Wednesday, December 21st, 2022

Just in time for the holidays, Blue Christmas and Other Holiday Homicides is only $0.99 on the Amazon Kindle store. (Sale ends December 27th.) This killer collection includes six holiday-themed stories: “A Wreath for Marley” (Christmas), “Mommy” (Mother’s Day), “Flowers for Bill O’Reilly” (Memorial Day), “His Father’s Ghost” (Father’s Day), “Firecracker Kill” (Fourth of July), and “A Bird for Becky” (Thanksgiving). Don’t miss this deal!

Blue Christmas and Other Holiday Homicides
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

Publisher’s Weekly, the Spillane Doc, Encore and More!

Tuesday, December 20th, 2022

For those of you looking for cyber stocking stuffers, or who will need a way to use that Amazon gift cards you’ll be receiving, four of my books are on sale as Kindle titles right now for a meager $1.99 each until the end of 2022. You can avail yourself of the Collins/Clemens titles Executive Order, Fate of the Union, What Doesn’t Kill Her and my solo title, Girl Most Likely. Also available for $1.99 (not sure for how long) is my collaboration with SCTV’s Dave Thomas, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, a science-fiction-tinged crime thriller.

The three Clemens co-authored titles are among my bestsellers at Amazon, and Girl and Jimmy are two of my personal favorites, which if you haven’t tried, you have this opportunity to brighten our mutual Christmases by doing so.

Executive Order cover
Fate of the Union cover
What Doesn't Kill Her cover
Girl Most Likely cover
E-Book: Amazon

The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

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Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (Mysterious Press) will be out February 7 of next year, which is sooner than it sounds. James Traylor and I had a nice if brief interview with longtime Spillane buff Michael Barson in the latest Publisher’s Weekly.

You can see it here, including color photos of me and of co-author Jim Traylor, which we are considering releasing as NFT trading cards at $99 each.

This week I’m planning to shoot the material for the expanded edition of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Several years ago, the doc was edited (and slightly updated) from forty-eight minutes to thirty-some) for the Criterion release of Kiss Me Deadly.

I’ve been planning to reinsert some footage we cut initially (it had run something like fifty-three minutes), and to insert new interview footage with myself, to cover things not discussed and to include what has happened regarding Mickey’s work since his death in 2006.

Phil Dingeldein, my partner in cinematic crime, has found a very good copy of the documentary among our materials and shared it with me. At risk of sounding foolishly boastful, I had forgotten had good it was. Further, it was tightly edited with Chris Christiansen’s terrific score playing almost non-stop beneath. That made it problematic to insert anything that had been previously edited out, material we would have to locate among the dozens of tapes from the 1998 shoot. Mickey’s interview footage had taken up ten Betacam tapes alone.

And as tempting as it might be to restore what I’d been encouraged to cut years ago, disrupting the smooth edit of what arguably is my best work as a filmmaker is not worth doing. For this reason, I’ve decided to expand the current cut in a new way. It will open with an explanatory introduction by me, and at the conclusion of the original documentary a sort of epilogue will follow, bringing the Spillane story up to date. It will also expand the doc to around an hour, which is considered feature length in the documentary game.

The tricky thing is that this new footage will be primarily me talking on camera, which is something not even my late mother would have relished seeing. Our challenge is to include enough interesting visual material to edit over my mug as we can manage. Oh, you’ll see plenty of me, just not enough to turn most stomachs.

We will be covering Mickey’s final novel (Something’s Down There) and his passing, including his request to me to complete the last Mike Hammer novel (The Goliath Bone) and to develop his unfinished material. But it will also briefly discuss our friendship and our collaboration on various projects, including anthologies of his and other mystery writers, the Mike Danger comic book series, and the documentary the viewer will just have seen.

The focus will be on the posthumous collaborative novels and conclude with the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer’s debut in I, the Jury (1947). We’ll include documentary footage of the production here in Muscatine, Iowa, of Encore for Murder with Gary Sandy, including interview footage with Gary and the actors who play Velda and Pat Chambers. This should connect Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane – the 75th Anniversary Edition nicely to the feature version we’ve recently completed of the Encore for Murder live performance. I am hopeful that we will see a Blu-ray and/or DVD of the new version of the Spillane doc with Encore for Murder as a bonus feature.

As I said, the expanded documentary will come in around sixty minutes or a tad under, and should be a good length for the streaming services and possibly for PBS. Whether Encore for Murder will stream or not, I can’t say. But I will do my best to make it available to any of you who are interested. I am probably too close to know how good it is or isn’t. Clearly Gary Sandy is wonderful as Mike, and the local actors are much better than I could ever have hoped. Several clearly are professional level, and everyone does well.

The production’s MVP is Chad Bishop, who has (under the burden of my supervision) edited Encore for Murder from the actual performance and two dress rehearsals, with the bulk of the footage taken from the former. Chad was the on-stage foley person – part of the fun of doing a Golden Age Radio-style show is having the sound effects performed on stage. But in addition to doing all the foley work, Chad was mixing the sound and laying in recorded sound effects and music cues…all done live. If he had not pulled that feat off, we couldn’t even have considered putting together a “movie” version of our production.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I look back on what we did in September of this past year with a bit of wonder.

I was initially approached to do a Dick Tracy radio show and refused, then offered the use of my play “Encore for Murder,” which in 2011 Stacy Keach had recorded with a full cast for Blackstone audio. Later Gary Sandy had starred in live productions in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2012, and in Clearwater, Florida, in 2018. I had been present for both, not directing but able to work with the director and actors in both cases.

So when local theater maven Karen Cooney – who is affiliated with the Muscatine Art Center – asked me to do a Golden Age Radio-style play, I of course thought of “Encore.” Initially I was going to play Hammer myself, but Karen suggested I ask Gary. It was a long shot, and I said I’d think about it.

Before taking that step, I wanted to see what kind of cast Karen had put together. I attended the first table read and was impressed. I went home and told Barb I thought the actors were quite good, but didn’t trust my judgment – I wanted them to be good, after all. Barb, who is totally no-nonsense (she has to be), agreed to come to the next rehearsal. I read Hammer, which seemed to perk the players up even further. When Barb and I went home, she said, “You’re right. They’re good.”

I called Phil and got the project on his radar. I told him if this thing came together, we should try to shoot it with multiple cameras. Throughout the month or rehearsals, co-directing with Karen, I kept Phil in the loop. But it wasn’t till the week of the performance that I said, “Let’s do this thing. I don’t want it to disappear into the ether.”

We shot the two rehearsals and the performance with multiple cameras (four), some provided and operated by Phil, others by Chad, who runs Muscatine’s public access channel 9. On performance night, unbeknownst to us, one of the key cameras ceased to function for the last ten minutes of the show. That’s one of the places where having dress rehearsal footage came in handy.

Keep in mind Gary was only present for three days. The rest of our cast is amateur (a few are pro-am, having appeared in some indie films). But we would at the very least have something for Chad’s public access channel, and I was – and am – hopeful one of the two PBS stations in my area might be interested.

I think it’s likely that the Spillane documentary will be on some streaming services. Whether Encore for Murder will be deemed worthy remains to be seen. I will let you know, and be frank about our fate.

As I said last week, I will be entering this into a couple of Iowa film festivals.

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Who Killed Santa?  A Murderville Murder Mystery

If you have Netflix, I would guess you are occasionally disappointed, even frustrated, by their original fare. But when they get it right, they get it right. And their Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery is hilariously wonderful. You should probably watch the six episodes of the Murderville series on Netflix first; but it should work on you even without that.

The premise is that a famous actor or sports star portrays the partner of Terry Seattle, a homicide cop played by Will Arnett. The mysteries are actually clever and can be solved if you pay attention, which the guest stars sometimes don’t. You see, they have not seen the script, which makes them the butt of the jokes cascading through each episode – at least when Arnett isn’t taking the comic heat himself.

It’s based on a wonderful British series, Murder in Successville, which ran for three seasons. The celebrities on Successville are not always recognizable to an American audience, but it works just the same. You can find those original episodes on You Tube. (I wrote a little bit about Murderville before, back in February of this fading year.)

* * *

Matt Clemens and I did a joint interview on a podcast hosted by the talented and gracious Terrence McCauley that you may find of interest. Matt was excellent. I will tell you frankly that I sucked. I talked too much, I didn’t wait for the questions, I was searching for words, and my only excuse was the podcast hadn’t got on my calendar and I was caught flatfooted by it. But Matt is good.

Here’s a nice essay on the film version of Road to Perdition.

Here’s another.

This essay looks at the tropes that can be found – or in some cases were generated by – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. I am mentioned.

This years-late review of my Dick Tracy: The Secret Files anthology is well done, if a tad late in the game.

The article calls Road to Perdition one of the best crime comics of all time. You bet! But, uh…where’s Ms. Tree?


Stockings Well-Stuffed

Tuesday, December 13th, 2022

I have been getting my stocking stuffed early (I am very happy to say) with good reviews for The Big Bundle and Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction.

You may recall that The Big Bundle received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and went on to being one of PW’s Books of the Week. Now here is PW’s starred review of Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (due out the first week of February and can be pre-ordered now):

Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction cover
Pre-order now!
E-Book: Kobo
Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction

Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor. Mysterious, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-61316-379-5

In 1947, Mickey Spillane (1918–2006) unleashed his hyperbolic private eye and WWII vet, Mike Hammer, on the world with I, the Jury, a revenge saga that featured a major infusion of sexual innuendo and unfettered violence that scandalized not only other mystery writers but also the publishing industry and beyond. In this illuminating biography, the first devoted to Spillane, MWA Grandmaster Collins (the Nathan Heller series), a late-life collaborator of Spillane’s, and critic Traylor provide incisive analysis of Spillane’s unique career. Employing exhaustive research and their access to Spillane’s personal archives, the authors move from Spillane’s precocious childhood to his time at comic book publisher Timely writing text fillers; his WWII service as a flight instructor; the epic breakthrough with the Signet/NAL paperback edition of I, the Jury; the superstar years of 1948–1953, when each Mike Hammer novel was reprinted in the millions; and his surprise conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness movement. Spillane’s growing appetite for acting and star-making turn in the 1970s as a TV pitchman for Miller Lite beer is recounted in colorful detail, while his long-delayed triumph in being named a Grand Master by his MWA peers in 1995 is quite affecting. The book concludes with several highly informative appendices, including Collins’s fascinating “Completing Mickey Spillane.” This definitive work is indispensable for any fan of the revolutionary Spillane and his two-fisted novels. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Feb.)

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Not to leave The Big Bundle out of the mix – available now on e-book and on audio and in hardcover next month – here’s a great write-up from that pro’s pro in prose (sorry!), James Reasoner.

Big Bundle cover
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:
The Big Bundle – Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins’ Nathan Heller series began in 1983 with True Detective. (Almost 40 years ago? How is that possible?) True Detective is one of the best private detective novels I’ve ever read. Through 18 more novels and story collections since then, Collins has maintained an incredibly lofty standard on this series and kept it alive through several different publishers, a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Heller series moves to Hard Case Crime, a match that seems well-nigh perfect to me, with The Big Bundle. The Heller novels always involve real-life crimes, and in this one, it’s a high-profile kidnapping in Kansas City in which the six-year-old son of a wealthy Cadillac distributor is abducted. The kidnappers want $600,000 in ransom money. There’s something off about the whole deal, however, and Heller is called in to try to help recover the boy before it’s too late.

A lot of twists and turns and violence and tragedy ensue. The kidnappers are caught, but only half of the ransom money is recovered. What happened to the other half? That’s the question that brings Heller back to Missouri five years later, in a high-stakes mystery involving not only many low-level criminals but also Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.

As always, the research is thorough and meticulous, the background is fascinating, and the pace is great. Collins had me staying up later than usual and flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. And of course, Nathan Heller is a great protagonist, smart, stubborn, plenty tough when he needs to be. The Big Bundle is classic private-eye fiction, just like the rest of the Heller series. I had a great time reading it and give it a high recommendation. It’s available in e-book and audio editions now, and a hardcover is on the way.

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I have been working on the video presentation of the Mike Hammer radio-style play, Encore for Murder, performed here in Muscatine, Iowa, on September 17 with Gary Sandy reprising his role as the famous detective. Phil Dingeldein, Chad Bishop and I recorded the performance on multiple cameras (and recorded two dress rehearsals, too, for protective coverage).

Chad – who was the on-stage foley artist, again radio-show style – is an expert editor (among much else) and he and I have been assembling the show from the available material. It’s a big but fun editing job.

I frankly think it’s very good, but there’s a chance I’m just deluded. I can tell you I am almost giddy being back in an editing suite and working on what is essentially an indie film again. I think our local cast did a terrific job supporting a pro like Gary, whose presence raised everybody’s game. Gary, as you may know, played Lt. Max Anderson in my feature, Mommy’s Day (1997)

Phil and I, of course, are longtime collaborators. It’s always a joy to work with him. (He produced the two commentaries I did, and the restored Brian Keith pilot film, for Classic Flix on I, the Jury as well as the forthcoming The Long Wait.)

What are we going to do with this thing?

I am considering entering it in a few Iowa film festivals, and may offer it to Iowa PBS and/or the Quad Cities PBS station, WQPT. I will show it to my buddy Bob Blair, the honcho at VCI home video, where we are talking about releasing an expanded version of my documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (1999), which is still in progress. Encore for Murder might be a bonus feature there…or possibly a separate release. I need to see how people outside the Muscatine bubble might react.

I can only say that everywhere I go around here, I am still hearing from locals about how great the show was…and it’s been almost three months since our one-night performance.

For you Mike Hammer fans, I promise that at the very least I will make it available here, possibly as a DVD.

Stay (as we used to say) tuned.

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If you are looking for stocking stuffers (for yourself or others) and have already ordered the Classic Flix Blu-ray/4K/3D I, the Jury, here are other Mike Hammer flicks that are available on Blu-ray at Kino (all under twenty bucks each):

The Girl Hunters (Mickey as Mike; includes my commentary)

My Gun Is Quick (flawed but interesting)

I, the Jury (1982 remake with Armand Assante)

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I have said here several times that the Michael Bay movie The Rock (1996) is really the slightly disguised last Sean Connery-starring James Bond movie. The proof has been assembled here, and it’s worth your time if you’re at all a Bond fan (are you listening, Matthew Clemens?). (How about you, Nate Collins?…It’s a Nic Cage movie, son!).

The great J. Kingston Pierce at the equally great Rap Sheet site catches people up to what I’ve been doing of late. I should say that my assumption (which Jeff reports) that Too Many Bullets will be one of the longest Heller novels to date did not come to pass. Oh, it’s pretty long – 80,000 words – but that’s the length of The Big Bundle, and both fall short of True Detective and Stolen Away, in the door-stop length department.

Here’s a good Big Bundle review at Bookgasm, though I disagree with the reviewer’s assessment of the second half of the novel, the second section having been singled out for praise elsewhere (some nice reviews are already posted at Amazon).

I am very pleased (no surprise!) with narrator Stefan Rudnicki’s reading of the new Mike Hammer book, Kill Me If You Can. He’s managed to make the loss of Stacy Keach as narrator much easier to go down. Stefan is the honcho at Skyboat Media, and while first appearing back in 2015, this essay on my work and Skyboat’s interest therein you may find worth your time. A video clip of Stefan at work on Quarry’s Choice is included. By the way, Stefan and Skyboat just picked up the short story collection, originally published by Mysterious Press, A Long Time DeadA Mike Hammer Casebook. Should be out on audio next year.

It should be noted that Kill Me If You Can might be considered a collection, as the Hammer yarn of that name might rightly be considered a novella, and the rest of the book includes five Spillane/Collins short stories, two of which are significant Hammer tales taken from film scripts of Mickey’s.

* * *

Several books are reviewed here, and one of them (scroll down) is Kill Me, Darling.

Next is this very good and wide-ranging essay (at the sublimely named site Monkeys Fighting Robots) on my work with an emphasis on Road to Perdition. Check it out.

The prose novel version (the one from Brash Books) of Road to Perdition gets a nice write-up here. It’s about books you might like if you’ve enjoyed the work of George V. Higgins. Somewhat ironically, it was the fiction of Higgins that made me stop reading other authors of crime fiction because I felt myself being too influenced by his distinctive style. The same write-up (from author J.T. Conroe) makes an appearance in a column about Richard Stark’s The Hunter.

Finally, this is an annotated list of the best 12 Mickey Spillane novels – and about half of them I had something to do with! That’s gratifying, but in any case, this is worth a look.