Posts Tagged ‘Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides’

True Noir in Session, an Antiques Indie, and M.A.C. on Film

Tuesday, June 25th, 2024

True Noir has a major recording session scheduled this week, and I hope to attend by Zoom. Participants are in California, New York and…? It’s a big, terrific name cast, bringing True Detective to life as an immersive audio drama from my recently completed ten-part script, and if you are a fan of the Nate Heller books, you’re going to be thrilled.

Our gifted director Robert Meyer Burnett is viewing the project as a movie – there’s even been discussion about animating it – and that brings me to a favorite topic around here: movies – and an announcement.

In what may be my swan song as a low-budget indie filmmaker, I will be directing (in tandem with my wife Barb) from a script we wrote together based on a novella we wrote (got all that?) the first ever movie based on the Antiques/“Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mysteries. The interest our forthcoming Christmas movie, Blue Christmas, has generated was encouragement enough to do another Yuletide mystery, Death by Fruitcake, based on the novella “Antiques Fruitcake” in the collection Antiques Ho Ho Homicides.

And the inability over the last ten years or so of two separate wonderful female showrunners to sell Antiques to TV prompted us to put the thing on its feet ourselves. As a little indie movie.

We have Brandy and Mother cast, with our first choices, whose identity won’t be announced for a while. For now, just know that many of our talented cast members from Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder and Blue Christmas will be back on board, including the latter’s star, Rob Merritt.

Pre-production is seriously underway, with producer/cinematographer Chad T. Bishop putting a crew together and meeting regularly with me for planning sessions. Barb has been gathering props and working with department heads on wardrobe and other areas of the filmmaking process. The script is finished, or anyway as finished as any movie script is until the cameras roll.

Why, particularly at this late date, am I wading back into indie filmmaking? A bunch of reasons.

Some of my markets for publishing fiction have dried up. I’m a white guy closer to eighty than seventy, and that makes me about as much in demand as a stale loaf of Wonder Bread. This lack of foresight on the part of a generation or two who have never heard of me will not stop me from creating. And I do love movies.

That was my mother’s fault, largely, as she took me to at least one movie every weekend, and often two; and the Uptown Theater had Saturday matinees, too. Plus, TV was full of old movies. I was part of the first generation born to TV-watching. I saw George Reeves play Superman, first run. I saw Martin and Lewis movies in the theater – never missed a one. And, after that, Jerry’s solo efforts, although it started getting challenging around Three On a Couch (1966).

Speaking of Jerry Lewis, I am proud to say that my regular Saturday afternoon movie-watching with my eight-year-old grandson Sam continues with his enthusiasm for Ray Harryhausen stop-motion Sinbad movies now equaled by his giddy joy at encountering both Martin and Lewis and Jerry Lewis himself. That I have made my grandson a Jerry Lewis fan is one of my proudest achievements. First up was Artists and Models, and lately it was The Disorderly Orderly. Plus You Tube gems like the following excerpt from Cracking Up.

Please don’t write me and tell me what a horrible person Lewis really was. How he left his kids out of his will and hit on female co-stars and supposedly did this and that reprehensible thing. I have wrestled with the difference between the public and private artist (and he was an artist) and have come to decide that all we’re owed as fans is the work. The rest is largely irrelevant and/or past understanding. Why were two of the most sensitive singers of the Great American Songbook – Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby – such heels in certain private aspects of their lives? Don’t know. Don’t care.

They give us the gift of their talents, and they don’t owe us anything past that. That said, I don’t find O.J. Simpson that funny in the Naked Gun movies – of course, he always was the least funny things in those movies – and I haven’t been able to stomach Robert Blake post-his wife’s murder. Consistency isn’t my strongest trait.

Take Roman Polanski and the sexual misconduct that makes him a fugitive in the United States even today. Does that make Chinatown a bad movie? Unwatchable because the director may have more to do with Noah Cross than Jake Gittes? Not to me it doesn’t – not any more than I can comprehend what it would be like to have your beautiful pregnant wife butchered by Charles Manson’s minions.

Which brings us to Chinatown. Let’s get this out of the way: the current 4K Blu-ray release of that great film is a stunner. It looks wonderful, better than I’ve seen it since seeing it (multiple times) in the theater on its initial release. I never tire of it and always see new things in it. Or should I not like it because Faye Dunaway is supposedly unpleasant on set? Gonna give her a pass on that.

Gonna give a movie a pass on everything but the movie itself, which in the case of Chinatown seems to be more screenwriter Robert Towne’s doing than Polanski’s, although arguably Polanski’s Sharon Tate-inspired ending is what elevates it to its deserved stratospheric reputation. Polanski reportedly cast John Huston as Noah Cross, a decision that also elevated Chinatown and not just because Huston directed the other truly great private eye film, The Maltese Falcon (well, Kiss Me Deadly isn’t bad either).

What struck me about Chinatown this time around is something I would guess others have already noticed; but this was the first time I did. I knew it had the same kind of emotional impact as Hitchcock’s Vertigo (my favorite film); but I hadn’t realized that Chinatown and Vertigo are essentially the same movie. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that.

Both stories revolve around the following: a detective who well-meaningly caused a death in the past, while on the police, and is haunted by it; a client who presents the detective with a false narrative; a scenario that plays with and against the viewer’s boredom while following the detective shadowing a major figure in that false narrative; a female lead who pretends to be one thing and is something else; a detective who exudes confidence, but ultimately is taken down all the way to a tragedy of his own making, unintentionally destroying the woman he has come to love.

I could write a book about it.

And yet this film is one I’ve seen perhaps twenty times and none of this occurred to me before. Either I am very stupid or these movies resonate with me at least in part because of their structural and thematic sameness.

While I am on the subject of movies, let’s tip our hat in farewell to one of the screen’s most interesting actors, Donald Sutherland. Sutherland had a distinctive, quirky presence that should not have lent itself to a multiplicity of roles. And yet there was seemingly nothing he could not play. He put this down to not painting a character good or bad, benign or evil, but instead just trying “to act the fella.” To be the character. He understood that a villain never knows he is the bad guy. He knew that the line between comedy and drama was not just a fine one, but not a line at all.

As coincidence will have it, Barb and I watched one of our favorite films, Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), the evening before we learned of Sutherland’s passing. We revisited that film – which is not perfect, and in fact is rather ragged along the edges – because we’d watched the excellent documentary, Remembering Gene Wilder (2024), the evening before. The night before that we re-watched The Producers (1967), which we’d seen on its first release in a theater in Bettendorf, Iowa. To celebrate Wilder, who we have loved ever since that first Producers viewing. We loved him when he was not really famous yet, in the likes of Start the Revolution Without Me and Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970). He wasn’t quite Willy Wonka yet.

Anyway, we were both struck by how perfect and perfectly funny Wilder and Sutherland were as separated twin brothers, one pair a poor peasant one, the other a rich unpleasant one, both hilarious. Wilder and Sutherland would have made a fantastic comic team had they embarked on a joint career. How funny? Abbott and Costello funny. And, yes, Dean and Jerry funny.

And on some level, this is what I love about the movies. I never met Gene Wilder. Or Donald Sutherland. Or Jerry Lewis (probably a good thing). But they fill some of my most priceless, precious memories. I remember, for example, how hard Barb and I worked to find theaters where we could see Start the Revolution Without Me multiple times. I remember, for example, how initially offended Barb was by the idea of Zero Mostel diddling little old ladies out of money for his latest flop play in The Producers…until she came to find it hilarious. I remember how it felt, as a ten year-old child, to see Vertigo for the first time and be as fooled by the plot as James Stewart. I remember seeing Chinatown for the first time and realizing there was potential in the private eye story to be something more than a mere genre piece.

These actors and directors are friends we encounter, and if in real life they are assholes, find someone else to care because I don’t. These are memories I cherish, as much or nearly so as actual experiences.

And I wonder, as we go to the movies less and less – and when we encounter more and more unspeakable behavior in the seats around us – if watching even the best binge TV available (Mad Men, Sopranos, Breaking Bad) can ever have the impact of that church of popular culture where the wine is Coca Cola and the Sacramental Bread is popcorn?


Two Events, A New Movie Script, Nate Heller News and More

Tuesday, February 13th, 2024

Two events are coming up that Iowa residents, particularly those in (or near) Des Moines may wish to attend.

The Fridley Theatre chain has reopened the great Fleur Theater and have booked me in for two events. Coming up this weekend (Saturday February 17) is a presentation of Chinatown that I will introduce. I will be discussing the importance of the film and how it has been a key influence on me and my work.

Then, just a week later on Saturday February 24, I will be there with a number of cast and crew members for the World Premiere of Blue Christmas.

Advance tickets for both events are available at the links.

As you may know, three more premiere events will present Blue Christmas to the public for the first time; it will not be made available (at least nothing is planned yet) until the Christmas season of this year:

Fleur Cinema/Des Moines, World Premiere; February 24th
Collins Road Theater/Cedar Rapids Premiere; March 13th
Palms 10/Muscatine Premiere; March 16th
Last Picture House/Quad Cities Premiere; March 22nd

I will be attending all four and at least some cast and crew will be at these events as well (with Q and A after).

* * *

After delivering the new Trash ‘n Treasures novel, Antiques Slay Belles, to our publisher Severin (who we are pleased to say loves it), Barb and I began work on a film script based on the novella “Antiques Fruitcake,” seen in our collection of three Antiques Christmas novellas, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides.

Even before the script was started, we had approached with some success several key actors (mostly from Blue Christmas) as well as secured the primary location for the shoot, which we project for late July or early August (that, of course can change).

Working from the novella, with Barb consulting and editing everything I wrote, I’ve produced a screenplay called Death by Fruitcake which I think successfully captures the feel and approach of the books. For one thing, it has a lot of talking to the camera by Brandy and Mother, breaking the fourth wall. The goal was to be very funny and yet a legit mystery (the way the book series does, at its best anyway).

Why another Christmas movie?

Well, the warm reception we got from not only the home video distributor but a major film chain in Iowa, and several independent theaters, showed the holiday aspect of Blue Christmas was hugely beneficial. We’d been looking for another low-budget film project to do, and doing Christmas again but in a completely different fashion made sense.

This project will be in process all year, so you’ll be hearing about it here.

* * *

I am pleased to announce what is almost certainly going to be the last Nathan Heller novel, The One-Way Ride, which I’ll be writing this year for Hard Case Crime. God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, it will appear in late 2025.

This will, at long last, tell the story of Heller, RFK and Jimmy Hoffa, which takes place in the ‘60s but with first and last sections that feature Heller at the end of his career – chronologically the farthest up I’ve gone (other than brief sections of the whatever-happened-to chapters in various of the books).

I both hate and love the thought of doing a final chapter in Heller’s saga. The love part is (a) getting to do another one, and (b) knowing that this saga has a definitive ending. The hate part is that I love to do them and consider Heller my key work (Quarry would disagree, but I’m not giving him a vote).

Several realities are at play here. First, at my age and with my health issues (which for now I’m keeping in check), doing a massive project like a Heller novel, with its soul-crushing research, is best put behind me. I have several other things I want to do, and speaking of Quarry, I may do more with him. I might also do an occasional Heller short story for the Strand and/or Ellery Queen.

Other factors are the way sales got impacted by the way a UK dock strike screwed up the publication of Too Many Bullets, which I consider to be a major book in the saga. That strike, as I’ve outlined here before, meant the 2022 publication of The Big Bundle effectively got pushed to the first quarter of 2023. That had the novel careening into Too Many Bullets, published early fall 2023, meaning two Hellers were published in one year (effectively). It led to the major trade publications (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and Library Journal) not reviewing Too Many Bullets (and in the past they have almost always reviewed the Heller novels). That cost us bookstore and library sales.

And it made getting Hard Case Crime to do another book in the series required a real sales job from me.

On the other hand, we’ve had several really terrific reviews lately for Too Many Bullets. Check out this one from the fine fanzine Deadly Pleasures (who tabulated how many “Best of the Year” lists various books appeared on – Too Many Bullets appeared on five):

Too Many Bullets
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, $26.99, October 2023
Rating: A

Nathan Heller is body-guarding Robert (“Bob! Not ‘Bobby!’”) Kennedy on June 5, 1968, the night he won the California Democratic primary. As they walk through the crowded Pantry in L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel, a dozen or more shots ring out. Kennedy falls, as do five others, but he is the only one to die. A dazed Sirhan Sirhan, gun in hand, is slammed down by Roosevelt Grier, Rafer Johnson, and Heller. The LAPD muscles the FBI out of the investigation of the assassination, since it’s clearly an open-and-shut case against Sirhan. But months later, a now skeptical Heller undertakes his own investigation, first at the behest of columnist Drew Pearson, then Time/Life after Pearson’s death. After all, there weren’t enough guns and there were too many bullets in that room. And what of the mysterious woman in the polka-dot dress that several witnesses saw fleeing the scene?

Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and Private Eye Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement “Eye” Award recipient Max Allan Collins’ first Nathan Heller novel, True Detective, was published in 1983. This latest novel marks forty years of some of the very best and most cohesive historical detective fiction ever written. Each book in the series has been meticulously researched, down to the smallest factual details, then tied together with a cleverly plotted and convincing fictional re-examination of events surrounding a murder, a kidnapping, a disappearance, extortion, assassination or other well-known crime. What’s more, there is a well-reasoned solution to previously unsolved or questionable cases. Collins uses real names whenever possible, adding to the authenticity. Each book also contains a wrap up of what happened to characters after the story has concluded.

Too Many Bullets follows that established pattern. Collins presents little known facts gathered from autopsy and police records, things that were conveniently overlooked in a rush to judgment. But it is the reasoned conjecture that he wraps around those facts that make for fascinating reading. Further, he faithfully recreates the politics of the late 1960s. Readers will almost come to believe that they were caught up in the panic in the hotel’s Pantry, so realistic is the writing. In today’s world, with crazy conspiracy theories abounding, this novel takes a deep dive into one that just might not be so crazy.

The author has previously explored other Kennedy family assassination (and near assassination) stories, but this may just be one of his best. No need to have read any of the previous novels in the series, since Collins doesn’t write them in chronological order anyway. The final two sentence paragraph sums up Heller’s dedication to the job perfectly. If this is the final Heller (and I sincerely hope it is not), the detective goes out on a very high note.

Well, Too Many Bullets isn’t the last Heller, if I can get The One-Way Ride written. But that’s a fine review.

As I’ve said here before, it’s no picnic for an old white guy to get a book sold in a marketplace filled with young Woke editors who have apparently slept through the history of noir fiction. I am lucky to still be in business at all.

For example, I have pitched (sometimes with Matt Clemens and sometimes on my own) half a dozen projects (full book proposals) to Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer, where the Reeder and Rogers trilogy sold hundreds of thousands of copies and my back list has flourished for over a decade. And they haven’t gone forward with a thing. In fairness, the second of my two Krista Larsen novels (Girl Can’t Help It, a book I love) has not earned out yet and maybe never will. Still, the royalties on that title and several dozen others keep coming in and I’m grateful to them (particularly to the initial editors at Thomas and Mercer who made Ian Fleming and Max Allan Collins among their first buys).

I am not complaining (exactly). I have a full plate of work for 2024. But with both Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer getting their series wrapped up, I have to be resilient and creative. (Hammer was always planned to be finite – no new novels written solely by me, strictly M.A.C. finishing up Mickey’s works-in-progress.)

That’s why I’m directing and writing indie movies again. It’s why I’m developing a Nate Heller podcast, bringing the books to life, collaborating with my buddies Phil Dingeldein, Mike Bawden and the great Robert Meyer Burnett, a genuine YouTube star. Recently Rob did a blisteringly funny, wickedly sharp takedown on Amazon (don’t mean to pick on them, and this isn’t Thomas & Mercer) putting out a statement with advice to writers (particularly screenwriters) that is so D.E.I. (Diversity Equity and Inclusive) as to be absurdly hilarious. Take a look. (His Robservations episodes always begin with promos for other stuff of his, so be patient. It’s worth it.)

Also worth a watch this week is Heath Holland and me talking about the latest Kino Lorber film noir Blu-ray boxset on his fine podcast, Cereal at Midnight.

* * *

Here is another lovely Too Many Bullets review.

This article discusses why Tom Hanks decided to do Road to Perdition.

Finally, Ron Fortier is back with a retro review of my The Hindenburg Murders.


An “Antiques” Stocking Stuffer and the Walmart Big Time

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Yes, here I am with another selfless suggestion for something you might give to your loved ones or yourself at Yuletide.

Amazon Indiebound Books A Million Barnes and Noble

Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides collects, for the first time, the three e-book novellas Barb and I did over the last five years. It’s a paperback (hence a perfect stocking stuffer), and I know some collectors out there prefer hardcovers, but “Barbara Allan” is thrilled that these stories are finally gathered in a real book.

If you are one of the hold-outs who like my stuff but can’t bring yourself to cross the cozy divide, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides is an inexpensive way to see Brandy and her mother Vivian in action. A sampler, if you will, and much tastier than those Whitman samplers some people insist upon giving you at Christmas.

I’ve discussed this before, but I still get questions about how Barb and I work together on the Antiques books, and how we stay married doing them. One aspect is that my office is on one floor and Barb’s is on another. But basically it’s this: Barb writes the first draft, and I write the final draft.

The less basic explanation is that Barb is the lead writer. Although I have more experience, and have been doing this longer, the books reflect her sensibilities and storytelling skills. We plot them together, but I stay out of the way while Barb prepares her draft. Sometimes we’ve described that as a rough draft, but really it’s not. Barb polishes each chapter thoroughly and, after at least six months of work, she gives me a perfectly readable and well-crafted novel that happens to be fifty or sixty pages shorter than what our contract requires.

My job is to further polish, and expand, and do lots of jokes. Barb has already done plenty of humor at this stage, but then I add more, with the result being that these novels are damn funny. Barb is wonderful about staying out of my way (as I’ve stayed out of hers, unless asked for input, during her creation of the initial draft). She claims to be so sick of the book at this point that she doesn’t care what I do to it.

This is not true.

She cares a lot, and will ask me why I’ve cut or changed something, and – when I tell her – will either agree or explain why (for plot or character reasons) (these are female point-of-view first-person novels) I need to restore what she originally wrote. Which I do.

The only time we’ve squabbled is when I’ve gotten crabby because I’m overworked. She will not tolerate snippiness. And I’ve been known on rare occasions (somewhat rare) (tiny bit rare) to be snippy, so there you go.

Consider Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides our Christmas gift to you, except for the part where you have to pay for it.

Kensington publishes the Antiques novels, and also the Caleb York westerns. The accompanying photo will demonstrate that these Spillane/Collins westerns have hit the big time: we are in the Muscatine, Iowa, Walmart with The Bloody Spur! In fact, the Walmart chain bought a whole bunch of copies, and you can buy your copy at your local temple to the memory of Sam Walton.

The Antiques books haven’t made it into Walmart and probably won’t – the chain is very narrow about the kind of books they buy…mostly it’s romances, romantic westerns and westerns, plus a few bestsellers. Not a cozy in sight – not even an hilarious one like Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. How do they expect to stay in business?

Speaking of Antiques, here is a terrific review of Ho-Ho-Homicides at King River Life Magazine, which will give you a good idea of what to expect, including discussions of each novella.

Okay, now what you’re wondering is…what can I give Max Allan Collins for Christmas? I will be facetious and serious at the same time: you could write reviews (however brief) for my novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your own blogs and whatever site you deem appropriate. There is a real reason why you might want to consider doing this, if you want new work from me.

The books I write – Mike Hammer, Quarry, Antiques – are seldom reviewed by the mainstream (including lots of Internet reviewers). I do not have the cachet or sales punch of a Lehane or Connelly, who are always reviewed. I am largely ignored, even by people who love my work, in “Best of” lists at the end of the year. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s a reality. Even the widely, glowingly reviewed non-fiction book Scarface and the Untouchable: The Battle for Chicago isn’t turning up on such lists.

I probably write too much. That keeps work that, if other people did it, would be taken more seriously. I am not whining or complaining (well, I guess I am) but I do understand that even readers who follow my work can’t always keep up with me.

Here’s the deal. If I don’t write, publishers do not send money to my house. That’s one thing. The other is that I am 70, have had some harrowing health issues (that I seem to have either overcome or am handling well) and realize that I don’t have forever to tell my stories.

And I have a lot more stories I want to tell.

Actually, I do not work as hard as I used to. Over the years, most Heller chapters were written in a day (25 to 30 double-spaced pages). I was a boy wonder till I got old. I slowed down starting with Better Dead. In general, my work load now is ten finished pages, six days a week. (Sometimes only five days.) It’s no different than with people with a “real” job – they work five or six days a week, and nobody applauds them, or tries to talk them out of it.

As I’ve mentioned, I have friends who have done these sort of interventions to get me to retire and get Barb and me to go take a cruise with other aging couples. I would rather write. Barb and I treat ourselves well and have a great time together, and don’t feel the need for a lot of travel to do that. She is a beautiful woman and lovely company, and is the one thing in my life that is worth hating me over.

She and I are watching one Christmas movie or television episode per evening right now. I may write about this soon. But I will say this – Holiday Inn is a wonderful movie, and White Christmas sort of stinks. Maybe my son Nathan is right: Die Hard is a better Christmas movie than White Christmas.

* * *

Here six great books (available inexpensively) are recommended, and one of them is True Detective (and I’m pleased and grateful, but it’s not “Allen,” okay?).

Shots looks at upcoming Titan titles, including the new Hammer, Murder, My Love.

The Strand magazine is on the stands now, with the key Spillane “Mike Hammer” short story, “Tonight, My Love.”

We’ve linked to this review before, but this time it’s attached to the mass market paperback of The Bloody Spur, out right now.

Finally, here’s a lovely write-up on the three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries.