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

Charles Dickens, Anthony Newley and Real Books

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020
Dark City (Wolfpack Edition)

The physical editions of my books at Wolfpack have started to kick in! You can get Murder – His & Hers right now. And all four Ness novels are individually available – [Amazon links] The Dark City, Butcher’s Dozen, Bullet Proof, and Murder by the Numbers. They share the same cover as the Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus, but with variant colors.

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Barb and I – thanks to the efforts of our son Nate – were able to watch Bill and Ted Face the Music on its opening night, streaming it. We love Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and also like the sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; I would put this long awaited third installment on at least a par with the sequel.

Like its predecessors, it’s a very smart movie about a couple of lovable dudes who are perhaps not as dumb as they appear, rather are just of their time and generation. As Nate commented, in the midst of this Covid/Trump reality, for one sweet funny evening, the world felt normal again. Like nothing had changed.

But we shouldn’t get too cocky about the past. Of late, Barb and I have been watching a lot of film and TV adaptations of Charles Dickens novels, escaping from 2020 into the 1800s. That escape, though, has an uncomfortable number of parallels – homeless people (check), government-abused kids (check), an unfair court system (check), corrupt politicians (check), an uncaring wealthy class (check), pollution (check), disease (check)…and on and on.

Still, it’s another time and place and kind of a relief to be anywhere but here. So I’ll recommend a few of the really worthwhile Dickens adaptations. All of these are available on DVD and some on Blu-ray, with many available for streaming.

If you have the time, nothing beats the eight-hour-plus stage version (on video) of Nicholas Nickleby (1982), the Hamilton of its day. Standouts in a huge cast are Roger Rees in the title role and definitive Dickens actor Alun Armstrong as (among other characters) the ignorant, sadistic schoolmaster Squeers.

David Lean was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his two Dickens adaptations are as good as movie versions get: Great Expectations (1946) with John Mills and Alec Guinness; and Oliver Twist (1948) with Robert Newton and Anthony Newley (not the main actors but favorites of mine). Add to that list, of course, Scrooge (1951) with Alistair Sim (which I’ve lauded here many times).

Andrew Davies has scripted two relatively recent BBC mini-series that are the gold standard of Dickens TV adaptations: Bleak House (2005) with Gillian Anderson and
Charles Dance; and Little Dorrit (2008) with Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012), scripted by Gwyneth Hughes, is first-rate, too, especially Drood actor Matthew Rhys, who is now (of course) Perry Mason.

As good as David Lean is, the BBC’s early ‘80s long-form renditions (often a dozen half-hour episodes, which suggest the serialized format of the original Dickens works) are in some ways superior, as they tend to adapt each novel in its near entirety. When certain colorful incidental characters in Dickens are, understandably, omitted from films two hours or less in length, much of the richness and humor of the original novels is lost.

Also, aspects of Dickens are distorted in the shorter form of films and TV movies. Yes, there are wild coincidences, but when woven throughout a very long narrative, filled with characters, those coincidences seem a part of the fabric of life and not convenient plot devices. And without the deeper characterizations, the principal characters can seem to be chess pieces Dickens is moving, a feeling one doesn’t get from the books.

For example, not just including David Lean’s version, Great Expectations has been filmed a number of times quite effectively. The BBC mini-series with Gillian Anderson and David Suchet is excellent. But the far less lavish 1981 BBC mini-series, with its six-hour length, tells the entire story of the novel, with much deeper characterizations than any other adaptation, especially for Pip (Gerry Sundquist) and his convict friend (Stratford Johns. The definitive Miss Marple, Joan Hickson, turns outalso to be the definitive Miss Havisham, bringing remarkable depth to a character who can be a cartoon.

Less celebrated Dickens novels come to worthwhile life, too, in the longer-form ‘80s and ‘90s BBC adaptations – Domby and Son (1983), another Andrew Davies script; Martin Chuzzlewit (1994) with Paul Scofield and Tom Wilkinson; David Copperfield (1999) with Bob Hoskins and Maggie Smith; and Our Mutual Friend (1998) with Steven Mackintosh and Keeley Hawes.

I mentioned actor Alun Armstrong above. Of the films and TV versions I’ve mentioned here, he is in about half. He has played villains, lovable sorts, and even made a great Inspector Bucket. We thought he did a great job in Martin Chuzzlewit, too, until we realized that was Pete Postlethwaite.

Look, there are plenty of good and at least watchable Dickens adaptations. But these are worth your time. Are there any that aren’t?

Hard Times (1994) with Alan Bates and Richard E. Grant is a hard go. Bates is a fine actor but he hams it up here, in a grotesquely arty, misjudged take on Dickens.

The Old Curiosity Shop (1979) is, in my probably worthless opinion, as bad as Dickens ever got; he seems to be spoofing himself without his readers realizing it, like the Turtles doing a parody of themselves with “Elinore” (“I really think you’re groovy, let’s go out to a movie”) and nobody getting it. But the novel deserved better than the 1979 BBC mini-series with its cringingly over-the-top Trevor Peacock’s Quilp at centerstage.

Of course, the ridiculously villainous Quilp is part of why I think Dickens is having a laugh at himself and his audience (right down to, SPOILER ALERT, killing Little Nell). Much better, though little seen (particularly in its longer, richer version), is Anthony Newley sending Quilp and himself up in the 1975 musical variously known as Mr. Quilp and The Old Curiosity Shop. The assumption that audiences who enjoyed Carol Reed’s recent Oliver! would adore Dickens’ dreary self-parody was probably the first mistake; still, this version is pretty good.

Newley, who as a child star made his first major claim to fame playing the Artful Dodger for David Lean, was coming full circle with his outrageously over-the-top Quilp, throwing in for good measure a solid score he wrote himself (not his best, as that was invariably reserved for his collaborations with Leslie Briccuse). Newley, who died at 67, enjoyed a final triumph starring in the Briccuse musical Scrooge on the West End and touring the UK provinces.

I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned Newley here before. He is on my very short list of “ideels” (as Li’l Abner described Fearless Fosdick). It’s a list including people like Bobby Darin, Mickey Spillane, Audie Murphy and Jack Webb. My ideels, each and every one it would seem, somehow demand defending – Darin was an obnoxious pretender, Spillane ruined mystery fiction, Murphy couldn’t act, Jack Webb was a joke. I have defended all of them and will continue to do so till my dying day.

As for Newley…

He is a genuinely quirky and willfully mannered performer, his distinctive vocal style the kind of thing that kept impressionists in business in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He is also the primary influence on David Bowie as a singer and performer, something Bowie often admitted.

With Briccuse, Newley wrote two great Broadway scores, each filled with standards: Stop the World I Want to Get Off and Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. With Briccuse and John Barry, he wrote the theme for Goldfinger. He and Briccuse wrote the music for Willy Wonka – “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” and even the ditty sung by the Oompah Loompahs.

While to my knowledge it’s never been revived (Stop the World has been a number of times), Roar of the Greasepaint has not. Among the songs are “Who Can I Turn To,” “On a Wonderful Day Like Today,” “The Joker,” and the remarkably resilient “Feeling Good.”

In 1965 in New York, on summer vacation with my parents, I saw Roar of the Greasepaint at the Shubert Theater. I have seen many musical plays, including any number on Broadway and many more in Chicago, and countless concerts by stars of both the Vegas variety and the rock persuasion.

I’ve never seen anything better than Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. Nothing as compelling or as funny or as mesmerizing. Newley’s was the single best performance I’ve ever seen. He was not unsupported: Captain Hook himself, Cyril Ritchard, was a regal “Sir” to Newley’s cockney Cocky – both were tramps, bums, with more than a hint of circus clown. Amid urchins out of Oliver!, with other contestants a beautiful woman and a black man, they played the Game of Life, with Sir making up and changing and rearranging the rules as they went.

I am going to share with you some of what I saw that night. Newley, right around the time I saw him performing at the Shubert, appeared on Ed Sullivan. In costume and in character, he delivered an amazing “Who Can I Turn To,” a song brilliantly conceived by its authors to work as an unrequited love song and, in the show’s context, as being addressed by Cocky to the God who has abandoned him. Have a look.

We’ll talk about his film Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? another time.

* * *

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher is deemed one of six true crime books you should be reading right now.

Finally, you kind of have to dig for it, but a discussion of one of my Batman stories can be found in this essay about Batman vs. Batman.

M.A.C.

Murder – His and Hers, Venturing Out & Tracy One Last Time

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020
Murder - His & Hers
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

On September 2, Wolfpack’s new Kindle edition of Murder – His and Hers will be available at Amazon.

This collection was previously only an expensive hardcover by Five Star. This new edition will be followed soon by Too Many Tomcats, and before too very long a companion volume, Suspense – His and Hers.

These books collect short stories that Barb and I have written together as well as some written by us individually. Too Many Tomcats, which I edited, is mostly Barb’s solo stories, but all of these will be marketed as by “Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins.” Wolfpack wants to focus the books as part of their M.A.C. publishing program, so don’t think it’s my ego run (further) amok.

I am hoping that Wolfpack will eventually be publishing our the two collaborative novels, Regeneration and Bombshell, that preceded the long-running Antiques series of mysteries. Those, our first two novels together, were originally published under both our names and later, by Thomas & Mercer, as by “Barbara Allan.” We’re reverting to a joint byline for marketing purposes. All of these will soon be available in print editions (stay tuned).

We also have a collaborative short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, though we haven’t been told in what issue yet – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” – set at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con, which seems like a very long time ago and a different world now. (I also sold a collaborative Spillane/Collins story to EQMM – “Killer’s Alley,” which will be the first Mike Hammer story ever published in those pages; naturally, it will be in their Black Mask section. Barb and I are both thrilled to be contributers to EQMM.)

My bride and I have been writing together for a long time. The process is similar to the one Matt Clemens and I use, although I don’t sleep with Matt, a situation he and I are both fine with. One difference is that I tend to come up with the initial idea when writing with Matt. Usually Barb comes up with the initial idea. Then she and I plot the story together, she writes the rough draft, and I do the second draft. It’s the same for both short stories and novels.

Tomorrow (Monday, as I write this) I will begin work on the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery novel – Antiques Carry On. Barb has completed her draft and I will start in, revising and expanding (she has given me 250 double-spaced pages and I will write 300 to 350 double-spaced pages). The only unusual factor this time is that I’ve already done my draft (from hers) of the first three chapters. That was necessary because we moved to a new publisher and needed to provide a substantial finished sample of the book to that publisher in the effort to land a contract.

We fully intend to keep going with the series, but we are at a funny (odd) juncture, which I trust is one many mystery writers with long-running series are experiencing. In plotting the next book, do we set it pre-pandemic or post-pandemic, or even during pandemic? The problem with post-pandemic, of course, is that none of us know what that will look like.

For seniors like us – and I have underlying health issues that magnify the situation – even a post-pandemic world will be tricky. Maybe it’s already occurred to you that you may have eaten at your last buffet. Or that how (or even if) you go out to the movies will be radically different.

Today, suffering from almost six months of cabin fever, we ventured tentatively out. Prior to Covid-19 we almost always took a day off every week that included going to either the nearby Quad Cities or Iowa City/Cedar Rapids for shopping, dining and sometimes a movie. We also have a nice movie theater here in Muscatine, and often took in films there – you may remember how often I did little movie reviews here back in the Good Old Days.

Since then, trips out for groceries and meds have been about it. I’ve cancelled doctor’s appointments and – although going to the local hospital for blood work – have had my consultations over the phone. We have been essentially sheltering in place since fairly early March.

But today we drove to the Quad Cities. We went through the drive-through at Portillo’s and got delicious food, which we ate in the car. We went briefly into the Davenport Books-a-Million, where masks are required and where the filled parking lot places were fairly sparse, and shopped a little and used the restroom (carefully) and drove home. An outing. An honest-to-God outing. On the way home we took the river road, which is scenic as hell and includes the quarry that Quarry was named after. We were listening to the audiobook of Quarry’s Ex read by the fabulous Stefan Rudnicki, so it was fitting.

In terms of what we used to do, it was kind of pitiful. After six months of sheltering, it was fabulous.

I don’t feel like we took any risks worse than our weekly grocery run. I know a lot of seniors get their groceries delivered, or pull up outside the supermarket for curbside service. But I rather pathetically look forward to a weekly grocery run – it’s early morning (we get up at six a.m. to make it there by seven) and it’s worth it, because the music is oldies, not country western, which you may have noticed I despise. The joy of hearing Bobby Rydell singing “Wild One” or Bobby Darin doing “Things” while I look for mini-cans of Coke Zero is difficult for me to articulate.

Meds we get going through a drive-up.

Also, I have a new appreciation for McDonald’s and Burger King.

So. What world will Barb and I write about when we do the next book about Brandy and Vivian Borne, if we’re lucky enough to get to keep going (as writers and as living breathing human beings)? How much zany laughter does a pandemic produce, anyway? I am planning to write a new Krista and Keith Larson novel – should I set it during the pandemic? Would that be interesting? Or will this be a period that no one will want to re-live? Yes, we look at movies made during the Depression, but mostly they are full of guys in tuxes and gals in ballgowns, or maybe Toby Wing wearing nothing but a great big dime.

And why is anybody still on the planet who would make a Toby Wing reference?

And yet the beat goes on.

* * *

This past week found me finishing up the second novella in the new series I’m doing for Neotext – more about that soon – and cleaning my office and dealing with copy-edited manuscripts and clearing my desk of smaller projects before I dive into Antiques Carry On.

One of those projects is writing the introduction to the 29th volume of The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for IDW. I have written introductions to the previous 28 volumes, too.

And now, with Intro 29, I will have written about the entire run of Chester Gould’s Tracy. This volume ends immediately before my fifteen-year tenure begins. Writing about the last, less than stellar year and a half or so of Chet’s work – though that work definitely has its rewards – was a bittersweet experience. My intro gets personal, as during this period my pal Matt Masterson and I were, every six months or so, getting together with Chet at his Tribune Tower office and dining at the prestigious Tavern Club for lunch. On the first such visit, I met my future collaborator, Rick Fletcher. At the time I had no idea that I would be the second writer on this great, important comic strip.

So writing this final intro was indeed a bittersweet thing. Like this damn pandemic, it was gave me a real sense of my mortality – although once you’ve had open heart surgery, your mortality’s on your mind quite a bit, actually. Like – am I dying, or is that just gas? When I first met Chester Gould, he was 72. My age now.

I hope you Tracy fans are taking the time to read my little introductory essays, which I think are pretty good. And fans of mine who haven’t been collecting these Tracy volumes ought to start – but not with the last one. Try something from the ‘40s or early ‘50s and see just how good Chester Gould was at his peak.

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Here’s a nice review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother. Scroll down for it.

And here’s a Quarry’s Choice review. Again, scroll down for it. This may be my favorite Quarry novel – definitely my favorite “list” book.

M.A.C.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.