M.A.C. Makes a “Wolf” Pact, and It’s Dynamite!

July 7th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins
An Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

I am happy to announce that I have signed with Wolfpack Publishing to bring out some old titles – and, soon, brand-new ones. First up is the Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus, which includes all four Eliot Ness in Cleveland novels, and is priced at $2.99.

This is an e-book, available only on Kindle (i.e., at Amazon). There’s a good possibility the novels will be available individually as “real” books, but the omnibus is strictly an e-book collection.

Having the four Ness novels, covering his time as Cleveland’s young, hardhitting Safety Director, is particularly satisfying, with the non-fiction account, Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher coming in August from Morrow – the follow-up by A. Brad Schwartz and myself to Scarface and the Untouchable.

Together those two non-fiction titles essentially comprise a full-length biography of Eliot Ness. That massive project began with the research for the four novels collected in the Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus, which were the first time the Cleveland years had been looked at in depth, and the first time crime/mystery novels about actual cases of America’s most famous real-life detective had ever been written. Butcher’s Dozen was the first book-length treatment of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run serial killer case, and has been much imitated and plundered by novelists, graphic novelists and even non-fiction accounts.

The research George Hagenauer and I did for those four novels was – I say with no modesty at all – groundbreaking, and formed the basis of the eventual in depth research for the non-fiction Butcher book, with Brad Schwartz building mightily on that initial research. (My play and video feature, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life, also pathed the way for these two non-fiction opuses.)

Wolfpack Publishing is one of the fastest-growing and most successful new publishers, as detailed in a glowing Publisher’s Weekly piece that you should check out.

My longtime friend Paul Bishop, a terrific writer (and terrific guy), has encouraged my bringing my work to Wolfpack, where he is acquisitions editor, with the visionary Mike Bray the publisher. Wolfpack is a “hybrid” house, which means – unlike traditional publishers – they place primary importance on e-books and secondary importance on real books, which are Print-on-Demand.

It should be said that Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, where the Heller and other titles of my backlist have been very successful (as have been half a dozen original novels, including the current Girl Can’t Help It) are similarly a hybrid publisher. So I’ve had a positive experience with this publishing paradigm before.

The Corona Virus pandemic has seen a real jump in sales of e-books while at the same time traditional publishers are at least somewhat frozen in place. Several of my current publishers are either not buying anything or are curtailing the amount of what they contract to publish. For me, already prolific, I found myself facing sheltering in place with a dwindling number of projects to keep me busy.

As it happens, two opportunities came along in the e-book world, one of them Wolfpack, that I quickly embraced. (The other one I will discuss at a later time, but it’s also exciting.)

In addition to the four Ness novels, I have licensed the two Mommy novels to Wolfpack, and Shoot the Moon (the novel in the now out-of-print collection, Early Crimes) as well. Even more exciting, at least to me, are half a dozen short story collections we will be doing for Wolfpack. These include Barb’s Too Many Tomcats, our joint collection Murder – His and Hers, and my Blue Christmas collection of holiday-themed mystery and crime stories.

Also, three new collections are included in the Wolfpack pack: Suspense – His and Hers from Barbara and Max Allan Collins; Murderlized, an enormous gathering of almost every short story Matt Clemens and I have done together; and Reincarnal, bringing together virtually all of my horror short stories (and two radio scripts from Dreadtime Stories).

I will also be doing some original novels for Wolfpack (I hinted at this in recent Updates). Matt Clemens and I have a new series, the first entry in which I have just completed. Matt and I may also be doing a fourth Reeder and Rogers political thriller, and I intend to do a third Krista Larson mystery.

For now I will withhold the nature of the new series, and will only say I’m excited about it – that it quenches a thirst for a specific kind of thriller that I have always wanted to write but never got around to. You will not have to wait long to read it. Wolfpack turns books around much more quickly than traditional publishers – you will see the first novel in the new series before the end of the year…perhaps well before the end of the year.

If this relationship works, I will be in a position to do projects in a vein not possible with any traditional publisher. Those publishers only want new series or standalones from an author like me. Nothing from a “busted” series. (An exception is Hard Case Crime, where innovative editor Charles Ardai encouraged me to start Quarry up again, and my hitman has of course had a more healthy life the second time around than the first.)

But at Wolfpack, I can do a Jack and Maggie Starr or a Mallory or a “disaster” or a Perdition prequel or a Black Hats sequel or even – should the current publishers stop doing them – new Spillane titles. Wolfpack is interested in whatever I might want to do. This feels incredibly liberating.

Of course, we have to see how I do for them, and how they do for me. And you have to be willing to settle for trade paperbacks in series (like Nate Heller, should he wind up there) where a collector would prefer a hardcover.

All of the books I mention above, the new novel, the old novels, and the short story collections (new and old) will be available as trade paperbacks – the kind of thing Luddites like us like to see lined up on a book shelf.

I am not unaware of the irony that the virus that has required Barb and me to be hermits has led to this e-book surge, giving me an opportunity to try something new in the world of publishing. When I signed much of my backlist over to Amazon some years ago, I was warned not to do so…and yet it proved to be a move that has kept me and my world of fiction alive and flourishing.

And let me applaud another hybrid publisher, Brash Books, who have brought out the three Perdition prose novels, and the revised, properly bylined Black Hats and USS Powderkeg (aka Red Sky at Morning). The Brash boys made a major dream of mine come true by working hard to get the rights to publish my complete, full-length prose version of Road to Perdition.

Bridling against conventional wisdom has always worked out well for me. Let’s see if I’m right again.

* * *
Johnny Dynamite: Explosive Pre-Code Crime Comics—The Complete Adventures of Pete Morisi’s Wild Man of Chicagos
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

Diehard fans of my comics work may recall that when artist Terry Beatty and I created Wild Dog for editor Mike Gold at DC in 1987, we continued with the monthly Ms. Tree, meaning we had to limit the number of pages for that latter title, to be able to meet double deadlines. Out of the blue we had the opportunity to buy the rights to the 1950s Johnny Dynamite character and all the existing stories that had been done about him. We were approached because both Terry and I had been vocal about our love for the feature, and in particular for its Mike Hammer pastiche nature and the great Pete Morisi’s artwork.

So we began reprinting, in black-and-white, the Morisi stories in the back of the Ms. Tree comic book, so that Terry and I would have fewer pages of that character to produce concurrently with Wild Dog.

Now, thanks to the redoubtable Craig Yoe, we’ve had the opportunity to collect the complete Morisi Johnny Dynamite stories in a beautiful full-color volume. Both Terry and I have provided introductions. Mine is very long and detailed, explaining to modern comics readers just how important Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer were (as well as Mickey’s background in comics), as Johnny Dynamite is a direct imitation – and among the best of countless imitators in novels, television, movies and comics.

I can’t say enough about how physically beautiful this book is. Yoe and his team have outdone themselves. It’s a hardcover worthy of any book shelf of either hardboiled fiction and/or comic book reprints.

It’s getting great write-ups, though one reviewer complained about my intro being “excessively long.” I plead guilty, but will say that I only wrote the word length requested of me by Craig Yoe himself. And I doubt anyone who follows my work will have a similar complaint.

You can read about the new Johnny Dynamite collection here,

and here,

and here,

as well as here.

M.A.C.

A 99-Cent Sale, A Podcast, A Ness Book Review, and More

June 30th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher cover
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 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

The Thomas & Mercer has eight of my titles as part of its Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals starting 7/1/2020 and running through 7/31/2020. These e-books are only 99 cents USD during the promotion period:

The Lusitania Murders
The Pearl Harbor Murders
The Titanic Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
The London Blitz Murders
The War of the Worlds Murder
Midnight Haul
What Doesn’t Kill Her

My pal, writer Paul Bishop – a remarkable guy and the Renaissance man some people claim me to be – has a great podcast called Six-Gun Justice. As an adjunct, he interviews writers, and he did one with me. For the few of you who may not be sick of hearing my voice yet, here’s your chance to do so. Seriously, Paul did a great job with his questions and his editing. My interview and several others can be accessed here. [Note: The M.A.C. Interview podcast is dated 6/17/2020.]

Also, here is a great review of the soon-to-be-published Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, from Library Journal:

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Collins and Schwartz (Scarface and the Untouchable) reunite to continue the story of law enforcement agent Eliot Ness, known for leading the Untouchables, the group famous for bringing down Al Capone. Ness moved on to serve as Cleveland’s public safety director during a tumultuous time in the city’s history following the Great Depression. He confronted various crime and political challenges, which are detailed within the book. The story is anchored by Ness’s efforts to identify the Mad Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized Cleveland and whose actions followed Ness until the end of his career. The book is thoroughly researched and well paced, a feat considering the breadth of Ness’s work.

VERDICT: A successful blend of history and suspense, this volume will appeal to readers interested in true crime and law enforcement.
Reviewed by Kate Bellody

Because I am wrapping up a novel that I haven’t told you about, because it is frankly under wraps until the publisher gives me the go-ahead to talk about it in public, the update this week is chiefly an article about me that ran a few days ago (as I write this).

I will be back sharing more of my thoughts than I should next week.

This is probably the most in-depth article ever written about me and my work. It was put together from various sources and interviews with me by Sean Leary, a successful (and terrific) writer of regional bestsellers in the Quad Cities. This appeared over the weekend at QuadCities.com as part of their regular Saturday in the Arts feature.

A few inaccuracies are included, due to my sloppiness being interviewed, and I am correcting those parenthetically in boldface. [From Nate: The article on QuadCities.com includes a nice selection of pictures, so I recommend checking out the article there as well.]

Scribe Award-Nominated Max Collins Still Having A Killer Time As A Best-Selling Author

Max Allan Collins’ success is no mystery.

The man in black has proven to be a maestro at making people’s lives full of stress, misery and murder — and people love him for it.

It helps that the people are fictional, characters in the canon of the Muscatine-based author, who, this month, was nominated for a Scribe Award for his 2019 novel, Murder, My Love. The awards winners will be announced July 15.

It’s only the latest honor for the longtime penman, who saw his novel Road To Perdition turned into an Oscar-nominated film, his novel series Quarry made into a series on Cinemax, his band Crusin enter the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018, and who was given the 2017 Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a fictional murderer, a maestro of mystery novels, for over four decades.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Collins certainly fits both categories.

“The Mystery Writers of America is the primary professional group of mystery and suspense writers, and getting its lifetime achievement award, the Grand Master ‘Edgar,’ is about as good as it gets,” Collins said. “The list of Grand Masters includes many of my personal favorites, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Erle Stanley Gardner, among many others. It’s a thrill to be in their presence. The award comes at a time when I’ve battled my way back from some nasty health issues, so it feels like really, really, good medicine. And, yes, it’s something I’ve dreamed of receiving, though didn’t know if I ever would.”

But how does it feel to be at that point in his career when he’s received a lifetime achievement award?

“It’s a mixed bag,” Collins said. “I’ve received several others, notably the Eye from the Private Eye Writers of America, and it’s nice to see your body of work recognized, but sobering knowing that nobody gets this kind of honor until their third act.”

His first two acts have been pretty impressive, and his debut was at a young age.

“I decided to be a writer in junior high and began submitting novels soon after,” Collins said. “I went to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and sold two novels while I was there, Bait Money and Blood Money. (Blood Money came later – No Cure for Death was the other book I sold while at the Workshop.) I never looked back. I taught briefly, part-time, at Muscatine Community College, but I’ve never had a fulltime job except freelance writing. That was made possible in part because I landed the Dick Tracy strip, which gave me a nice income for fifteen years, by which time my novel-writing career was established. I stayed afloat by not being afraid to try different kinds of storytelling. I’ve done comic books, comic strips, novels, short stories, non-fiction books, trading cards, movie scripts, TV scripts, jigsaw puzzles and video games. I took on a lot of movie and TV novels, and put my name on them when others said I should hide behind a pseudonym. I felt using my own byline kept me honest, and it built an audience because many of my media projects were high-profile, movies like Saving Private Ryan and American Gangster, and TV properties like CSI and Criminal Minds—Matt (Clemens) worked on the latter two with me. I am proud to be a professional writer.”

Getting His Start With A Four-Color Fan Favorite

To many fans, Collins’ name is synonymous with a two-fisted, four-color counterpart — which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its celluloid incarnation this year. Although his resume includes such hard-boiled characters as Mike Danger and Ms. Tree, to comics aficionados, he’s best known for his run as writer of the Dick Tracy newspaper strip from 1977 to 1993. Collins would go on to pen the novel for the film version of Tracy, and that novel would end up being the driving force for the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film starring Warren Beatty in 1990. (The incredible story of that can be found on Collins’ blog.) The job was the realization of a childhood dream.

“It sounds corny, but it really did all begin for me with Dick Tracy, because I started reading that when I was a little kid — 7, 8 years old,” he says. “Most kids read Dick Tracyand wanted to be Dick Tracy when they grew up. But I read it, and I saw this signature on the strips, Chester Gould, and I was just fascinated by it, by the idea of someone writing it. I thought there was very little chance I could grow up and be Dick Tracy, but I could be Chester Gould. And by God, I was for about 15 years.

“The whole fascination with crime fiction really does go back to my childhood. Dick Tracy, The Untouchables TV show … those were things that I loved. That was partly because my father would tell me about stories in the paper about John Dillinger when he was a kid. He would talk about how he and his family would go out and see crime scenes afterwards. So at a very early age, I got this picture that behind this noir genre, there were real events and real characters, and that very much appealed to me.”

Sharing his work with friends was also a spur to his development.

“Just to get that encouragement, to have my friends say, `Oh, you wrote this? This is really cool,’ was a big deal for me and helped me to keep going,” Collins says. “The other thing that was important was having encouraging teachers. I had several good teachers throughout growing up that nurtured and encouraged me, and I was fortunate to have them helping me along.

“Talent is a relatively small part of it. It’s really enthusiasm and having those flames fanned by people in that educational support system. A good teacher can have such an impact on a young mind.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in creative writing, Collins taught at Muscatine Community College and spent almost three years sending out manuscripts in hope of landing his first book deal. (This is a little wrong – I sent the novels out while I was at the Workshop starting in ‘68. I sold them right about the time I started teaching at MCC in 1972.)

“I was very discouraged,” he says. “I remember I had a manuscript come back around ’72, and it was really discouraging, and I thought, `Maybe this isn’t for me; maybe I’m not going to make it. And then, sometimes God decides to act like O. Henry. I got on Christmas Eve 1972 the letter saying that my first book, Bait Money, had been sold. And a year later it came out in time for Christmas the next year, and I’ve been going ever since.”

A Renaissance Man

In the ensuing four-plus decades, Collins has proven to be a Renaissance man of the genre. He’s tackled everything from comics to films to documentaries to novelizations of films and TV shows. He’s also been a regular on local music stages with his band Crusin, which was inaugurated into the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame two years back.

All told, he’s placed over 100 novels on bookshelves — many featuring his most famous character, Nate Heller. His locally produced independent films, including the cable hits Mommy and Mommy’s Day were released as a DVD set called The Black Box. (And now are on Blu-ray.) To top that off, he also has several other writing projects on his plate and is busy knocking out novels with his wife, Barbara, and his other co-writer Matthew Clemens.

Asked about the constant movement, Collins chats breezily about his diverse interests and passions. His gesticulations and the rising timbre of his voice spark the image of him as a junior-high kid, bursting to share his action-jammed tales with his friends. However, his work ethic also seems driven by the memory of his early career struggles. Talking about them, his demeanor slumps.

“Even today, I think one of the hardest things about this profession is how long publishers sit on books,” he says. “It’s so crushing to go to that mailbox and wait to see that manuscript sticking out with that rejection letter.”

Collins hasn’t gotten many of those lately. (Actually, I have.)

Looking back on his career, of what is he most proud?

“Probably just having a career — being able to make a living at fiction writing without a day job, which I’ve been doing since 1977,” he said. “Career highs include landing the writing of the Dick Tracy strip back in ’77; winning the PWA Shamus Best Novel, True Detective, in 1984; directing and writing five independent features, with Mommy airing on Lifetime; and having my graphic novel, Road to Perdition made into an Academy Award-winning film with Tom Hanks. I’m also proud of what my wife (Barbara Collins) and I have achieved with our humorous ‘Antiques’ mystery series.”

The road to Road to Perdition

Undeniably, Collins’ most well-known achievement to the general public has been Road To Perdition, the graphic novel which led to an Oscar-winning film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and various other heavy hitters.

“As I’ve gone down the suspense and mystery path, it has fascinated me to see how history feeds into the popular culture,” Collins says as he begins to talk about his most famous achievement. “The fact that there was a real Al Capone and an Eliot Ness and a John Looney, and that their traits ended up influencing these fictional characters like Dick Tracy or Vito Corleone, is very interesting to me.”

In 1998, Collins’ graphic novel Road to Perdition, based in part on Quad-Cities gangland history, smashed out of the gates to become a best seller. It almost immediately drew interest from Hollywood, and in 2002, it hit screens nationwide as a critically acclaimed — eventually Oscar-nominated — film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

The national notice also brought the Muscatine author a large dose of recognition on the local scene. One book-signing session at Borders in Davenport featured a line of fans snaking out the door and into the parking lot. “It was very rewarding,” Collins says, quietly.

Perdition generated a prequel, Road to Perdition 2, as well as two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise, the last of which was released in December 2005. (The three can be found as a trilogy for sale on Amazon Kindle now.)

Ironically, the origin of the story of hit man Michael Sullivan and his son, Michael Jr., lies in part in the bonding between Collins and his son, Nate, over their mutual love of the Japanese comics series Lone Wolf and Cub. The tale of a renegade samurai’s vengeance-stained travels with his infant boy provided the template for Perdition.

“I loved the image of this warrior with a baby carriage,” Collins says. “That combination of tender and tough has always fascinated me.”

Collins’ research for another novel, 1983’s True Detective, helped provide the characters and setting for the epic.

“I came across this guy, John Looney, who had been a gangster in the Quad-Cities in the ’30s. I couldn’t use him at the time, but I kept him on my shelf. So when it came time later that I wanted to pursue that idea of the Godfather-style executioner in the mode of Lone Wolf and Cub, I remembered that character of Looney. I thought it would be really cool to center the story around this local gangster. So I merged the two ideas, and that’s how Road to Perdition was born.”

(Looney operated in the teens and twenties – I couldn’t use the material in True Detective because it took place in the early thirties, although he is mentioned. When I did Road to Perdition as a graphic novel, I took the liberty of moving Looney up a decade or so, to take advantage of the Capone and Nitti era about which I wrote in the Heller novels – Looney had been aligned with the Chicago Outfit but under Johnny Torrio’s reign.)

Although at this point, the story has reached a satisfactory end, Collins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of revisiting the characters. “If you talk to most writers, they’re not inclined to sequels,” he says. “But I grew up reading serials, so I guess I always thought if I liked these characters and I think there’s something left to be said, I’ll want to write more about them.”

Following His Quarry, Continuing His Legacy

Speaking of series, Collins’ series Quarry, one of the first novel series to feature a hit man as its central character, was developed into a series by Cinemax that aired for one season in 2016, and continues to enjoy success as a literary endeavor. Collins has also continued his series of mystery novels with his wife, Barbara, his Nathan Heller series, the Reeder and Rogers suspense novel series he co-writes with Matthew Clemens, and more.

He’s also an active figure on the area writing festival scene, often giving classes and seminars for aspiring writers.

(I am semi-retired at this kind of thing – very rare now, once quite a major part of what I did.)

What kind of advice would he give to aspiring mystery writers?

“It’s a steady learning process,” he said. “There are writing schools, and I attended the best at the Writers Workshop in Iowa City. And there are seminars, and I’ve taught my share. But writing is chiefly self-taught. It comes from reading analytically, learning to edit your own work, and staying at it. I don’t think I’ve ever made any quantum leaps in my writing, but I’ve gotten incrementally better all along the way. I’m much better now than I was when I first published…but I wasn’t bad then.”

What has he most enjoyed about the process?

“Oddly, collaboration has been one of my biggest joys,” Collins said. “I say `oddly’ because writing is largely solitary. But I loved making films, most of them with my terrific collaborator Phil Dingeldein, and the whole collaborative experience, from movie set through editing, was the best. I also enjoy collaborating with my wife Barb on the ‘Antiques’ novels — that’s special, being able to co-author works with your spouse and stay happily married. Matt Clemens and I also have collaborated on a score of books, and I’m collaborating posthumously with Mickey Spillane, completing his unfinished manuscripts. Making new Mike Hammer novels happen is a delight to the thirteen year-old me, who travels with me everywhere.”

Collins is hardly resting on his laurels, lifetime achievement-wise or otherwise. He’s got a number of deadly projects on his bullseye for the coming years, and his latest Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, was released just a few weeks ago, on May 26.

As Collins said of the new novel on his blog, “Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.”

No matter what your literary interests, you’re sure to have a killer time reading any of Collins’ books.

The author of this piece:
Sean Leary

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.

I Confess About Perry Mason, Plus Quarry!

June 23rd, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

Photos: Everett Collection; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Perry Mason is back!

What great news for mystery fans! Just think of it – the crackling courtroom scenes with their dramatic on-the-witness-stand confessions. The shrewd defense attorney willing to make the law jump through hoops to clear an innocent client. His tough P.I. associate who tracks down every lead and takes every risk. The loyal beautiful secretary who may, or may not, be having an offstage affair with her boss. The veteran police detective who this time has the goods on the lawyer’s client. The dogged D.A. who is convinced that, finally, he will definitely send Perry Mason’s client to the big house or perhaps even the chair.

And that TV cast – Raymond Burr, understated but smoldering; Barbara Hale, professional but so lovely; William Hopper, handsome and wry; Ray Collins, the Orson Welles player who made something lovable out of crusty Lt. Tragg; and William Talman, the bulldog D.A. who survived even his own marijuana conviction. Nine glorious years it ran (and 22 TV movies with Burr and Hale years later!), and it runs still, entertaining little noirs about love and business and justice.

The best ones were always based on the novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, that self-taught lawyer who cut his teeth in the pulps and went on to rule the slicks and the paperback racks, outsold only by Spillane and Christie, and – like them – under-valued by critics who didn’t know great storytelling when it bit them where they sat. But even those not based on Gardner novels were entertaining, and those scripted by mystery writer Jonathan Latimer were always terrific.

And now he’s back! Perry is back on HBO and he’s not your grandfather’s Perry Mason, boy, or your father’s or your mother’s or…anybody’s.

Look, I believe in taking film and TV adaptations of fiction on their own terms. You may be aware that I am a Spillane fan, yet Kiss Me Deadly (set in L.A., not New York, and designed to make a monkey out of Mickey) is my favorite Mike Hammer movie. I find Road to Perdition in some ways an improvement on my original. I didn’t mind the Quarry series on Cinemax moving my stories from the Midwest to Memphis, and even put up with the humor being drained out of my guy – it wasn’t my version. But they caught the spirit of what I was up to. (And sent checks.) Cool.

However.

This new Perry Mason is a private eye, not a lawyer (at least not yet). He is also a blackmailer and a drunk and a divorced father and generally a depressed sad sack in a studiously rumpled trench coat and shapeless fedora, as well as a tie that we’re reminded several times has an egg stain on it. He exists in a gloomy world where his activities include taking photos of an obese man performing cunnilingus on a starlet (pumpkin pie is involved), and doesn’t that seem right out of Erle Stanley Gardner!

It’s a series that is 50% art direction, 40% cinematography and 10% actors trying not to embarrass themselves. Oh, and there’s a score that consists of random piano chords and jazz-style dirge licks. The first episode establishes that Mason gets along okay with one police detective and exchanges insults with that detective’s partner – you know, like The Maltese Falcon, if The Maltese Falcon sucked.

And who needs Raymond Burr when you have Matthew Rhys to shuffle around feeling sorry for himself, exhibiting all the charisma of a wet sock. Remember how Perry lived on his dead folks’ rundown farm? You don’t? I guess I’m a little fuzzy on that myself. I can tell you the HBO show is set during the Depression, and, brother, does it put the depress in Depression. Of course, if you like dead babies with their eyes sewn shut, you’ve come to the right place.

But there’s diversity the old Perry Mason lacked. Paul Drake (not in the first episode) is an African-American uniformed cop. Mason’s girl friend is an Hispanic airplane pilot who doesn’t seem to like him much (can’t blame her). No, she’s not Della Street – that character is a different lawyer’s secretary. That lawyer is played by John Lithgow who seems to be a man who woke up in somebody else’s dream and is just trying to fit in.

Spare me the news that this is an origin story, and that Mason will evolve into the character we know and once loved. That much evolving even Darwin couldn’t sell.

It’s enough to make me long for Monte Markham.

Do I sound irritated? Well, I feel certain this series will be every bit as popular as the David Soul-starring Casablanca show. Current efforts by a lot of smart people to get Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer on TV will be crippled by this pathetic misfire. All HBO’s Perry Mason will accomplish is to convince TV execs that traditional tough detective shows, particularly, especially, set if in period, are home box-office poison.

Excuse me. I feel the urge to put on my studiously rumpled raincoat and shapeless fedora and go for a walk in the rain. Where did I put my egg-stained tie?

* * *

Now I’d like to share with you an essay by Kieran Fisher at Film School Rejects about the Quarry TV show.

There Was More Moral Ambiguity
to Explore For Cinemax’s ‘Quarry’

The Cinemax series brought Max Allan Collins’ iconic pulpy crime institution to the screen in 2016, but viewers didn’t pay attention to its brilliance at the time.

Most people live boring and mundane lives, meaning that they’ll never become willing participants in the criminal underworld. However, if pop culture’s fascination with crime stories reveals anything, it’s that people are drawn to the dark side when it comes to the entertainment they consume. The allure of this type of storytelling is multifaceted and complex, but sometimes it’s as simple as enjoying the thrills it provides.

Crime-centric entertainment often presents a more nuanced take on criminals as well. How many movies and shows have you watched where you root for protagonists who engage in some very questionable acts? That’s because these characters aren’t always evil to the core. They sometimes have justifiable or understandable reasons for their bad behavior. Such is the nature of Quarry.

Based on Max Allan Collins’ long-running pulp novels of the same name, and created for television by Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller, Quarry revolves around Mac (Logan Marshall-Green), a marine who returns to Memphis following the Vietnam War to find that he’s been shunned by society. His wife is having an affair, he can’t find gainful employment, and the press hates him due to his involvement in a village massacre while on duty. Mac then gets into debt with a man called The Broker (Peter Mullan), which leads to him becoming a contract killer.

Needless to say, Mac is a character who can’t catch a break. He just wants a fresh start and a regular life, but he’s forced into an unlawful situation that he doesn’t want to be a part of. Furthermore, he’s haunted by the guilt of his war crimes, having caused the deaths of several innocent women and children. He joined the army to become a hero and left a villain.

One of the most compelling elements of Quarry is Mac’s struggle to figure out who he is, morally and emotionally. He’s a flawed human being who wants to be a better person, but he makes some bad decisions along the way. But his propensity for killing comes naturally. Violence and killing make sense to Mac because he’s good at both, causing him to feel conflicted.

Marshall-Green brings the character to life with aplomb, straddling a fine line between sympathetic antihero and homicidal monster. He boasts the swagger to play a convincing tough guy, but he also displays the emotional range of someone who’s struggling to cope with repressed emotions. He’s also quite charming, which makes for a very layered and well-rounded performance. His charm also makes the character likable, even though you wouldn’t want to bump into this guy on the street.

Of course, another reason why Mac is easy to root for is that his enemies are worse than him. In one episode, a man called Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) — a murderer/potential rapist with a prosthetic leg — kidnaps Mac’s wife in an effort to lure the contract killer to him. Mac’s wife doesn’t deserve his drama, though there’s an argument to be made that her husband’s to blame for all the bad that comes their way. The Broker is also pretty rotten, as he’s essentially forcing Mac to murder people.

Quarry doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence either. One standout scene sees some poor shmuck get crushed by a car. There are also some gruesome war flashbacks that depict pure horror and brutality. That’s unsurprising considering that the showrunners also wrote some episodes of Rectify, which contains its own fair share of violent moments. And like that show, Quarry is all about that Southern Gothic neo-noir style that’s absolutely intoxicating. The South’s landscapes make for a stunning backdrop to Quarry‘s world of death and mayhem.

The Quarry novels debuted in 1976 and continue to be published to this day. In recent years, Mac’s exploits have even branched off into comic books. There’s an abundance of interesting stories to bring to the screen, and Cinemax canceling this show after eight episodes is a hard pill to swallow. Despite being a constant presence in crime fiction, Quarry screen adaptations are severely lacking.

The books are all over the place and don’t adhere to any set chronological order. However, the general story is that he takes assignments for The Broker before breaking free of his duties. Then he becomes his own man, defending targets from other hitmen (for a small fee, of course). He eventually retires, but he can’t stay out of the game. If the audiences turned up for Quarry when it mattered, it could have lasted for multiple seasons without growing stale.

The series could have taken the chronological approach. The novels haven’t always been released that way, but you can read them in a certain order for a structured approach to the character’s life story. That makes sense for television, too. Still, I love the idea of a Quarry show where seasons bounce around all different timelines.

Fans of Breaking Bad, Banshee, True Detective, and shows of that ilk will enjoy Quarry. It’s pulpier than those shows, but it boasts enough similar sensibilities and stylistic similarities to hang out with them in its own way. It’s just a shame that it never received the opportunity to make a long-lasting impression on viewers.

* * *

The great magazine True West has reviewed the new Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, right here.

This link is to the definitive interview with me on the subject of the Dick Tracy movie novelization.

Finally, the Mike Hammer mystery, Murder, My Love, has been nominated for the Best Original Novel “Scribe” award. Here is the complete list of nominees.

M.A.C.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today….

June 16th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

I have been wanting to share this with you for ages, but couldn’t figure out how to do so – all I have is a VHS tape of it. What is it? Seduction of the Innocents’ video of “The Truth Hurts” from our CD, The Golden Age. I love this video, and how well it displays Miguel Ferrer’s charisma, and Bill Mumy’s acting. Also there for the video shoot, and perhaps glimpsed here, was Brandon Lee, who was (believe it or not) a kind of camp follower of the band – a wonderful guy.

Time passes and things happen, and along the way we meet – if we are very lucky and I have been – some remarkable people, and that includes those mentioned above, but also my bandmates Steve Leialoha and Chris Christensen. Chris in 1990 had not joined the band yet, but he released “The Golden Age” on CD on his Beat Brothers label (also the label that released the various Crusin’ CDs).

Thirty years ago? Really?

Also thirty years ago was the release of the Dick Tracy film, and it’s getting some Thirtieth Anniversary play right now.

So here is a long excerpt from an article I wrote for Lee Goldberg’s Tied In – The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing. It is the behind-the-scenes amusing and horrorifying story of my writing of the movie tie-in novelization of Dick Tracy.

I wanted to write the Dick Tracy tie-in novel because I‘d been the writer of the syndicated strip since 1977, plus I was a mystery novelist. Landing the Dick Tracy strip was my first really big career break. I got the job after trying out for it, writing a sample continuity. I got the opportunity to try out chiefly because of some mystery novels I‘d written as a kid that had a strong comics element (Bait Money and Blood Money, both 1973).

My re-boot of the strip got a lot of positive attention, and I loved the job, having been a stone Dick Tracy fanatic since childhood. Before getting the strip, I had even developed a friendship with creator Chester Gould – a rarity, because he was very private – although Chet played no role in my landing this plum assignment.

Some time in the ‘80s, I was shown a potential screenplay for Dick Tracy, shared with me by my Chicago Tribune Syndicate editor. I thought it was lousy, and told him so, and he agreed. I figured that was the end of it.

But the Dick Tracy film was a project that wouldn‘t die – Clint Eastwood was going to be the square-jawed dick for a while, which was exciting, and then finally Warren Beatty got obsessed with it, and it became a Disney project and a very big deal. I offered to do the novel version and, thanks to my credentials as the writer of the strip, got the gig. I was thrilled.

Then they sent me the screenplay – it was virtually the same lousy one I‘d read seven or eight years before! I was
shocked and dismayed. Lots of the classic characters, villains and good guys alike, some good situations…but no story. Not really.

I asked my agent what to do about it, wondering what kind of novel I could fashion from such weak material, and he said, “Just do whatever you want with it. Nobody‘s going to read it at Disney – this is just small change to them.” Did I mention that my usually very savvy agent had never sold a tie-in before? And that this was the worst advice he ever gave me?

So I wrote a novel very loosely based on the screenplay. I added more characters from the strip, provided a story, even replaced what seemed to me to be unimaginative death traps with my own better ones. It was a terrific little novel, designed by and for a Dick Tracy fan like me.

I sent it in, went on about my business, and several months later my wife Barb and I were preparing to go on a research trip to Nassau (for my Nate Heller novel Carnal Hours) when my agent called with bad news. The Disney people hadn‘t even made it through my book – got maybe a third of the way – before saying a faithful-to-the-screenplay page one rewrite was needed.

In seven days.

Dick Tracy is legendarily a movie that Warren Beatty micro-managed. Every tie-in aspect was overseen by Beatty and his top people. The novel I‘d written was inappropriate for any film. To have taken these liberties on Dick Tracy was a blundering piece of farcical arrogance on my part that makes Fawlty Towers look like a documentary.

So with a 1989-era laptop (think about it), I went to Nassau and spent 70% of my time in the hotel room salvaging what little I could from my first version. Maybe 25% of it was workable. Actually, some of my non-screenplay stuff made it in, because it didn‘t contradict anything (Vitamin Flintheart is in my novel, for instance, but not in the film, not even deleted scenes).

Barb and I were in Nassau four or five days, and I came home and wrote the rest of it, just blazing. What I came up with was pretty good. I was as happy with it as possible, considering the weak screenplay that was my source. But that, as they say, was just the beginning….

I spent many, many hours on the phone with the producer of the film, Barry Osborne (later involved in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy), a gracious, intelligent man, and way too far up the food chain to be giving a lowly tie-in writer such instructions as, “The chair on page 223? It‘s green not red,” and, “You have 88 Keyes standing up from the piano too soon on page 187.” Most of the changes I was asked to make had to do with such surface things, and many substantial changes I had made in character motivation and dialogue were overlooked.

This was perhaps the most instructive thing I learned from the experience – if you follow the screenplay out the door, and do the surface of it accurately, you can slip in all kinds of substance where characterization and fleshing out of scenes are concerned.

Osborne actually liked the novel a lot, and he told me on several occasions that I had solved plot problems for them, which they had fixed by way of dialogue looping – and indeed the film has five or six lines I wrote.

Also, he asked me about a scene involving Tracy‘s girl friend Tess and her mother, where Mrs. Trueheart says a lot of negative stuff about Dick, how she is delighted that Tess and Dick have broken up and how selfish the detective is, etc. I had softened this scene, making Tess‘s mother much more positive about her potential son-in-law. The producer asked me why I‘d done that.

“Because,” I said, “Tracy joined the police force to avenge the death of Mrs. Trueheart‘s husband – Tess‘s father, who ran a deli and got shot by robbers. Mrs. Trueheart adores Dick Tracy. Every Dick Tracy fan knows that.”

And they re-shot the scene along my lines.

So I take a certain pride in knowing that Dick Tracy is a film in part based upon its own novelization. The final battle, however, reached new heights of absurdity, and involved phone calls with high-level folks at Disney. How high level? How about Jeffrey Katzenberg? The “surprise” ending of Dick Tracy is that the mysterious masked bad guy called the Blank is actually Breathless Mahoney. Sorry to ruin it for you, but, yes, Madonna did it.

This surprise seemed painfully obvious to me, the kind of shocker you can damn near figure out in the opening credits. But Beatty, Disney and all associated were convinced they had a surprise on the level of The Sixth Sense (I figured that out, too, about five minutes in). So I was instructed to remove it from the novel.

Wait a minute, you‘re saying. Remove what? The identity of the masked bad guy. The solution to the mystery. You know…who the killer is.

This surprise ending, the Disney folks told me, had to be guarded like the Coca Cola recipe or the unretouched Zapruder film. And when I pointed out that Dick Tracy was a mystery story, and that leaving the ending off a mystery story just might disappoint a few readers, this seemed of no particular import.

I did half a dozen rewrites of the ending, sneaking in hints of the Blank‘s identity, such as, “Why, look who it is under the mask…” said Tess, breathlessly. No sale. About a page was cut from the book.

I won only one small concession – that any printings after the film came out would include the full ending. Only one small print run represents the complete novel (the sixth, distributed to school book clubs).

There can be no doubt that I hold a singular honor among mystery writers – I wrote a bestselling whodunit… without revealing whodunit.

Perhaps by way of apology, the Disney people flew my wife, son, mother and father and me to the film‘s premiere at Disneyworld in Florida. They treated us great. Everybody attached to the movie treated us great, including Warren Beatty. We did a big press get-together with many of the stars. I was doing a Mumbles continuity in the Dick Tracy strip at the time, and Dustin Hoffman (who played Mumbles in the film) read me that day‘s strip from a local paper, doing Mumbles’ dialogue in character. Doesn‘t get much better than that.

Two postscripts: in our Disneyworld hotel, a coloring book on sale – an item that (it turned out) had been available to the public for several weeks – included the Breathless-is-the-Blank ending. As we say in the funnies, “Sigh….”

Also, the wonderful actress Estelle Parsons (who played Mrs. Truehart in the film) wandered into a bookstore at Disneyworld, where I was signing copies of my open-ended novel. We spoke, and she was very sweet, and I said to her, “You had to re-shoot your big scene, didn‘t you?”

She looked at me, amazed. “How did you know that?”

And I told her.

* * *

Here is a look at the Thirtieth Anniversary of Dick Tracy in which my role is dealt with somewhat.

And here, as well, my part touched on somewhat more extensively. (If this link requires you to subscribe to the Telegraph, note that a free subscription is available.)

As for the Seduction of the Innocent CD, “The Golden Age,” it’s possible Chris has a few copies left; write him at Jchris3227@aol.com. I have a few cassette copies and also Seduction’s live CD. You know where to find me.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.