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

The Mail, A New Book, Sex Island, and Bang-Zoom!

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Before I get into more edifying topics – “edifying” in the case of these updates being a euphemism for “self-serving” – I am going to carefully wade into a topic that may be viewed as political. And it is, admittedly…but in a nonpartisan way.

While I occasionally slip, I do my best here not to get into political territory, though I am something of an opinionated political junkie myself in real life. But I have seen several friendships I value become damaged if not ruined by the topic of President Trump. And I have valued business associates (who are also friends) who I would put at risk of alienating if I spoke my views. Finally, those of you who are good enough to check in here to listen to me babble are on the most basic level my customers (as Mickey Spillane used to say) and I don’t care to alienate those who help Barb and me keep the lights on around this joint.

But the situation with the United States Postal Service right now goes way beyond politics. It is a bipartisan problem and we all – all – should step up. It may be incompetence on the part of a postmaster with no background in the postal service; it may be something akin to sabotage, in which case it’s not at all well-thought out sabotage. If the mail is being slowed down on purpose, Republicans need to remember that in the past their party has benefitted far more from mail-in ballots than Democrats – the military, traditionally Republican-leaning to say the least, depends on mail-in ballots. (Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots – like the ones the President and the First Lady use in Florida – are essentially the same thing. Please don’t bother me with a diatribe about how they are not. Please do not write to tell me voting by mail leads to wide-spread fraud, because there is zero evidence to indicate that’s the case.)

This slowdown – which includes removing hundreds of high-speed mail-sorting machines, pulling mailboxes from street corners (public pressure has already addressed this…maybe), firing seasoned employees at all levels, curtailing overtime, and letting mail pile up – has an impact far beyond any misguided, wrongheaded attempt to suppress Democratic votes.

It impacts seniors like Barb and me, and veterans all around the country, from getting their meds in a timely manner. It slows social security checks. It slows down checks from employers (all of my checks come through the mail). It means credit card, rent, mortgage and other vital payments don’t get there on time. It means small businesses have difficulty getting their products to market. It means consumers (many house-bound now) who have to order various goods from home do not get them without a delay. It also means that goods arrive damaged (I have seen this happen personally – books, magazines, DVDs and Blu-rays coming mangled or crushed, over the past few weeks).

And, yes, in a pandemic, voters – particularly seniors like Barb and me – should have the ability to vote from home, by mail, with confidence that our votes will be counted.

What can you do?

E-mail your Senators. Your House representatives, too. It’s easy to use Google to get to them, even if you don’t know their names. Typing in “United States congress Muscatine, Iowa” got me right to Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Typing in “Iowa United States Senator” got me right to Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley (both apparently named at birth by the ghost of Charles Dickens). When you get to their web sites, you’ll find e-mail contact with them a breeze. Be polite. Don’t make bad parenthetical jokes about Charles Dickens. Let them know how your life, how you personally, are being impacted. Tell them you want the postmaster to rescind policies that he himself says have had “unanticipated consequences.” Tell them to properly fund the post office now. Let them think your vote might come their way if they show some responsibility on this issue.

* * *
Murderlized Cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Paperback:Amazon Purchase Link

I am delighted to report that Murderlized, a collection of short stories by my longtime collaborator Matthew V. Clemens and me, is available as a Kindle e-book from Wolfpack right now. The cover is fantastic, in my opinion. Matt digs it, too.

Wolfpack secured from me the rights to a number of my books, as you probably have noticed. The e-books are getting out there first, but you will be able to order physical books soon. The efficient wolves in the pack are working right now to get the four Eliot-Ness-in-Cleveland novels out in a two-volume (two-book-per) set of An Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus. A single volume collecting Mommy and Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo is coming, too.

And Murderlized will soon be available as real book, too, as will everything of mine that Wolfpack is bringing out. I hope to be able to do my legendary Book Giveaways for all of these titles, as that occurs.

Murderlized is a massive collection of almost all of the short stories Matt and I have written together in the twenty or so years of our collaboration. (The only missing tales are a couple of licensed stories – one involving Hellboy, another set in the Buffy universe – that were problematic to include.) These are dark tales that fall in the realm of mystery/suspense, and several are overtly detective-oriented, with a few delving into outright horror. One thing Matt and I have done over the years, on occasion, is write the equivalent of a TV pilot – putting an idea for a book series on its feet by way of a short story. An unofficial CSI spin-off set in a Midwestern city is one example, and two horror stories in the X-Files vein represent recent attempts that may yet turn into novels. The series that Matt and I are doing for Wolfpack – which we’ll be revealing a little later – began with two short stories we wrote years ago (one of which appears in Murderlized…but no further hints).

As for the significance of the title, the namesake story has Moe Howard of the Three Stooges solving the murder of Ted Healy, the comedian for whom the stooges first stooged. It’s one of our favorites.

Matt and I go back a long way. I met him in the mid-‘80s when he came to book signings and Crusin’ band gigs, but really got to know him around 1987 at the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference, where I taught every summer for over twenty-five years. I encountered many promising and talented writers at the conference, and at least half a dozen nationally published novelists came out of my classes. I don’t take credit for that – not full credit, anyway – but several romance novels were dedicated to me, and it wasn’t for my Errol Flynn-like charms.

Matt was a familiar, positive presence at that conference, becoming a kind of host. He took my class several times, winning the John Locher Memorial Award. He also formed a friendship with the late Karl Largent, highly successful techno-thriller author, and began doing research and more for Karl, including presenting writing classes with him. I bought a story from Matt in 1993 for an anthology, and was impressed enough with his work to suggest we collaborate on a short story. That story, “A Pebble for Papa,” is included in Murderlized.

I began getting very busy with movie and TV tie-in work all through the ‘90s, doing numerous film novels and a pair of NYPD Blue novels. But when I was offered the CSI series, shortly after it began, I called Matt and asked if he’d seen the series (I hadn’t). He had. He’d done some research for me in the past, so I brought him on in that capacity and – since he knew the show – we co-plotted the first book. Quickly he got to know a number of cops locally and was bringing in just the kind of inside forensics info I needed.

I wound up having him develop a story treatment, with the scenes involving evidence and science fleshed out. Quickly that evolved into a collaboration where we plotted the books together, with him writing a story treatment (really a short rough draft), and me the final book. We did that for eight novels, and two CSI: Miami novels as well. We hit the USA Today bestseller list numerous times. More licensing poured in. I did several CSI video games alone, but brought Matt in to help on CSI: Miami. Together we wrote three CSI graphic novels and one CSI: New York graphic novel. We did a bunch of CSI jigsaw puzzles, too (short stories with the puzzle image including clues needed to solve the mystery). For five years we were the sole licensing writers for CSI and its spin-offs. For another two years we did the bulk of that work.

From this came the three Dark Angel novels and three Criminal Minds novels. (I should note that I wrote all of the movie novels alone.) At that point we wanted to break away as a tie-in team and write our own joint projects, which led to the two J.C. Harrow serial killer thrillers, You Can’t Stop Me and No One Will Hear You, followed by the thriller What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order.

After my open heart surgery (among other medical fun and games), I stopped pursuing tie-in work other than Mike Hammer, and I of course already had a collaborator on those – the late Mickey Spillane. Matt and I wrote a few short stories during this period, but mostly I was working either alone (including the Krista Larson series) or with Barb (on the Antiques series).

Then Wolfpack came along, which seemed the perfect place for Collins and Clemens to get back to work together, and apart – I intend to do a Krista Larson novel for Wolfpack, and Matt and I will probably be doing a Reeder and Rogers for Wolfpack, as well. I say probably because we want to see where the country is politically after the coming election before diving back into those troubled, murky waters. Also, Matt is working on a solo western.

Wolfpack has been incredibly welcoming to me, and I am particularly grateful to have my short stories collected – the ones I’ve done with Matt in Murderlized, the ones I’ve done with Barb in Murder – His and Hers and the forthcoming Suspense – His and Hers, and the ones I wrote alone in Blue Christmas and the forthcoming Reincarnal.

But, of course, I need your support. If you buy e-books, you’ll find that Wolfpack will always have my material at a friendly price point (and often at sale prices). For those of you who – like me – prefer “physical media” (there must be a better way to use the English language), actual books of these titles are coming soon.

* * *

About once a week, my son Nate has been coming down the street, after getting his two kids to bed, to view a late-night movie with his old man. We tend toward Asian stuff, like classic Jackie Chan material and boxed sets of obscurities by great Japanese director Seijun Suzuki. Lately we’ve been delving into the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray box set of Bruce Lee films, most recently Enter the Dragon.

Toward the beginning of the film, blaxploitation star Jim Kelly is pointlessly harassed by two racist cops who pull their vehicle up, hop out, and violently assault him (although it doesn’t work out well for them). Later Bruce Lee is told about a creepy rich guy who is a modern-day white slaver who has an attractive female mistress who recruits under-age girls and gets them addicted to drugs, then takes them to a sex island where they can service corrupt big wigs.

Nate looked at me and I looked at him.

“Not much has changed,” I said.

“Not much has changed,” he said.

* * *

Over the weekend I completed the second of three novellas for Neotext that introduce a new female detective character (about whom much more in the not too distance future, as the Mystery Science Theater theme puts it). I still have to re-read the manuscript for typos and inconsistencies and general tweaking.

But the beat goes on.

* * *

And FYI:

THRILLING DETECTIVE & JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS
Proudly Present
DETECTIVES IN THE SHADOWS
A Hard-Boiled History

Detectives in the Shadows

A special digital event about crime fiction’s hard-boiled history, featuring acclaimed and bestselling authors and celebrating the awesome new book by Susanna Lee.

WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2020. 6 p.m. EDT.

WHERE: Join us via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87153268756

More info: https://thrillingdetective.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/the-thrilling-detective-zoom/

Join a riveting online discussion on the past and present of hard-boiled crime fiction with leading crime fiction authors. Featuring Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition), Ace Atkins (the Quinn Colson series), and Alex Segura (the Pete Fernandez series), the live event will celebrate the release of Susanna Lee’s new history of the genre, Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-Boiled History. The event will be hosted via Zoom by Kevin Burton Smith of the Thrilling Detective Web Site and Johns Hopkins University Press.

America has had a love affair with the hard-boiled detective since the 1920s, when Prohibition called into question who really stood on the right and wrong side of the law. And nowhere did this hero shine more than in crime fiction. In Detectives in the Shadows, literary and cultural critic Susanna Lee tracks the evolution of this character type—from Race Williams to Philip Marlowe and from Mike Hammer to Jessica Jones.

In addition to being accomplished authors, everyone on the panel has a vast knowledge of the genre’s history. Enjoy a fascinating moderated discussion about crime fiction’s most iconic gumshoes and participate in a live Q&A with the panelists.

* * *

Here’s a radio interview Brad Schwartz and I did for our new Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher.

And, for those of you sitting on the fence about whether or not to buy a copy, here’s a Crime Readers excerpt from that book.

Finally, here’s a fun career piece on the great Darren McGavin. The Mike Hammer material draws from (and credits) Jim Traylor and me for our book Mickey Spillane on Screen.

M.A.C.

Mommy Times Two!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020
Mommy and Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo

Mommy & Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo is available on Kindle right now for $2.99.

This is the first time the two Mommy novels have been collected, though it was always my hope to have them combined into one volume. I did not revise Mommy’s Day to exclude any redundant material, preferring to keep the books in their original form. But I believe they will work well as one long narrative.

As I mentioned here a few weeks ago, the novel version of Mommy begins earlier than the film and is a more complete rendition of the narrative, including a good deal more back story. When the late lamented Leisure Books approached me, back in the day, about doing a few horror titles for them, I immediately pitched Mommy (the second film hadn’t happened yet) and they were good enough to bite.

I haven’t hidden the fact that Mommy is an homage to The Bad Seed. The film’s casting of Patty McCormack, the original Rhoda Penmark, as the otherwise unnamed “Mrs. Sterling” (aka Mommy) tied that film to the famous original. But The Bad Seed was also a play by Maxwell Anderson (my favorite playwright) and a (in the beginning) novel by one of my favorite writers, William March. (The police detectives in the Mommy movies are named after Maxwell and March.) So the idea of writing Mommy’s story in novel form was something I had always hoped to do. (There was a “Mommy” short story that predated the film and the novel of the same name, written essentially as a story treatment to sell Patty McCormack on returning to a variation on her signature childhood character.)

Mommy is sometimes called an “unofficial sequel to The Bad Seed. There’s no question it’s a switch on the original, and in some ways an homage to it. And I was vague enough that if you want it to be a Bad Seed sequel, you can imagine it as such…but nothing I write in either the screenplay or novel confirms that.

And of course Mommy’s Day really has nothing to do with the novel, play or film versions of The Bad Seed. I made a point of the sequel not being a rehash of the first film/novel.

Right now you can’t order a print version of Mommy & Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo. But that will come from Wolfpack, and when it does, you’ll hear about it here.

Wolfpack is moving quickly on getting some of the titles I licensed to them onto Kindle, coming up with some great covers (I think this Mommy & Mommy’s Day cover is incredible). I am excited about getting a number of new short story collections out there, and Matt Clemens and I have already delivered the first in a new novel series that Wolfpack will be bringing out in October.

Much more about that here in the weeks and months ahead.

* * *

The HBO reboot of Perry Mason is something I’ve been tough on here and elsewhere. But, because its success or failure may impact various projects of mine (TV interest in Heller and Hammer specifically), I have kept an eye on it. If nothing else, they’re working my side of the street.

It has improved. The last three episodes have dropped much of the inappropriate back story and we are finally in the courtroom, where Matthew Rhys has abandoned his Sad Sack characterization for a Mason with spine and courtroom talent. Mostly getting the story into the courtroom has made the difference – these sequences fairly sing – and there’s a fun moment when Hamilton Burger stands up in the gallery and reminds Mason (who is drilling down on someone we know to be a murderer) that nobody ever confesses on the witness stand.

That kind of playing with the source material is legit, as opposed to the nonsense of checking off the contemporary boxes by having Della Street be a lesbian, Hamilton Burger be gay, and Paul Drake black. But the art direction and cinematography are superb – it looks like (literally) millions and millions have been poured into each episode.

My biggest gripe remains the constant f-wording. Now regular readers of Quarry and other series of mine may find that complaint amusing, but it’s strictly a matter of not being anachronistic. Ef words weren’t thrown around to that degree in 1931. And terms and phrases like “throw shade on,” “enablers,” “in a hot minute,” and (this from a farmer) “shell companies” are at odds with the beautifully recreated 1930s Los Angeles.

I still think the score is lousy, but I will give the producers credit for having the sense to finally acknowledge just what sandbox they’re playing in by doing a very moody version of the original Perry Mason theme over the end credits.

It’s been renewed.

* * *

My readers have been great to me over the years, often going above and beyond the call of duty. Posted for some time has been a Nate Heller chronology by the late Michael Kelley.

Bill Slankard created a Nate Heller chronology a while back, and he has been kind enough to update it so that Do No Harm is included.

I am going to share it with you here, but my son Nate will eventually post it here for easy referral.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ikBw0kJS1_YJVYm7kavBviStxyA0bL_M/view

I am very grateful to Bill. I think this will help Nate Heller’s readers…and I know it will help me! I am talking to a publisher right now about the next home for Nate Heller. Neither he nor I are finished just yet.

* * *

The Strand’s blog features an article I did to promote Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (by A. Brad Schwartz and me) on “10 Additional Surprising Facts About Eliot Ness.

Finally, here’s an excellent review of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher from the New York Journal of Books.

M.A.C.

Celebrating the Release of the Mad Butcher

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher
Hardcover: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link Google Play Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link iTunes Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link Google Play Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link
Audio MP3 CD: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
Audio CD: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link

Today is the publication date of the non-fiction tome Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and myself. I am celebrating this by giving away ten copies.

[Edit: All copies have been claimed. Thank you!]

The four Eliot Ness novels covering his Cleveland years – a quartet that eventually led to both the play/film Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life and the two non-fiction works, Scarface and the Untouchable and the new Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher – are available at Amazon from Wolfpack as An Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus for $2.99. Even with my meager math skills, I can tell that’s a penny under three bucks for four novels.

While we hope to offer new print versions of the novels (perhaps in two-novels-to-a-volume form), right now they are Kindle e-books only. So no giveaways are in the cards for now. But if you have already read the novels – any of them – and liked them, reviews of the Eliot Ness Omnibus would be much appreciated. Right now we have a paltry two reviews at Amazon and that doesn’t go very far at getting the Omnibus noticed. Even if you haven’t bought the books in this new form, don’t hesitate about reviewing them under the Omnibus listing.

Since I’ll be talking about Eliot Ness this week, I’ll remind you that Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is available on Blu-ray now at Amazon.

It’s also available on DVD for $9.99.

Reviews for Untouchable Life at Amazon are also appreciated. We only have two at the moment, and no one has specifically talked about the Blu-ray.

Also, the entire five-book Mallory series will be available for 99-cents each as Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals from now through the end of August. Included in the sale will be the thriller Regeneration by Barb and me (as “Barbara Allan”), also at 99-cents.

The Mallory titles are: No Cure for Death; The Baby Blue Rip-off; Kill Your Darlings; A Shroud for Aquarius; and Nice Weekend for a Murder.

* * *

Is it undignified to celebrate the career of a law enforcement icon who could not be bribed by offering a giveaway, and hawking various titles pertaining to him? I don’t really care, since I never claimed to be untouchable myself.

But Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (it has a subtitle but I decline to use it, because I dislike it intensely) marks the final stage of an interest in the real-life lawman that reaches back into my childhood. My interest in such things begins even before the first Untouchables of two installments on Desilu Playhouse aired on April 20, 1959. The Dick Tracy comic strip (by way of comic book reprints) had ignited that interest; but, in fairness, since Ness was the real-life basis of Chester Gould’s Tracy, the Untouchable was already in the mix.

There’s no question that Tracy and Ness got me interested in stories about detectives, but more significantly The Untouchables TV series (and the autobiographical book that spawned it) got me interested in the factual material that generated so much of the guns-and-gangster pulp fiction I adored. My novel True Detective (1983), after all, deals with the same crime – the assassination of Mayor Cermak – as a two-part Untouchables episode I saw as a kid. Granted, that two-parter only nodded at history, but that nod was enough to get my attention.

Ness became the Pat Chambers to Nathan Heller’s Mike Hammer in a number of the Heller novels. At the request of an editor at Bantam, I spun Ness off into the four novels that dealt with his Cleveland years (previously explored, somewhat inaccurately, in Oscar Fraley’s Untouchables follow-up, Four Against the Mob, but otherwise little written about).

Two things are, I think, significant about those novels, including that they represent the first time actual cases of this real-life American detective had been the basis of stories about him (excluding the initial two-part telefilm). More importantly, the writing of the books led to research by myself and George Hagenauer that uncovered new (or at least forgotten) information about Ness.

In addition to his occasional role in the Nathan Heller saga, Ness appeared in my graphic novel Road to Perdition (drawn by the great Richard Piers Rayner) and in my prose sequel, Road to Purgatory (available from Brash Books). The latter, to some degree, dealt with Ness’s little-known role in fighting venereal disease on military bases and elsewhere during World War II.

For unknown reasons, Ness was not depicted in the film version of Road to Perdition, but that nonetheless led to the play (and 2007 video production of) Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life. Initially, actor Michael Cornelison and I were planning to do a one-man show about Perdition antagonist John Looney. We intended to mount it in Rock Island (where Looney had been the local crime boss in the early Twentieth Century) and shoot the film in one of the two existing houses were Looney had lived.

Somewhere along the line, one of us – it may have been Mike – suggested that Ness would have greater appeal to a wider national audience. Also, over the years I had heard from editors and readers that I should do a non-fiction treatment of Ness, since I had done so much research into and about him. Much of what George and I uncovered about Ness was making its way into the accounts of non-fiction writers (fiction writers, too) without credit.

As an independent filmmaker, looking for productions that could be produced cheaply but well, I found a one-man show appealing. I also had the possibility of a grant from Humanities Iowa, for whom I’d made an appearance at a University of Iowa event with editorial cartoonist, Paul Conrad. We mounted the play at the Des Moines Playhouse, where we shot the film between performances. My eventual co-author Brad Schwartz saw the play and that sparked our collaboration.

I had intended An Untouchable Life to be my final statement on Ness. While it is written from Ness’s point of view, skewed to his own memories and perceptions of his life, and some dramatic liberties were taken (by both Ness and me!), the play represents the most accurate depiction of Ness on screen to date.

Eventually, however, Brad convinced me to join him in writing the definitive biography of Ness. We embarked on doing that only to discover another, apparently major Ness biography was about to come out. I had once considered doing a massive, Godfather-style novel on both Capone and Ness, cutting back and forth between their stories. Now I suggested we follow that approach, but in a strictly non-fiction fashion. That would set us apart from any Ness bio or Capone bio, for that matter.

Obviously that approach – particularly since we intended to do cradle-to-grave accounts of both men – turned out to be too big for one book. Now we have a two-volume work that I feel confident is the definite treatment of the life of Eliot Ness. The research George and I did for the novels has been greatly enhanced by further research, much of it by my co-author, who crisscrossed the country in his efforts, even talking to surviving friends and associates of the long-deceased lawman.

It must be said that I have written about several different Eliot Nesses. The Ness of the Heller books serves a specific function – he is Heller’s conscience, the Jiminy Cricket to his Pinocchio. The portrayal darkens in Angel in Black and Do No Harm. The Eliot Ness Omnibus of Cleveland novels is a basically accurate but somewhat romanticized version of Ness – far closer to reality than Robert Stack, but splitting the difference between them. The same is true of Ness in Road to Perdition and Road to Purgatory. Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is only slightly romanticized, and (in my view at least) portrays him as he saw himself.

The real Ness can be found in Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (and Scarface and the Untouchable). My co-author and I did not always agree on what – or who – the research added up to. We wrestled our way into a joint presentation that is probably more accurate than if either of us had been turned loose alone.

I can look at these two works and feel that, at last, I have done right by this complex real-life Dick Tracy. With the publication of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, with the recent publication of Do No Harm (which ends Ness’s story in the world of Nate Heller), and with the four Ness-in-Cleveland novels gathered into Omnibus form, I feel I’ve come full circle.

* * *

Here’s a great Wall Street Journal review. Here is the link, but it requires a subscription to read.

‘Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher’: An Untouchable Second Act

After helping to put Al Capone behind bars, lawman Eliot Ness came to Cleveland, where he did battle with a vicious killer.

Moviegoers of a certain age will remember Eliot Ness—the upright law-enforcement figure who battled corruption and organized crime from the 1920s to the ’40s—as portrayed by a tough-talking Kevin Costner in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables.” Television viewers from an even earlier era will recall Ness depicted by the stern-faced Robert Stack in the ABC series (1959-63) of the same name. But the real-life Ness, as revealed in Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz’s “Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher,” was less the hard-boiled hero of popular culture than a humane and forward-thinking lawman as interested in preventing crime as in punishing it.

The Chicago-born Ness (1903-57) came to prominence as a Prohibition agent in the Windy City, doing battle with Al Capone and other bootleggers as head of his own hand-picked squad of agents. His men were dubbed the “Untouchables” for their refusal to accept payoffs or gratuities. As a friend observed of the incorruptible lawman: “Honesty amounted to almost a fetish.”

The government put Capone behind bars in 1932 via the prosecution of a tax-evasion case, but the work of Ness and his men was central to establishing the extent of the mobster’s criminal activities. With Capone out of the picture, the Untouchables were disbanded, and Prohibition ended soon after. Ness, a nationally known figure (his physical and professional image inspired Chester Gould’s comic-strip police hero Dick Tracy), looked beyond Chicago for new opportunity. He found it in Cleveland, the site of his next significant successes—but also of the disturbing case that gives Messrs. Collins and Schwartz’s book its title.

Ness was named Cleveland’s director of public safety in 1935 and was put in charge of the city’s police and fire departments. He found the cops to be sloppy, uncooperative and demoralized. Once more he formed his own discrete unit of Untouchables to weed out incompetent and corrupt officers and hire smart new ones. “Intelligence,” he counseled, “must supplant brutality.”

But even Ness was stumped trying to apprehend the “torso murderer” responsible for a series of ghoulish killings, in which parts of dismembered and beheaded corpses were strewn about the woods and dumpsites of Kingsbury Run, one of the city’s poorest areas. “The mystery of the headless dead” drew national and international attention. In Germany, the Nazi press mocked America’s inability to apprehend the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.” With no witnesses and sometimes no way even to identify victims—and with advanced forensics techniques far in the future—police were stymied.

By 1938, the authors write, “the Butcher had become the subject of the largest manhunt in Cleveland’s history.” Thousands of citizens wrote and called the cops with worthless tips. “The investigators, after years of fruitless searching, grew desperate, pursuing ever more eccentric lines of inquiry.” At last a few tantalizing leads brought an alcoholic and mentally disturbed doctor named Francis Sweeney to the attention of the detectives.

Ness and his crew subjected the 44-year-old Sweeney—who had shown signs of psychosis and had been verbally and physically cruel—to judicially inadmissible polygraph examinations that convinced all present of his guilt. Still, despite an abundance of circumstantial indicators, Ness had no hard evidence. Complicating matters was the man’s being a cousin of a local congressman, a vocal Ness critic. Prosecution was not an option. Ness handled the matter privately, helping to arrange Sweeney’s commitment to a mental hospital. Sweeney, who was institutionalized for much of the rest of his life, sent a series of bizarre and taunting postcards to Ness through the mid-1950s.

Though Ness was sure that the killer had been caught and dealt with, he couldn’t officially close the case and so swore himself and his men to secrecy. The public was left with the impression that the culprit might still be at large. The case of the Mad Butcher, with its unsatisfying non-finale, fits a bit awkwardly into Messrs. Collins and Schwartz’s wider narrative. In the latter stages of their book, the authors ably follow Ness through an unsuccessful foray into city politics and a disappointing business career. But given this work’s title and its subtitle—“Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology”—one sometimes gets the feeling of two different books uneasily hitched.

That said, the authors have done Ness justice. It’s discouraging to learn that a man who refused a fortune in bribes died $9,000 in debt. Shortly before his fatal heart attack at the age of 54, he finished work on the memoir that would revive and romanticize his reputation and bring his third wife and their adopted son a modicum of income.

Messrs. Collins and Schwartz, in this, their second deeply researched book about Ness, don’t gloss over their subject’s failings and blind spots, but they do show that he tried harder than many to leave the world a better place. His “signature achievements in Cleveland—fighting juvenile delinquency, reorganizing the police department, promoting traffic safety—stemmed from a deep well of humanity and compassion,” they write. Now more than ever, the authors conclude, Ness’s name “should remind us of the rigorous standards he brought to law enforcement—professionalism, competence, honor, and decency—and a determination to make everyone safer by addressing the systemic root causes of crime.”

Review by Tom Nolan.

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My favorite Jeopardy! question popped up again on a rerun this week:

MAC on Jeopardy!

Here’s a great interview with my buddy Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime. He mentions me several times, bless him.

Check out this wonderful review of The First Quarry.

M.A.C.

A Typical Day in the Neighborhood

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

In previous updates, I’ve mentioned that I am currently working with two publishers who are primarily e-book-oriented. One is Wolfpack, where I’ve just sent in my first original novel (co-written with my longtime collaborator Matt Clemens). I am not ready to reveal the title or the genre as yet, but I will say we’ve committed to at least three entries in this new series, and that I’m very pleased and excited with/by this first entry.

Wolfpack ad for Eliot Ness Omnibus

Wolfpack continues to be incredibly supportive. Take a gander at this ad that ran in Publisher’s Weekly for their first publication of my work – The Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus, which collects the four Ness-in-Cleveland novels. For those of you with Kindles, you can get this omnibus – all four novels – for $2.99 (free for Prime Unlimited members).

Those of who you have already read these and own them in some other form are encouraged to write reviews of the omnibus, which as of now has only a single, lonely review. And Do No Harm, Girl Can’t Help It, Masquerade for Murder, Antiques Fire Sale and Hot Lead, Cold Justice have all kind of stalled out on the review front, so if you haven’t got around to posting yours, doing so would be appreciated.

The other e-book project I’m working on is for a new company that got a splashy welcome fromThe Hollywood Reporter (among others).

I am not ready to reveal what the Neotext project is, other than to say it’s a new detective series with a female lead and that I’m doing three novellas (30,000 words each) about the character. Okay, here’s a few more tidbits – it’s set during World War II, and it will be illustrated by a terrific Hard Case Crime artist, providing not just a cover but one painting per each chapter (ten per novella).

Initially these novellas will be published as e-books, one at a time, with an eye on later collecting them in physical book form. But so far Neotext itself is strictly an e-book publisher.

I am starting work this week on the second novella for Neotext. And Matt and I are meeting, via Zoom, to plot the second novel for Wolfpack. Both publishers have me creating new series, although Wolfpack is also publishing back list (including short story collections) and are up for me continuing existing series…in fact, have signed me to continue both Krista Larson and Reeder & Rogers.

This brings me to the non-promotional (at least not overtly so) portion of this update.

A question I am frequently asked is what my work schedule is – “What’s your typical day?”

In a way, I don’t have a typical day. Each morning does begin about the same, with the usual rising groggily, throwing down a handful of pills, scarfing down a mini-donut or two, guzzling some sparkling juice, and spending half an hour or so in my recliner watching Morning Joe (I’m a liberal – get over it).

Barb, in her neighboring recliner, always says, “Tell me about your day in the greatest of detail.” And I share my best-laid plans before the day proceeds to do whatever the hell it feels like.

When I am bunkered in writing a novel, which is most of the time, I attempt to write in the morning with lunch arriving no earlier than 11 a.m. and no later than noon. We used to go out for it, but now we rustle up our own (yes, I help in the kitchen, though my efforts are somewhat pathetic). When lunch happens depends on how my writing is going and, of course, how Barb’s writing is going. Barb has to get her writing done in the morning, as she is providing Day Care for our two grandkids a few houses up the street from one p.m. till shortly after five. I write all afternoon.

But fulltime freelance writing is a small business and both of us have to deal with business stuff as well as feed our muses – Barb in particular handles the financial side of things. But I have editors and agents and collaborators to deal with, and when galley proofs arrive I generally have to set my work schedule aside and deal with that aspect of things.

Between novels I do my best to attend to smaller projects, like short stories and the intros to the IDW Dick Tracy collections. I also always clean my office, which deteriorates to disaster-level proportions as a novel progresses – scattered research volumes, wadded-up paper on the floor, discarded drafts of pages and even chapters, and so on.

Also intruding on the actual writing are the requests for interviews, which I mostly try to handle via e-mail, but which sometimes require the phone or Skype or Zoom. These updates are written either Sunday evening, late, or first thing Monday. The longer ones sometime drain my energy to the point that no other significant writing gets done that day.

My pattern has changed radically over the years. As some of you may recall, for much of my professional life I was a night person who did most of his writing starting around midnight, going to bed at eight or nine a.m. and sleeping till noon. I had enormous energy as a younger person, needing little sleep; most nights I wrote a finished chapter, including long ones like those in a Nate Heller novel. But when we did the Mommy movies, and I had to rise at six a.m. or so – the director has to be first on the set and last to leave – my inner clock got changed. Ever since, I’ve rarely risen any later than eight a.m. or so. Now, as an old man (goddamnit!), I sometimes wake as early as six a.m.

And I hate it.

On such mornings, I start writing early, even before Barb gets up. So there are factors that come in, as you may have already noticed, that mean there is no really typical day.

On the other hand, sheltering in place for the corona virus has made one day seem much like another. Oddly, for Barb and me, time is passing more quickly, which seems like the opposite of what you’d expect.

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The Quarry series was selected by Crime Reads as one of ten most binge-worthy series of the 1970s, which is a nice honor. In the comments, I corrected the assumption that the Memphis setting of the TV series is the same as the books.

Here is the opening sentence of a patronizing review of the Johnny Dynamite collection: “The opening introduction by writer Max Allan Collins is more a biographical essay about writer Frank Morrison Spillane (alias Micky Spillane) and writer/artist Pete Morisi. Not to mention it is excessively long. (Then again the title of this collection is also excessively long.) Though Collins’s introduction should please those wanting more knowledge about the subjects’ lives and/or the early comic book industry. While the introduction by artist Terry Beatty is of reasonable length it has one or two sentences that are a little clunky.”

I have a few thoughts to share. First, what other kind of introduction is there but an “opening” one? Second, if you’re going to be dismissive about Mickey Spillane’s role in this collection, at least spell his name right (not “Micky”). If you’re going to accuse my co-editor of writing a “clunky” sentence, perhaps you should learn to write in complete sentences yourself. Do you wonder why reviews like this irritate me?

On the other hand, here is Ed Catto’s terrific (and well-written) review of that same book, interspersed with quotes from an interview I gave Ed.

Here’s a brief, positive review of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher – the non-fiction follow-up to Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and myself that will be published…next week!

Finally, the “lost gem” that is my single Batman comic strip continuity (with the late great Marshal Rogers) is discussed here.

M.A.C.