Posts Tagged ‘Caleb York’

Hey Kids! Free Books & Nolan Returns

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

First, here’s another interview of me by the great Andrew Sumner for Titan Books – this time regarding Nolan and Skim Deep.

Okay, show of hands – how many of you like books?

Seems to be everybody.

All right, how many of you like free books? Don’t fight!

Only so many free books are on hand, so how many of you like a really good bargain? Don’t pout! I mean, really good….

The entire Reeder and Rogers trilogy by Matt Clemens and me is on sale right now as part of Amazon’s Monthly Deals: Up to 80% off Kindle books. They will stay on sale till 11-30-2020, with [Amazon links:] Executive Order at $1.99 and Supreme Justice and Fate of the Union available at 99 cents each.

But wait, there’s more! (Look, I realize I shifted from classroom mode to infomercial, but I figure you can stay with me.)

The first of the two (so far) Krista Larson novels, Girl Most Likely (a Thriller Award best paperback nominee), is part of that same sale for just 99 cents.

Now for the free books. Don’t rush the stage! (Yes, I know, I did it again. Pretend it’s a running joke.)

I have ten copies of Skim Deep, the first new Nolan book in over three decades.

[All copies have been claimed! Thank you for your support. — Nate]

This doesn’t come out till Dec. 8, but I have these ten finished copies of the novel provided by Hard Case Crime. You’ll see me here posing happily with Skim Deep, the final Nolan novel, and the original edition of Bait Money, the first Nolan novel, published in December 1972.

That’s 48 years ago. Nolan is 48 years old in Bait Money, by the way, which at the time seemed really old to me. Those two 48-year periods represent one of those insignificant facts that take on weight in a barroom after enough time and tide has passed.

I’m going to walk you through how Nolan came to be. Some of you will have heard me talk about this, and/or write about it before, but go on reading – with my memory, it’s sure to come out different.

I started reading Richard Stark in 1967 after the film Point Blank came out, based on The Hunter, the first in a series about professional thief, Parker. Around the same time I discovered another writer, comic mystery author Donald E. Westlake, and these two were soon my favorites of then-current mystery writers. I had no idea Westlake was Stark – their books were so very different.

Westlake/Stark was the last author to have a major impact on my work. I was already reading Spillane, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain and Jim Thompson (and a few others). I had basically trained to be a writer of private eye novels or maybe cop books, but the times they were a changin’, and P.I.s were impossible to sell and, in 1968, cops were just guys clubbing my friends at the Democratic convention.

I’d already discovered an obscure series by Ennis Willie about an ex-hood named Sand, who had much in common with Stark’s Parker, though Sand was created first. A tough guy who was an ex-hood heist artist seemed a reasonable alternative to gumshoes. Hence, anti-heroes. Crook books.

A few paragraphs ago I called Bait Money the first Nolan novel. It kind of wasn’t. The same character, originally called Cord in a book titled Mourn the Living, I’d written in junior college. It didn’t sell, but it got me into the University of Iowa Writers Workshop thanks to Richard Yates, the great mainstream novelist.

Bait Money (and the first Mallory, No Cure for Death) were written for Yates and his class, and he worked one-on-one with me even after I was required to study with a few other instructors. He landed me an agent, Knox Burger, who had been a well-known editor at Collier’s and then Gold Medal Books. Among other things, Burger was instrumental in talking John D. MacDonald into creating Travis McGee.

Yates sent Burger Bait Money and praised me as a young Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Burger, who was as no-nonsense as a hit-and-run driver, said, “More like a young W.R. Burnett.” Which was fine with me. In the same league as the guy who wrote Little Caesar, High Sierra and Asphalt Jungle? I understood how great that was, even if Yates didn’t.

Burger is the guy who called me a blacksmith in an automotive age. Again – fine by me.

I killed Nolan on the last page of Bait Money and Burger wanted me to un-kill him. I refused, but the book kept getting rejected. Then an editor at Pyramid Books spilled coffee on the manuscript, meaning I had to retype it (which I did, myself). Burger said, “You might as well take the opportunity to put the better ending on.”

I did.

It sold next time out and the editor wanted a series. This was a problem because I had conceived Bait Money as an homage to Richard Stark, or even a pastiche, using his distinctive method of organizing sections and using strict point of view.

I had, by this time, begun to correspond with Don Westlake. He began mentoring me, and had read Bait Money (Burger gave the manuscript to him) and professed to like it. I wrote Don and asked him how he felt about me doing a series about Nolan – I was uncomfortable because (as many of you have heard me say) homage is French for rip-off.

Don graciously insisted that the Jon character – the sort of hippie-ish comic book collecting “kid” who became Nolan’s surrogate son – made the books more human. Don also felt Nolan was more overtly human than Parker. He said by all means take the gig.

I did. The publisher was Curtis Books, an off-shoot of the same company that had published the enormously successful Saturday Evening Post. Their paperback line, however, was not enormously successful. I did four Nolan novels and the first two Mallory books for them, and they only published the first two Nolans (and neither Mallory) before Popular Library bought them out.

The editor at Popular Library put the books into inventory, while periodically insisting publication was imminent. It never happened. Meanwhile, I wrote Quarry (originally The Broker) and Berkley Books bought it and asked for three more.

In the early ‘80s, Knox Burger sold all five Nolan novels to Pinnacle, plus a new to-be-written one. They had recently lost the Mack Bolan series and apparently I was supposed to be the replacement, though Bolan and Nolan had nothing in common but rhyming.

I had to revise the first two novels somewhat, largely because Fly Paper pre-dated quite a few airport security measures. Bait Money came out and sold very well.

Then the creator of Mack Bolan, Don Pendleton, threatened to sue Pinnacle for publishing a series about somebody who rhymed with his character. So the last couple of books had Nolan’s name taken off the covers, and my contract was dropped.

My novel True Detective got some me some attention in 1983, and a few years later an editor at TOR asked me to revive Nolan, which I did with Spree. But then, for reasons not worth going into, that editor and I had a falling out and a contract to do a bunch more Nolans got dropped.

Seems Nolan and Jon led at least as perilous a life in the world of publishing as they did in fictional crime.

That was it for Nolan until, finally, Mourn the Living was published, with “Cord” changed to “Nolan.” Writer Wayne Dundee had serialized the novel in his magazine Hardboiled, and people started asking me to collect it in book form. I did. It was a hardcover from Five Star.

Felt like Nolan had come full circle, from Bait Money to the unintentional, Jon-less prequel, Mourn the Living.

Then, as is his habit in my publishing life, Charles Ardai came along. He was going to do some reprints and a few new books for his budding Hard Case Crime line. He was a fan of the second Nolan novel, Blood Money, and wanted to publish it. I felt Bait Money ought to be included, as Blood Money was its sequel. He put them together as Two for the Money.

As most of you know, I revived Quarry for Charles, who from time to time asked me to consider writing a new Nolan. I resisted, because I’d written Spree to be the last book. Finally he offered to republish all of the Nolans (two books to a volume) with spiffy retro covers if I’d do a new one.

And, so, all these years later, I have.

What was most interesting to me was that despite the many decades gone by, when I sat down to write about Nolan and Jon, bing! There they were. Waiting for me to check back in with them. I don’t know why it came so easy. It’s not like I haven’t written about other characters in the interim.

But Nolan in Mourn the Living, and Nolan and Jon in Bait Money, represented the start of my career, and both books took a lot of time. I’m known, I guess, for being able to turn out good books in not much time. But those first two novels were where I went to school, teaching myself (and cribbing from Stark and the rest).

Back then, I had to type pages over and over, because there were no photocopy machines yet and publishers got their noses out of joint if you sent a carbon copy. I would imagine I worked on Bait Money for a year and a half. Skim Deep took, I believe, three weeks. Maybe a month – I don’t really keep track.

So now Nolan has come full circle, and maybe so have I, and like Nolan, I have no intention of dying on the last page.

* * *

Here’s some nice love for the forthcoming Shootout at Sugar Creek, the new Caleb York.

M.A.C.

Come Spy With Me Launches

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

Nobody Lives Forever is the title of one of John Gardner’s James Bond novels. Gardner, like my friend Raymond Benson, was one of the official scribes hired by the Ian Fleming estate to continue the novel series. But while, as a title, Nobody Lives Forever has an authentic Bond ring, I must disagree with its sentiment.

Sean Connery will live forever, and so will James Bond. And especially Sean Connery’s James Bond will live forever.

That makes this the right time to finally share with you the cover of Come Spy With Me, the first of a projected trilogy by Matthew V. Clemens and me about retired UK spy, John Sand, who the novel implies was the “real” basis for James Bond. We had been told, at one point, that the book would not be out until December.

But it turns out the publication date is coming right at us – November 18 – available both as a Kindle e-book title and as a trade paperback. You can pre-order it now, and I hope you will.

When I began talking to editor Paul Bishop at Wolfpack about doing original titles for them – we had already agreed on a number of backlist novels and new short story collections to appear under their imprint – I knew figuring out the right property for that particular publisher’s launch of new M.A.C. titles was a priority.

Come Spy With Me cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Paperback:Amazon Purchase Link

I also knew I wanted to do some of what I had in mind with my longtime collaborator, Matt Clemens, with whom I began kicking around ideas. One was to do a new Reeder and Rogers political thriller, but we were hesitant at this (shall we say) “moment in time.” After all, we’d already done the Reeder and Rogers trilogy in which Supreme Court justices were targeted for murder (Supreme Justice), a megalomanic populist from the private sector ran for President (Fate of the Union), and an extreme right-wing group plotted a coup of the government of the USA (Executive Order).

We were almost afraid to come up with another outlandish premise like those.

At the same time, we were putting together for Wolfpack the original collection of our collaborative short stories, Murderlized, and needed to come up with the original files for each story. In rummaging around in his hard drive, Matt came upon the opening chapters of a novel we’d started twenty years ago – about the opening third, plus a detailed synopsis. He read over the material and said he thought it was pretty good. He sent it to me and I responded likewise.

A sizeable share of the Wolfpack audience likes action and adventure, and this untitled manuscript was an homage to James Bond and Ian Fleming. I will likely write in more detail about my love for Fleming and how caught up in the spy cycle of the mid-‘60s I was, but not right now. The origins of what has become Come Spy With Me are peculiar and a little amusing.

Matt and I had been writing short stories together for a while, but had not yet embarked on the series of TV tie-ins (CSI, Dark Angel, Criminal Minds, Bones) that we’d be doing for something like fifteen years. We were, in fact, discussing doing some kind of novel series together.

And along came a strange opportunity. A new publisher was going to bring out (wait for it) erotic novels in which all of the sex was between married people. Married to each other. At the time, I pointed out to them that few married people, particularly if they’d been married a while, did their fantasizing about their mates. But this, the publisher insisted, was a time that had come.

Okay.

Matt and I kicked around the notion of, “What if at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond’s new wife (SPOILER ALERT) was not killed by his arch-nemesis, Blofeld? What if Bond got married and quit the spy game, and then got pulled back in? Adding to this was the concept that Ian Fleming had been a colleague of our “John Sand” and had based James Bond on him. We both loved that idea.

We were signed to do the novel, and got to work…but the married-people-having-sex concept turned out not to appeal (imagine that) and the publishing idea went belly up. Well, it was soft-core porn, so let’s call it “tits up.”

Matt and I were frustrated, because we really liked what we’d written. But we shelved it, as the tie-in market summoned us and, well, no project lives forever.

Or does it?

Wanting to get something out with Wolfpack as quickly as possible, we developed what became Come Spy With Me, with a few changes. We removed the soft-core porn aspect – although there are erotic moments between man and wife – and (at the suggestion of Raymond Benson) were more coy about the Sand/Bond connection, although it’s certainly implied. But neither Fleming nor Bond are mentioned by name in the novel.

And that opening third of the book was heavily re-thought and rewritten. However – it still gave us a leg up on the project (sorry if that phrase sound soft-core porny in and of itself). Soon we were seeing the possibility of at least doing a trilogy and began plotting it, as well. Our work method on Come Spy With Me, as always, was to plot together with Matt doing a somewhat short first pass and me doing a complete, fleshed-out second pass.

My initial title was Come Die With Me (the title, by the way, of a terrible Mike Hammer TV movie). Paul Bishop was not in love with that. But he responded well when I tweaked it into Come Spy With Me. Now Matt and I are toying with doing “spy” puns for any subsequent titles.

Both of us are old enough to be veterans of the initial James Bond craze. And – in this Corona Virus environment – we are happy to do novels not set in the present. The early 1960s seemed like a more fun place to spend time right now than the 2020s.

We are rather determinedly in the area of Connery’s Bond, not Moore or any other pretender, except perhaps Timothy Dalton. There are dark quips of the “Get the point” variety, but some people forget that such things began with Connery. Like Fleming’s novels, Come Spy With Me is fairly hardboiled and fans of Quarry, Nolan and Heller should not feel shortchanged.

For us, as much as we like the actors who followed in Sean Connery’s footsteps, we consider him the one and only true James Bond. Every one else is a kind of place holder, someone to build a Bond film around. But when Connery said, “Bond. James Bond,” it was forever.

* * *

Ron Fortier at Pulp Fiction Reviews provides this wonderful review of the second Caleb York novel, The Big Showdown.

A good place to order the new Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet collection is my old pal Bud Plant’s mail-order company, specializing in comic art and illustration.

M.A.C.

Wolfpack Announces “Mommy” Duo

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

I have had a very positive response to my announcement of signing a deal with Wolfpack Publishing. The readers who think enough of my work to check in here are happy to know that the door is open for me to revive and continue various series (or write sequels to standalones) that would otherwise be of no interest to my other publishers.

But let me assure all of you that, for now at least, I am still aligned with a number of mainstream publishers. Mike Hammer is still attached to Titan, who have been incredibly supportive of my efforts to complete (not continue) Mickey’s work. Under the Titan umbrella, but very much its own entity, Hard Case Crime – under the able leadership of Charles Ardai – continues to support Quarry and other work of mine. The Antiques series is no longer at Kensington, but is moving elsewhere (to be announced), though Caleb York will stay at that house as long they want him (and me).

These are early days at Wolfpack, but I can safely say that all of the original titles – including the novel I just delivered – will be published as physical books as well as e-books. This will include the new short story collections, and I hope the same will be true of the reprinted collections. (The Ness Omnibus is too large to be published as one book, but we are discussing the individual novels coming out in physical form.)

By the way, I do intend to continue my regular book giveaways with the original Wolfpack titles, to generate much-needed reviews. (Speaking of which, if you “owe” me reviews from past giveaways, better late than never.)

Coming soon – I don’t have a date to share just yet – will be a book collecting both Mommy novels. They will appear as a single e-book, but also as a “real” book, the first time both have been gathered together, which is something I always hoped for. Always intended.

Mommy Mommy's Day: A Suspense Duo cover

I am sharing the cover with you this week, because I think it’s terrific. I find it very amusing because it plays off a line I came up with early on, in not only promoting Mommy as a home video release, but in putting together the investor proposal that raised the funds for the first feature’s production back in 1994. Specifically, I described the Mommy character as “June Cleaver with a cleaver,” and the art for this cover pictures her just that way (the reflection design is incredibly cool, in my opinion). Now, Mommy doesn’t actually wield a cleaver in either novel. Readers will have to accept that image as metaphorical, settling for the neck-breaking, electrocutions, shootings, and butcher-knife stabbings (among other things) that appear in the two novels.

Mommy and Mommy’s Day were originally published by Leisure Books in the late ‘90s. They were essentially tie-in’s to the DVD release of the movies (which came out on VHS in 1995 and 1997 respectively, and had a few theatrical screenings). The two books were novelizations of my screenplays, written during that period of my career when writing movie tie-in novels was a major part of how I supported myself as a freelance writer.

I had contracts for Nate Heller and other original work of mine with major mainstream publishers at the time, but those publishers – concerned about my selfishly prolific ways, crassly designed that I might make a living – did not want me to publish more than a couple of books a year, or better still just one. It wasn’t that I was being paid poorly, just that a paycheck for, say, $20,000, wasn’t something my family and I could live on for a year.

Because the Dick Tracy novelization (1990) – written strictly because I was then the scripter of the comic strip and had a proprietary attitude toward the property – was a success, I was able a few years later, post-Tracy, to offer myself as a writer of tie-ins. I loved doing the movie novels, because I was able to write all kinds of different genres and really flex my muscles, pursue interests beyond suspense, and learn new techniques. After all, I did Tom Clancy style techo-thrillers (Air Force One), war novels (Saving Private Ryan), westerns (Maverick), science fiction (Waterworld), sword and sorcery (Scorpion King), horror (The Mummy), espionage (I Spy), humor (The Pink Panther), and much more. Doing the novel for the second X-Files film was a real kick, as I was (and am) a big fan of the series. Eventually I was able to write original novels for such TV shows as NYPD Blue and (with Matt Clemens aiding and abetting) CSI, Dark Angel and Criminal Minds.

So it was natural for me to novelize my own two movies. I approached Leisure Books because one of their specialties was horror, and Mommy was psychological horror, often assumed to be an unofficial sequel to the classic The Bad Seed (I considered it more an homage).

Those two books are the most unusual novelizations I ever wrote, with the exception of Road to Perdition, where I was novelizing someone else’s version of my own work. What made the Mommy novels unusual was how different the process was from the usual novelization approach.

I have a feeling that many, if not most, readers assume that the novelizer of a film has seen – or perhaps has been provided a DVD (or back in the day, VHS) of the movie – for reference. That is never the case (almost never, as I will explain). Generally speaking, the film is being shot at the same time the book is written. The writer works from a script. I would make a novel out of the script from which the director was simultaneously making a movie. In surprisingly rare cases, the writer sees stills from the set, and even more rare a “sizzle” real designed for merchandising. A couple of times I saw the footage for films that fast food chains were viewing to decided whether to make a Happy Meal.

Which is an important aspect of explaining this: a novelization of a film is an ephemeral side product, like an action figure or lunch box. Novelizations happen less frequently now because one of their functions, maybe their main function, was to give fans of a movie an opportunity to re-experience it in those dimly remembered days prior to home video.

Often the script the novelizer works from is not the final shooting script – in fact, almost always it isn’t. In the case of I Spy, I was sent the script pages of a new ending that needed to be turned into prose just days before the book was to go into publication. Some studios didn’t care if the book wasn’t consistent with the finished film, which has made some novelizations highly collectible for the glimpses into what might have made it onto the screen, or for fans to experience scenes that had been cut.

Interestingly, many readers – wrongly assuming the novel came first – aren’t bothered by such inconsistencies at all.

The Mommy novels, because I had complete control over them, lacked the usual studio constraints. Both features were completed before novel rights were sold. Of the two, Mommy is probably the most satisfying, because I was able to start the story several months before the action of the film. So the first third or so is not in the movie version.
Mommy’s Day, a somewhat more complex story than its predecessor, filled out the desired number of pages without such extra material.

What made writing both novels unique in the novelization experience was my intimate familiarity with both movies. I was in the editing suite with director of photography/editor Phil Dingeldein every step of the way. While Phil is as expert an editor as I could imagine working with, he and I made each decision together, from which takes and camera angles to utilize to the length of holding shots. I loved the editing process, and eventually essentially edited my second documentary, Caveman: V.T. Hamlin & Alley Oop, at home, by use of freeze frame and time code, making a list for the assembly of edits. (Phil was not on that project.)

The director of a film sees it countless times. I know every frame of both Mommy films, every nuance, every line reading, every facial expression, every pause, every damn thing, so intimately that even today when I watch either film (or any of my films) I remember them in a way that is true of none of my novels or short stories.

So when I sat down to write the novels of the Mommy movies, I was recording them in a way unlike any other novelizations I’d written. At times it was a burden, because I was describing my indelible memories of the expressions on the faces of actors, and their line readings; of the sets, the locations, the lighting.

But it was also an opportunity to correct things I hadn’t been able to control in the editing suite. In editing, you have to deal with what you shot. If you never got exactly the line reading you wanted, but practicality made you move on, you’re stuck with what you settled for. Here I could tweak things further.

In a very real way, Mommy and Mommy’s Day are the only movie novelizations I ever wrote. Everything else was a novelization of a script.

My mantra, where writing movie novels was concerned, was always to make the novelization read like the book the movie was based on. I think I was very good at that. Oddly, making the novelizations of my own movies achieve that goal was trickier than usual. But I’m confident I succeeded.

I am thrilled to have these novels collected into one book – as I said, I always wanted that, always intended it. And, very soon, Wolfpack will make that happen.

* * *

Here’s what DICK TRACY 2 would have been. Gee, wonder if I would have gotten credit….

Finally, though you’ll have to scroll down a bit, here’s a great review of Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

I Confess About Perry Mason, Plus Quarry!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

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.

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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.