Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Bargains, a Nice Review Sparks a Rant & R.I.P. for Toaster

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022

We did not attend San Diego Comic Con this year. Maybe next. We tentatively plan to be at Bouchercon (Barb and I, and Matt Clemens too, unless Covid scares us off).

Check out this Wild Dog cosplay pic from an unknown recent convention.

12 year old girl cosplays as Wild Dog
A 12-year old girl at a comic con appears as Wild Dog!

Some new bargain offers for Kindle on several of my titles are about to hit.




Midnight Haul will be promoted via Kindle Daily Deal starting 8/6/2022 and running through 8/6/2022 – 0.99 USD during the promotion peril. Midnight Haul is a 1986 eco-thriller with a Mallory-esque protagonist.

Supreme Justice will be promoted via Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals starting 8/1/2022 and running through 8/31/2022. 1.99 USD during the promotion period. This is the first in the Reeder and Rogers political thriller trilogy.

Executive Order will be promoted via a $3 toward a selection of Kindle books starting 8/1/2022 and running through 8/31/2022. (I don’t quite know what this promotion is exactly, but maybe you do.) This is the third in the Reeder and Rogers political thriller trilogy.

The Reeder and Rogers books were just a little teensy weensy bit prescient. Supreme Justice (2014!) was about Roe V. Wade being overturned and somebody targeting Supreme Court justices for death to change the make-up of the court. Fate of the Union (2015!) was completely unbelievable – a megalomaniac billionaire runs a populist presidential campaign, breaking countless laws along the way (what will that Collins and Clemens think up next?). Finally Executive Order (2017!) finds the Secret Service participating in an attempted coup of the U.S. government (what, are Collins and Clemens kah-ray-zee?).

* * *
Girl Most Likely cover
Amazon

Longtime reader Joe Maniscalco has posted a Girl Most Likely review on both Goodreads and Amazon, but I’d like to share it with you here, as well. (By the way, as I write this both Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It are still offered at the 99-cents Kindle price on Amazon.)

I’ve been reading Collins’ novels since the early 1980s, beginning with protagonists, Quarry, and Heller. Tough guys all of them. Collins has even written Westerns and completed unfinished novels by Mickey Spillane. This may be his first (or at least the first for this reader), where the protagonist is female—a young Midwestern police chief who is working with her retired police officer father.

Girl Most Likely is a crime thriller that I chose to read on the plane to my own high school reunion. Could a serial killer be looking for victims who’ve attended a specific high school graduation class? And if so, why?
This appears to be one of Collins’ more traditional mystery novels with its closed circle of suspects, and an almost traditional detective team.

I selected this Max Allan Collins after recently reading his Road to Perdition trilogy and waiting for his next Heller historical mystery. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Collins seems to be exercising his writing chops with this different, but worthy addition to his resume.

Obviously I appreciate a nice review like this, but it does spark some thoughts I’d like to share.

I am well aware that not all readers are willing to try something different from a writer whose work they’ve liked in another vein. Joe is clearly an exception. Still, I do have a fair number of readers who, for example, like both Quarry (the most overtly noir) and the Antiques novels (the shamelessly if tongue-in-cheek cozy mysteries written with my wife Barb as “Barbara Allan”).

Joe viewing Krista Larson as my first female protagonist indicates he is not aware of the Antiques novels, with Brandy Bourne and her mother Vivian sharing lead honors, or of the Terry Beatty co-created comics feature Ms. Tree (not even in her one prose novel appearance, Deadly Beloved). He would probably like Ms. Tree and be open-minded enough to try the Antiques novels.

But, as I indicated, I understand not everyone can handle a writer doing different things. Barb, for example, writes very dark short stories and has for years; but the Antiques novels she and I write together are comic and fairly light. My long list of novels and stories are all over the place – the Mallory novels have been described as medium-boiled, Nolan is third-person crime, Quarry is first-person crime, the Eliot Ness quartet strictly police procedural, same with CSI obviously, the two Mommy novels psychological horror, Reeder & Rogers political thrillers, the Harrow novels with Matt Clemens are serial killer books…and so on.

For a lot of years – I am slowing down in my dotage – I published five, even six books a year. I did this because I had the temerity to want to try to make a living. This included movie novelizations and TV tie-ins, about which some discriminating readers might hold their nose in the air and squeeze those noses delicately shut with refined fingers and judiciously avoid. Back in the real world, I was making a living and getting on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists with a lot of those novels, the varied genres of which allowed me to stay fresh, learn new things, and work muscles I didn’t know I had.

No publisher would publish five new Quarry books in a year. Nobody wants more than one Mike Hammer novel a year. I can’t write more than one Heller every couple of years or so because of the degree of difficulty, starting with voluminous research. And, anyway, I need to stay fresh. Stale is bad.

This is something of an old argument, of course, and a moot point really, because at my age doing four or five or six novels in a year just isn’t going to happen. But just understand that I don’t expect you to like everything I write. I love it when you do, but that’s not a requirement. Still, if you like my work, in the unlikely event you find something of mine you don’t like, try to keep it to yourself.

Is that really asking too much?

* * *

Last week I wrote about Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Lustig, Larry Cohen and (not surprisingly) Mickey Spillane. But in the comments and e-mails about that update, nobody talked to me about any of those famous humans.

Everybody talked about Toaster Collins.

My tribute to our late little family dog, a lovably demented Blue Heeler, touched a lot of heart strings. I wrote my blatantly sentimental piece knowing it was not exactly expected of a hardbitten dispenser of noir like me. But I did it anyway, and my son Nate – Toaster’s real master – provided some lovely pictures of the little dog, representing well this small life that impacted our family in such a big way.

Some of these comments were posted last week (and you can go read them), but others came by way of e-mails. I even heard from some of my editors. I found myself reflecting on this outpouring – these were condolences that might have been about my mom or dad passing. And I asked myself how these creatures, these pets that can be so loving and so demanding, who have us growling when we have to board them to get a few days away, who want to go outside at the least convenient moments, who beg for food and attention but always on their terms…who needs them?

Apparently a lot of us do.

When I reflect too on how terrible we are to each other, everything from losing friendships over partisan politics to yelling at stupid drivers, I marvel at how these non-human creatures touch our humanity in a way other humans seldom do.

* * *

Here’s yet another indication that the film of Road to Perdition is becoming an American classic.

And Perdition is ranked one of the best 30 movies playing on Paramount-Plus right now.

Finally, Scar of the Bat is included in this article about Batman appearing in different eras.

M.A.C.

A Farewell and Several Unexpected Resonances

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022

The unsung hero of my weekly update/blogs is my son Nathan. He does all the layout and catches (most of) my goofs in the text. Regular readers of these updates may be aware that Nate is a Japanese to English translator and has been doing manga, video games, and novel translations for well over ten years.

One of his claims to fame in his specialized field is translating the novel Battle Royale (which as Quentin Tarantino recently pointed out was the, shall we say, inspiration for Hunger Games) (and Quentin should know about such things).

Nate current ongoing gig is translating the popular manga Jo Jo’s Big Adventure for Viz. By way of demonstrating just what a big deal this is, take a gander at the accompanying photo taken at FYE in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Nate is a terrific writer in his own right (and write) and if you have any interest in manga, checking out JoJo would be a good idea. [Especially from Part 3 onward (where I took over).—Nate]

* * *

My novels Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It are still 99-cents each on Kindle till the end of this (July) month. Give ‘em a try!

* * *

I have mentioned here several times that my frequent assistant director on my indie film productions, the late Steve Henke, would always complain that my dark noir subject matter inevitably softens at the conclusion, where I betray a streak of sentimentality, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.

That’s true, and I am about to talk about the death of our family dog, and you can skip it but you can’t stop me.

Toaster Collins, a Blue Heeler, died last week at age 13 or so. Her name came from the robots on Battlestar Galatica (the reboot). She was Nate’s dog, but when he moved back to Muscatine from Chicago two weeks after he bought Toaster, she became the family dog. The two of them lived for a year or two with us before they set out for St. Louis (and a few years ago returned here). So Barb and I bonded early with the little dog.

And she was a little dog, for a Blue Heeler anyway, the runt of her litter. Not as little as the terriers we’d had previously, but small enough to be a lap dog, and I am proud to say my lap was apparently her favorite. Overall her master, Nathan, was her favorite human; but all of us loved her, man, woman and child, though she drove us absolutely crazy with her craziness.

And she was crazy. For the first eight years of her life (approximately), all you had to say was, “Tree,” and she scrambled half way up the nearest one – climbing up the bark before tumbling back down. She was a greedy little thing, begging at our house, and playing predator floor-cleaner at Nate’s. She was gentle with our two grandkids and loved both Nate and his wife Abby with that unconditional love humans can only aspire to. She was happiest when all of us were together, both households, and would position herself in a doorway to keep a herding dog’s eye on us.

I like to think that, after Nate, I ranked pretty high. That’s clearly delusional, as Barb in this house was Toaster’s source for food – it was a dog bone of contention that at Nate and Abby’s the animal got healthy kibble, and at ours she got turkey breast and whatever she could beg off of us, which was plenty.

She was every bit the family dog. We fell, a while back, into one week at Nate’s house and the next week at ours. For many years Toaster, relentlessly frisky with toys, was playful and could run you a merry chase around the interior of the house. She was shameless in her nearly sexual pursuit of me – no leg dancing, but she would roll on her back and spread her legs…at a distance that would require me to get out of my chair…as she would wave one paw in the air as if summoning me. She would stay on her back until I climbed from my throne and scratched her belly and nuzzled her neck. All I had to do to get a dog kiss was ask for one. No woman in my lifetime, including my wife, has ever been that generous.

Toaster became incredibly neurotic in her later years. Whether separation anxiety or just wanting to go along, she would furiously bark on our every exit. She began to anticipate such exits – all I would have to do was come down the stairs near lunch hour and she would begin to go nuts. Yet when I pointed to Barb’s empty office while she (Toaster, not Barb) was furiously barking, the little animal would obediently go in there to be shut away till Barb had slipped out and I was poised to follow.

Toaster could make a pattern out of a single instance. One morning, Barb – freshening up for the day and being bugged by the creature – gave the animal a treat that became an immediate ritual, the “make-up” bone. If the animal had to go out, she would jump onto my chair (a recliner of course) and march up to my face and stare at me, her wet nose turning mine similarly moist.

Like all dogs, she loved to go for walks. She also loved to bark at bigger animals from the safety of a window. As Barb worked at her computer, Toaster curled on the floor beside her. Sometimes she got up on Barb’s chair and took up most of the space, relegating her mistress to the edge of the seat. At bedtime Toaster managed to expand herself into crocodile length on our bed and assume an angle that left no real comfortable space for any human.

Toaster was nuttier than a Baby Ruth, and why wouldn’t she be? All dogs, house dogs particularly, reflect their owners. It’s more than just Best in Show physical resemblances of pets and masters – it’s personality. She was neurotic as hell. So are we.

She declined over one terrible but mercifully swift weekend. Her presence looked like forever (as Mark Harris said through Henry Wiggins) but of course it was just those thirteen years. And of course in our memories until we, too, are gone.

* * *

It may be because I am this old that resonances and coincidences keep popping up that seem surprising when you consider that Barb and I stayed in small-town Muscatine, Iowa, all these years.

I was watching True Romance (1993) on the Arrow Video 4K edition, as part of an ongoing attempt to reconsider the early Tarantino films I had disliked at the time, now that I’ve turned into a fan of his later films. He of course did not direct True Romance, but it was an early script.

If my memory serves me (and I admit it often does not), when I was working in 1993 on The Expert (1995) with director Bill Lustig and producer Andy Garoni, I was told that True Romance was nearly a Lustig/Garoni production. Tarantino – transitioning from video store clerk to auteur – was in their orbit, but then Reservoir Dogs (1992) got made and things began to happen for Quentin, who moved on and took True Romance with him. The script I was writing for them was apparently their next project.

Larry Cohen, who wrote and almost directed I, the Jury (1982), was a filmmaker I admired; he had written for Lustig/Garoni a screenplay for Brute Force (a remake of the Jules Dassin noir), which evolved into The Expert. Cohen had fulfilled his contract, but the director and producer did not like his screenplay (I never got through it).

So basically I was the third writer they’d been dealing with lately, the previous two being Quentin Tarantino (wooed away by bigger-time filmmakers) and Larry Cohen (who had dropped the ball on his script for them). It should be noted that previously Cohen had written Maniac Cop 1 and 2 for Lustig and later would do Uncle Sam (1996) with the director. Why Cohen’s script for Brute Force was so weak I have no idea, because he was usually an adept if quirky screenwriter.

All of that is a long preamble to something short. In watching True Romance (which I liked this time around), I was stunned as were most people revisiting that film by its incredible cast, filled with actors who would go on to famous, like James Gandolfini, Samuel Jackson, and Brad Pitt. I’d forgotten that Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn were in the film, let alone that they played a team of LAPD detectives in it.

So here’s the resonance. Sizemore played Quarry (as “Price”) in The Last Lullaby (2008) and Chris Penn was a guy Barb and I had dinner with once. Penn was a guest, as were we, at a Southern arts festival, the exact year and even place having fallen prey to my spotty memory. But we had a nice evening meal with him, though he seemed vaguely irritated by how in tune Barb and I were, which is not the usual reaction we invoke.

None of that is a big deal, but to be watching one of Quentin Tarantino’s break-out movies, with memories of following in his footsteps on my 1993 Hollywood adventure, and seeing the only actor to date who has played Quarry in a feature film and Sean Penn’s late brother, who Barb and I had a memorable but slightly odd dinner with once upon a time…well, it had me blinking.

This kind of thing happens to me more and more. Barb and I, over the weekend, watched an excellent six-part HBO documentary about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, The Last Movie Stars. Into the Newman/Woodward story, actor Ethan Hawke inserts himself – and the cast he recruited to play voiceovers of the participants based on a transcript of a destroyed documentary Newman began in the 1990s – in a manner that should come across as self-indulgent and intrusive; but isn’t. The approach provides a picture of how in post-WW 2 Hollywood movies evolved (and devolved) over time, but mostly a revelation into how gifted actors think. The Zooming participants included (but are not limited to) George Clooney (as Newman), Laura Linney (as Woodward), Sam Rockwell, Sally Field, and Vincent D’Onofrio, with Brooks Ashmanskas spot on as Gore Vidal. Not part of the recreation cast are interview subjects David Letterman, Martin Scorcese, and Mario Andretti, as well as Newman’s adult children and grandchildren.

The revelation for me was understanding that Newman had brought to his performance in Road to Perdition his warm relationship with his two male grandchildren. The two boys in Perdition are of course surrogate grandchildren of Rooney/Looney, and Newman’s tragic turbulent time with his late son Scott informs his relationship with troubled son Connor (Daniel Craig)

Both Newman and Woodward are fascinating artists. Newman, a limited one in his earlier phases, played off his natural charm and good looks and became a movie star. Woodward’s instinctive but unerring acting chops made her a movie star first, but also a major actress while Newman seemed a commanding screen presence…but no more. There’s a middle period for Newman, where he finds himself in the humor of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973), and reveals himself in the political fervor of the unfortunate WUSA (1970) and the well-realized Slapshot (1977). He does occsionally retreat into movie star mode for the good Harper (1966) follow-up, The Drowning Pool (1975), and such hollow victories as The Towering Inferno (1974) and Absence of Malice (1981), the latter with its awkward, misjudged relationship with a stridently too young Sally Field. From this came the triumph of The Verdict (1982) and the beginnings of star character roles from his Hustler (1966) sequel, The Color of Money (1986), to a little thing I like to call Road to Perdition (2022).

Woodward, interestingly, resented the loss of her movie stardom to stay-at-home mother with occasional film forays, but quietly roared back with a succession of award-winning TV movies. She and her husband made 16 films together, and he directed several films she starred in.

As might be expected, this fine documentary included a clip from Road to Perdition (2022). What we did not expect was that the clip chosen would be the scene Barb and I had witnessed being shot on our day on set.

Another resonance came from Newman’s first starring film, The Silver Chalice (1954), being the Biblical turkey that producer Victor Saville cynically used Mickey Spillane box office to fund. This is a topic much explored in the forthcoming Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction….

* * *

Check out this lovely essay on the film version of Road to Perdition.

Here is a great write-up about my Dick Tracy novels on a Tracy film website.

Finally, back on the Road to Perdition, here’s an Entertainment Tonight piece I somehow missed; worth looking at.

M.A.C.

A Darling Deal, and Heller on My Mind

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022
Kill Me, Darling cover
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Another book deal has popped up, this time BookBub, and it applies to Kill Me, Darling, one of my favorite of the posthumous Spillane collaborations. I was working from a false start on The Girl Hunters where Velda’s disappearance didn’t have to do with Russia and espionage, but rather Florida and vice. (So in the Hammer canon Velda now disappears twice…not counting kidnappings.)

Anyway, I don’t understand BookBub and if someone wants to straighten me out, I’m fine with that. But it would appear this deal lasts for about a month. Like the still ongoing Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It offers, Kill Me, Darling is 99-cents on e-book. Unlike the Amazon deal, this extends to Nook and other e-book platforms.

Here’s how BookBub describes Kill Me, Darling:

From the authors of Murder Never Knocks. Private investigator Mike Hammer heads to Miami to find his ex-lover Velda — and figure out her connection to the disturbing murder of her old colleague. “Mike Hammer is undeniably an icon of our culture” (The New York Times).
$0.99 (regular price $7.99).

* * *
Seduction of the Innocent band photo

You may have seen my Seduction of the Innocent bandmate Steve Leialoha’s query to me in the comments last week, regarding my current project, Too Many Bullets, Nate Heller looking into the RFK assassination. He asked me if I’d ever talked to Miguel about the night of the assassination at the Ambassador Hotel, saying that Miggie and his mom were there that night.

This was news to me, and I kicked myself, because I’ve known for years I would eventually do Bobby Kennedy, and I never discussed it generally with Miguel. Why would I? You might ask.

Well, Miguel was a big Nate Heller fan. He always requested signed copies to read on set in his trailer (actors have a lot of down time). We talked Heller a lot. We were hoping to do a movie at one point with him in the lead (the novella Dying in the Post-war World was written with that in mind). Didn’t happen but I sure do wish it had.

Miggie’s (and my) pal Bill Mumy, a fellow Seductive One, was…and probably still is…a Heller fan, too. Like Miguel, he has read Heller novels during on-set downtime, and after all he wrote the song “True Detective” for our CD, The Golden Age. I’m proud to have these two among Heller’s supporters. And it hurts that Miguel didn’t get to read any Heller past Ask Not. Maybe, somewhere, Miggie and Bill Crider and Ed Gorman are in a book club, keeping tabs on me.

Chris Christensen, the other Seduction bandmate, also reads Heller, or anyway he used to. Chris did the music for my documentaries Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop). Very talented guy, and like all the Seductive Ones nice and fun.

If you were unaware of my friendship with Miguel, or even if you were and this is old news, you may wish to read this post from January 2017. It’s one of my favorites.

That Miguel could have shared his memories about a tragic, historic night about which I have yet to write gives me an extra pang in an already sensitive part of my psyche. But it also points out how weird the experience of writing Nathan Heller can be.

Miguel and his mom (Rosemary Clooney!) had been at the Ambassador Hotel that wonderful-turned-terrible night, and in an odd way that connected me. I already had an odd Kennedy connection because Jackie Onassis had been my editor on a book I co-wrote with a political figure (a ghost job). I had spoken on the phone with her many times and got to know her in that “phone friendship” way that can be very real. I have a letter she wrote me saying what a great job I did on the book. My University of Iowa mentor, Richard Yates, had been a Bobby Kennedy speech writer, as I learned after I plucked a copy of The Enemy Within off my mentor’s shelf and saw that it had been warmly signed to him. My collaborator Dave Thomas is a fellow assassination buff who knows Paul Schrade and promises to connect me with him. Paul Schrade was standing in back of Bobby Kennedy that night and also got shot in the head, but survived and is now 97 and still researching the case he was in the middle of.

This brings up an interesting point or two. I never know, in doing a Heller, whether I should talk to living participants in the cases I explore. They tend to have their own agendas and I can get caught up in them. For years after writing Stolen Away, I got phone calls from two of the men who thought they were the Lindbergh baby (and one might have been). I need to have my own point of view. My own take.

The other thing is weirder yet. Barb and I were on our honeymoon in Chicago – we were married on June 1 – when the Robert Kennedy assassination occurred in the early hours of June 5. We were staunchly anti-war and were RFK supporters. The news, made strange by not being home at the time, hit us hard, but…and this is the weirdest thing…I remember that I felt (can’t speak for Barb) that American political assassination had become just something to be expected. I was in high school when JFK got it, and not long before Bobby was killed MLK had been taken down, and I was at least vaguely aware of Malcolm X being in the same category. I remember thinking, “So this is how it’s going to be now.”

Maybe the lone nuts decided to find a new hobby (they certainly have one now). Or maybe the powerful figures in the darkness moving chess pieces decided their moves were getting too obvious. But the next time I had a similar feeling was on Jan. 6, last year. I paused writing in my office and went downstairs to get something to drink, and flipped on the TV, and saw Trump’s mob crawling over the face of the Capitol like bearded ants.

And with a shrug I said softly to nobody, “That’s about right.”

It looked like this was how it was going to be now.

Getting back specifically to Nate Heller, my overriding job with all of these cases – unsolved or controversially solved – is to write a hard-hitting private eye novel, with the humor and sex and violence that people expect out of me. That I expect out of me. Part of a Heller novel can be disturbing and even sad, like Chinatown. But it also has to be exciting and interesting and, yes, fun. Like Chinatown.

So how do I face something as terrible, as nation-shaking as Bobby Kennedy’s death without trivializing it?

That is very much on my mind right now. Serving history. Serving my readers. And not doing either of them an injustice.

* * *

Here’s a story about Mickey Spillane walking out on I, the Jury in 1953. Maybe it’s true. The sentiment on his part is accurate. But the movie’s actually pretty good.

The great James Reasoner writes about the collection of the Mike Hammer comic strip that I edited and introduced for Hermes Press a while back.

Nice Road to Perdition (the film) essay here.

This review looks at Headed for a Hearse by Jonathan Latimer and my introduction (which was written some time ago for an earlier edition, though the writer seems unaware of that). It’s a pretty good essay but drifts into the area of judging yesterday’s fiction by today’s politically correct attitudes. The reviewer better not read the first chapter of Farewell, My Lovely.

M.A.C.

Mike Hammer, John Shaft & James M. Cain

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022
Kill Me If You Can Audiobook cover
Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Audiobook: Google Play Audiobook Store

Coming in August, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, is Kill Me If You Can, the 75th anniversary Mike Hammer novel (Hammer debuted in I, the Jury in 1947). It includes five Spillane/Collins short stories, two of which are Mike Hammer, both significant additions to the canon.

Kill Me If You Can will also appear on audio, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki, who for the past several Hammer novels has performed the impossible task of stepping in after Stacy Keach. The five short stories are included.

I have now done the commentary for the ClassicFlix Blu-ray 4K/3-D release of the 1953 I, the Jury. I think it went well, although I can’t compete with the likes of Tim Lucas and Tom Weaver (much less Eddie Muller) in their Blu-ray commentaries. Lucas and Weaver and Muller are always extremely well-prepared and organized, while I just watch what’s on the screen and blather on about all the useless information I’ve gathered and opinions I’ve formed over the years. I worked with my pal and partner Phil Dingeldein on this one – he shares credit but no blame. The Blu-ray comes out in early December.

Phil and I are preparing to shoot new material for an expanded Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (1999) documentary as well as introductory material for the Brian Keith/Blake Edwards written-directed 1954 Mike Hammer pilot, which will be a bonus feature on the I, the Jury disc.

We are in the early stages of mounting an amateur stage production of Encore for Murder and are hoping to entice Gary Sandy to come to Muscatine, Iowa, to again play Mike Hammer. A few years ago, Gary starred as Mike in pro productions of Encore in Owensboro, Kentucky, and Clearwater, Florida. The play is performed in the style of a ‘40s radio show. Much more to follow, but the date to save is September 17.

A reminder – the Kindle editions of the two books in my Krista and Keith Larson series, Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It, are on sale this month – right now through July 31. You can buy them as a pair for $1.98, or 99-cents each.

They are not on sale, but both Girl novels are also available on audio, read by my other favorite Collins narrator, Dan John Miller. [The Girl audiobooks are only $1.99 each if you own the eBooks. –Nate]

* * *

If you swing by here now and then – or, God help you, on a regular basis – you will have noticed I seldom review books but frequently talk about movies and TV – of late, streaming mini-series more than anything. This week is no exception.

But first let me explain that I am indeed still reading books. Right now I am swimming in them, preparing to write Too Many Bullets, the RFK Heller novel that will cover both Jimmy Hoffa and Sirhan Sirhan. I am dizzy from it and driving Barb nuts with my ever-shifting notions about how I will approach this thing.

The degree of difficulty may make this the final Nate Heller novel, or at least one of such size and sweep. I can imagine doing shorter ones, more the length of a Quarry or Caleb York, which if Heller’s home remains Hard Case Crime makes sense. But the upcoming The Big Bundle was meant to be a “short” Heller and it ran over 400 pages in manuscript. As we say in the funnies, Sigh.

During intense research phases, little recreational reading happens. My brain wants something less proactive than reading, hence film and TV. I do read before bed and chip away at books. And my ambition is to read the entire Tarzan series by Burroughs and dig seriously into the complete Race Williams stories by Carroll John Daly and also the Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley. I read most of Burroughs’ Tarzan novels as a kid, but only recently have the complete Race Williams and Zorro stories been collected in book form.

Also on my reading list are books on Anthony Mann’s crime films, the handful of Willam March-penned novels I haven’t got to, a few remaining items by F. Hugh Herbert (creator of Corliss Archer), and autobiographies of Mel Brooks, Chuck Berry and Brian Cox. I’m also salivating to read Hell’s Half Acre about Kate Bender, one of my favorite true crimes of the Lizzie Borden era.

Am I alone in noticing that time is the enemy?

On the streaming front, Barb and I greatly enjoyed The Dropout, the jaw-dropping story of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-exam scam. Stranger Things wrapped up in excruciatingly self-indulgent over-stuffed style – the Duffer brothers have got to stop writing teen romance! – but the horror aspects remained strong. And Star Trek: Stranger Worlds ended its season boldly going, and we continue to consider it the best post-Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley iteration.

Of course I am a hopeless addict of physical media, and snapped up two great Criterion 4K Blu-rays on their current Barnes & Noble 50% off sale – Shaft (1971) and Double Indemnity (1944).

Shaft is one of my favorite private eye films and it shows what might have been done with a Mike Hammer film had it been shot on gritty NYC locations (the 1982 I, the Jury remake comes close). Richard Roundtree is the most charismatic screen private eye since Bogart, and the Issac Hayes score ties with Mancini’s Peter Gunn for best P.I. theme. It’s really a pretty standard private eye yarn and very much on the Mike Hammer template – Shaft has a Homicide detective pal who scolds and yet uses him, and there’s a regular girl friend who the detective cheats on without a twinge, the violence is shocking and the P.I. is almost supernaturally tough, though he gets beat up before the end. Standard. But the Black twist on everything, those stark NYC locations, the pulsing soul score, the magnetic Roundtree…changes everything.

The movie looks great, sounds better, and the bonus features go on forever, though none of the experts mention Mike Hammer (the original hardcover novel had presented Shaft as the Black Mike Hammer) with no sense of the debt to Spillane on display here. There’s lots of feminist blather from a Black perspective, apologizing and rationalizing for what if this were a Hammer film would be labeled misogyny. But there’s a lot of good bonus material just the same, with Roundtree and Gordon Parks interviewed and much more. That includes the snappy quick sequel, Shaft’s Big Score (1972), on Blu-ray; it lacks the grit of the first film but has an incredible if absurd climax. Sadly M.I.A. is the underrated Shaft in Africa (1973). And if I’d have been in charge I’d have cherry-picked an example of the short-lived Shaft TV series, the episodes of which were movie length.

Double Indemnity blu ray cover

James M. Cain was one of the four writers who (sixty years ago) inspired me to go down the hardboiled path (the others being Hammett, Chandler and Spillane). Double Indemnity is generally considered the best of the screen versions, and was Cain’s own favorite. I could build a case for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) because it really does have a love story at its twisted heart. Double Indemnity, wonderful though it is, is cold at the center. Ironically (intentionally), the real love story is between Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff and Edgar G. Robinson’s Barton Keyes, the insurance investigator who leads Neff and Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrich to their well-deserved fates.

It’s a great film, with Raymond Chandler’s crackling dialogue staying just to one side of self-parody; then there’s the prison-stripe window-blinds cinematography of John Sietz and march-to-doom direction of Billy Wilder. As Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon did with the private eye novel, Double Indemnity seems to invent, define and perfect the post-war film noir. Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith do right by the film in their terrific bonus-feature discussion (accomplished by editing together craftily two sides of a chat shot in separate locations).

I disagree with them on only one thing: they describe both Neff and Phyllis as sociopaths. I think Double Indemnity is a dance between a guy who’s been getting away with things and a woman who’s been getting away with murder. There’s a throwaway line very early on where MacMurray mentions having sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door; this is code for the traveling salesman who is on the make for available housewives. He sizes Stanwyck up as one of those, with no idea how in over his head he is. He’s a regular guy with a sleazy streak who gets pulled into a murder plot because (a) he’s hot for the dame, and (b) he’s always dreamed of putting one over on the insurance company he works for. Stanwyck, on the other hand, has immediately sized him up as a horndog who is a perfect candidate for the inside-man accomplice she needs.

Muller and Smith discuss the difference between Cain’s novel dialogue and Chandler’s film dialogue, and are again on the money; but they don’t share the key anecdote in full.

Here’s what Cain himself said in that regard: “When they were making Double Indemnity in Hollywood, Billy Wilder complained that Raymond Chandler was throwing away my nice, terse dialogue; he got some student actors in from the Paramount school, coached them up, to let Chandler hear what it would be like if he would only put exactly what was in the book in his screenplay. To Wilder’s utter astonishment, it sounded like holy hell. Chandler explained to Wilder what the trouble was that Cain’s dialogue is written to the eye. That ragged right-hand margin that is so exciting and wonderful to look at can’t be recited by actors. Chandler said, ‘Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dialogue it with the same spirit Cain has in the book but not the identical words.’ Wilder still didn’t believe him. They got me over there, purportedly to discuss something else, but the real reason was that Wilder hoped I would contradict Chandler, and somehow explain what had evaporated. But, of course, I bore Chandler out….”

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Lots of lists of the best Film Noirs have popped up lately, but this one is solid, and does a fine job discussing Kiss Me Deadly. And, of course, Double Indemnity is on it.

M.A.C.