Spillane Nominated, Antiques Is Loved, Blue Christmas Begins, and Poirot Returns

September 19th, 2023 by Max Allan Collins

Okay, so the nominations for Quarry’s Blood (Edgar) and The Big Bundle (Shamus) did not result in wins. But how about this: Max Allan Collins and Jim Traylor’s Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction has been nominated for BIO’s Plutarch Award, given to the best biography of the year – as judged by biographers. I have no idea how this Bio nomination might play out.

Still, this feels really good, because this book is one I am particularly proud of, and I know Jim feels the same. Obviously we are hopeful for an Edgar nomination, but a win there seems unlikely as the prejudice against Mickey continues in many quarters, particularly coming from people who never read much if any of him.

On the other hand, we received several nice reviews for the current Hammer, Dig Two Graves, and Barb and I just finished listening (in the car) to the Skyboat Media audio book of it, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki, who does his usual stellar job.

The handful of copies of Dig Two Graves that I had to give away here were snapped up eagerly. I am sorry I didn’t have more to offer than that. It’s out today (Sept. 19) – so Happy Publication Day!

Speaking of good reviews, here’s a honey by Sue O’Brien about Antiques Foe by Barbara Allan (Barb and me) from Booklist:

Antiques Foe
By Barbara Allan
Nov. 2023. 208p. Severn, $31.99 (9781448309627);
e-book (9781448309634)

Vivian Borne, co-owner with her daughter Brandy of Trash ‘n’ Treasures, is thrilled to be invited to be a guest on Nicole Chatterton’s video podcast, Killers Caught, until Chatterton ambushes her on her murder-solving record, with Vivian threatening Chatterton and Brandy abruptly ending the interview. When Vivian goes to Chatterton’s hotel room to retrieve her signed release form to prevent the interview from airing, she finds Chatterton dead on the floor and is quickly arrested as the chief suspect in her murder. When Brandy is attacked and badly hurt, Vivian decides on drastic measures to protect her family. Brandy is gutted by the shocking turn of events, but the investigation continues, led by her fiancé, Police Chief Tony Cassato, leading to a plan to trap the killer. This tale is told in first person by both the flamboyant Vivian and the long-suffering Brandy, with the two talking directly to the reader in numerous humorous asides. Framed by small-town life in Iowa, with interesting details on antiques, this fun cozy includes recipes and tips on collecting sports memorabilia.

* * *

One of the things I’ll be doing here at Update Central in the coming couple of months is discuss the ongoing production of my micro-budgeted movie, Blue Christmas, which I scripted and will direct.

We had disappointing news this week when Gary Sandy decided not to do the production out of solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA strikers. He offered to do the film next year, when presumably the strike will be over, and suggested April. We are already going full-steam ahead and had to turn down this generous offer from Gary, who will very likely be in a future production of ours.

This, of course, will have to mean that directing another movie – designed to be user friendly to its aging director, and to be produced reasonably (all right, on the cheap) – is still something I enjoy doing and am able to perform to my satisfaction despite certain limitations due to health issues.

We held auditions this week and they went very well. I cast many of the local players from Encore for Murder, and two terrific pros from Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities respectively, Rob Merrit and Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt. My team includes Chad T. Bishop, producer (he edited Encore for Murder); Phil Dingeldein, Director of Photography (my longtime friend/collaborator on films); and Karen Cooney, production manager (my co-director of the stage version of Encore for Murder).

Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest

We have an excellent set builder tentatively on board, and Chris Christensen (my Seduction of the Innocent bandmate, and the composer of the scores for Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, Caveman and the award-winning Quarry short, “A Matter of Principal”) has agreed to do the score. Chris also contributed to Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market and Encore for Murder.

Also on the indie film front, I looked at the “check discs” of the Blu-ray of the documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane with Encore for Murder as the bonus feature, a DVD of the same, and finally a stand-alone DVD of Encore designed to go out to Golden Age Radio collectors. VCI is putting all of these out, in partnership with MVD, who do some very interesting stuff, particularly in their “Rewind” line that puts ‘80s and ‘90s video store favorites on Blu-ray.

* * *
A Haunting in Venice poster banner

Barb and I took in A Haunting in Venice, very loosely adapted from Agatha Christie’s Poirot novel, Hallowe’en Party. We had both pretty much enjoyed director/star Kenneth Branagh’s first Poirot outing, Murder on the Orient Express, but it was no threat to the Sidney Lumet original. The second Branagh adaptation of Christie, Death on the Nile, was more Meh on the Vile. But this one is a stunner.

Branagh’s Poirot is better etched here, and his direction is moody and immersive, creating a horror film vibe without shortchanging the very tricky murder mystery. Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver takes some getting used to, but ultimately comes across well. The standout performer is a child actor, Jude Hill, around twelve when this was shot.

It was wise of Branagh to get away from remaking the excellent previous Poirot films (so far, at least, the great Evil Under the Sun has been spared 21st Century re-imagining) and if more of these follow, he might look at the serious, post-war Poirot novels like Taken At the Flood and Five Little Pigs.

* * *

Crime Reads zeroes in on seven novels set in Sin City (Las Vegas) and one of them is Skim Deep. Oddly, my CSI novel called Sin City (co-written by Matthew Clemens) isn’t among them!

Jeff Pierce’s indispensable Rap Sheet shares some things from a recent update of ours right here. Nice write-up, and the lead item!

Screen Rant discusses my version of Robin in (where else?) Batman. My work on that feature seems to be getting a little more respect these days.

Finally, Den of Geek names Road to You-know-where one of the best crime-and-mob movies. Gratifying that this film is holding on so very well as decades pass.


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11 Responses to “Spillane Nominated, Antiques Is Loved, Blue Christmas Begins, and Poirot Returns”

  1. Bill P says:

    No idea what the politics are behind the Edgars, but do you see any parallels with what happened over in the Rock Hall? For many years, well-known and -loved acts by the public were often effectively barred for entry due to the tastes of one particular person–a person whose bias has been recently on public display.

    That said, in recent years, it seems there has been a shift in some of the nominees and perhaps old biases less prevalent (but still there). Is it similar with the Edgars? Their site says an awards chair is picked for each category and then they pick 4 other judges. Would that mean if someone were favorable to Spillane, they could pick 4 others and subsequently recognize him/you? It seems so entirely subjective. Even the reviled College Football polls had over 60+ voters. Is it really just so few that decide these things for the MWA? (Completely understand if you don’t want to answer, but you’ve typically been fairly transparent and free with your opinions here so thought I’d ask to educate myself.)

  2. It’s true that Edgar commitees are a small group, but they are other mystery writers, so it’s a jury of your peers.

    I will reveal that Jim Traylor and I — when we attended the Edgars decades ago for ONE LONELY KNIGHT: MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER (the first book on Spillane by anybody) — members of the committee who judged that category came up to us separately and whsipered to us that we would have won but one person on the committee refused to even read a book on Mickey Spillane, who this individual held in extremely low regard, shall we say.

    Not fair, but these nominations and occasional wins depend on a lot of elements and I prefer to think that this time we’ll get a fair shake. But a nomination at least would be nice.

  3. Glen Davis says:

    Disappointing news about Gary Sandy.

  4. stephenborer says:

    Always pleased to read about good reviews and nominations !

  5. A nice comment just came in from our good friend Stephen Borer. This fine gent just contributed $100 to the BLUE CHRISTMAS project, and it’s a typical gesture from one of the nicest, funniest guys around. Bless you, my child!

  6. stephenborer says:

    History’s most famous sailor would say something like ‘Ahoy Mates ! Please makes a donation to da movie ! Arf Arf !’

  7. Henry Kujawa says:


    I’m in a state of shock. I haven’t seen an Agatha Christie film ON A BIG SCREEN since APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH in 1988… and this is MUCH better than that!!

    For ethical reasons, I can’t talk about it… except to say, the last 15 minutes, when Poirot sums up the crimes left me absolutely STUNNED. And there was one more shocking revelation that came out during the epilogue! Wow.

    I’m going after and watching so many things these days, it’s gonna be some time yet before I start upgrading my AC collection… but I’m definitely looking forward to see this again. And, the 2 previous Kenneth Branagh films which I totally missed.

    This was infinitely better than the LAST 4 007 films put together.

  8. Henry Kujawa says:

    I got terribly far behind on so many things, including the last several years of David Suchet’s POIROT series. If I understand this right, before he stopped, he actually managed to adapt ALL 88 stories– that’s 55 short stories and 33 novels. And the most famous ones, I’ve still never seen his versions of. Presumably, that includes MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, DEATH ON THE NILE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN. The last 2, both with Peter Ustinov, remain my all-time absolute favorite AC films, along with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (with Louis Hayard), WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (with Charles Laughton), and THE MIRROR CRACK’D (with Angela Lansbury).

    I’ve heard some bad things about the tail-end of Suchet’s series, apparently they changed producers and/or writers and began to veer further from the source material. I’ll have to see for myself one day.

    Without looking it up, I have to guess he did HALLOWEEN PARTY, but, if so, I’ve never seen it… which is why the new movie was a total-unknown for me. It’s no wonder the ending so completely blew my mind. I had no idea where it was going!

    By the way… I’m probably the only one out here who actually liked the CBS-TV updating of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS with Alfred Molina. I found it way better than the 3 updated CBS films with Peter Ustinov in the 80s, which is still kind of shocking. Molina, naturally, is by far the best thing about it. Tasha de Vasconcelos, who only has a small part (at the beginning and then again at the end), is a close 2nd.

  9. Bill, the reason there are so few judges on the Edgars (and the Shamuses and numerous other awards for books and stories) is that committee members have to look at everything submitted — which in the case of the Edgars (in the novel categories especially) is overwhelming. Similar with the Shamuses, although the number of books is less but still formidable. If you trusted the task to a larger body of readers in the genre, they would not read all those books (in fairness, on a committee like the Edgars you may only read a chapter or two before bailing), they would lean toward the popular favorites — stuff they HAD read. It’s an imperfect system, the Edgars, but at least it’s a group of your peers.

    Henry, the Suchet adapations of Poirot are generally wonderful. What happened after a long run was that they dumped Hastings and Miss Lemon and Japp (who had been shoehorned into many adapations of stories/novels they hadn’t appeared in, a smart tactic to build a nice recurring cast) and tackled the more serious, post-war Poirot novels. So the tone shifted. The liberties A HAUNT IN VENICE took are far greater than any the Suchet series ever took — HALLOWE’EN PARTY has little in common with HAUNTING, but it’s a terrific Poirot movies. As I’ve said, Branagh’s ORIENT EXPRESS is good, but DEATH ON THE NILE (how did they manage to cast both Armie Hammer and Russell Brand!) sucks bigtime. My favorite Christie movies mirror your list — EVIL UNDER THE SUN is a masterpiece — although the Molina ORIENT EXPRESS is not on mine.

  10. Henry Kujawa says:

    Something I had to pass on… I saw DEATH ON THE NILE twice in 2 weeks. Only time my Dad ever went to a movie twice like that. The 2nd time, it was an entirely-different movie, because I could remember everything! While I feel it’s essential you see a mystery “cold” that first time, after, they often get better (provided you didn’t have them blown before the fact).

    I don’t think EVIL UNDER THE SUN ever got to theatres around here. I saw it on HBO. Saw it many times over the years, but, each time, years between. I swore they picked it as the follow-up because it was the MOST complex. I could never remember the details. Loved it every time, but it kept being “new”. Until one night I almost fell asleep near the end. I got annoyed, went downstairs to grab a snack, rewound the tape, and watched the last half-hour again by itself. And suddenly, after decades, seeing the end without the rest of the film distracting me, I “got” it. I actually had to understand the “WHY” to remember the “who” “what” and “how”. (Sounds like a Maxwell Smart joke, but true.) I’ve REMEMBERED every detail ever since. And that’s when it became my #1 FAVE Poirot film.

    Now… the Joan Hickson MISS MARPLES were a bigger problem. I taped most in the 80s, but watched them infrequently. I noted, watching CAMPION with Peter Davison, that I had to watch the entire series twice back-to-back to really remember the stories. I tried that with Joan Hickson, but it didn’t work. They were EVEN MORE confusing. So– I watched again, but this time, watched EACH episode twice, back-to-back, before moving on to the next story. THAT finally did it. At least, I was finally able to remember who the murderer was….. Took me 30 years to really appreciate that series.

    I forget which one it was… but there was one Suchet POIROT near the end of the ones I’d seen… where it seemed like they had a first-time director out of film school who had NO IDEA what he was doing. Wish I could remember which one. Up to then, every episode had been INCREDIBLY well-done. That one was AWFUL and amateurish-like. It reminded of of what happened with the Jeremy Brett HOLMES series. MOST are FABULOUS. But– all 5 2-hour stories are HORRIBLE, as well as the one in the final season where they combined 2 stories into a single episode. The contrast between the great and awful in that series is shocking. Luckily I only see 6 “awful” ones.

    The really crazy one is THE ALPHABET MURDERS. It’s one of those “wild and crazy” films of the late 60s, where style destroys coherence. EXCEPT… at the climax, they bring up a point from the first scene. I thought, “Hey, the writer was actually paying attention! I’d never have guessed.” MY favorite moment is when Margaret Rutherford turns up, says, “It’s so simple, even an idiot could figure it out.” Then she looks straight at Tony Randall with a look of utter contempt. Hilarious!

  11. Bill P says:

    Thanks for the further insight into the review committees. I think that is a problem for all of these awards. Many of the voters who nominate for Oscars, etc. have admitted to not viewing all of the movies or entries, etc. They have their darling and want to promote it. I brought up college football rankings and most rankers probably didn’t watch all the games either, just the highlights. That would be like reading other reviewers reviews of the books/movies/etc. rather than doing the work oneself.

    I get it, it can be a lot of work and therefore not for the faint of heart. So in that respect, they deserve a small portion of our gratitude for assuming that burden. It should also make the honor bestowed feel that much weightier, knowing your work was selected out of all those others that were read. That said, I could understand how someone who might have a preconceived bias for or against something isn’t probably going to look to far or hard to correct that. They’ll see what they want to see and read what they want to read. I remember reading the forward to John Kennedy O’Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” where the editor said he was guilted into reading the manuscript by O’Toole’s dead mother. He only hoped it would take a page or two to verify his almost certain conviction that it would be no good, but dreaded that it might be just good enough to keep reading. Thankfully, he did do the work and changed his mind on the novel.