Posts Tagged ‘Carnal Hours’

Do No Harm, Even if the Girl Can’t Help It

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

As I write this, on March 9, 2020, it’s Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday – a reminder of how lucky I was to encounter his books at an impressionable age, and eventually have an unlikely friendship and collaborative association with this key figure not only in mystery/crime fiction, but popular culture, worldwide.

As you read this, if you’re one of those who catch up with these updates as they first emerge, it’s March 10, 2020, the publication date of two of my novels (by two different publishers): Do No Harm, the new Nathan Heller thriller, and Girl Can’t Help It, the second Krista Larson mystery.

If you are one of the regular readers here, you may recall that the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder – written by me from a Spillane synopsis – was to be published a week later. That pub date has, I’m not sorry to announce, been moved to April 7, which at least puts a purchase of that third new Collins novel on a separate paycheck for loyal readers.

Do No Harm is a novel based on a real-life mystery that has fascinated me since 1961 when I read The Sheppard Murder Case by Paul Holmes – I would have been 13. And of course the television series The Fugitive, which began in 1963, only fueled that interest. And I did love that series – David Janssen’s charismatic, melancholy performance was something new in a TV hero, with a tragic depth unusual for the day. I watched every episode, and later – during my community college years – Barb and I would watch a syndicated episode over lunch at my parents’ house.

Like a lot of TV actors, Janssen had a shrewd if limited bag of tricks. My late actor friend Michael Cornelison told me that actor Robert Lansing (star of 87th Precinct and 12 O’Clock High) had advised him – should one of several TV pilots Mike starred in get picked up – to develop a characterization that would stay consistent and require few strokes, and allow the guest actors to carry the water. I gathered the same thing from Raymond Burr, when I worked on a project with him in Denver during the Perry Mason TV-movie days – he spoke of having to sleep in his dressing room at night because of the demands of being in so many scenes of his series.

I recently watched a Blu-ray of Superdome, a TV movie starring Janssen and a strong cast of its era. The actor was just two years away from his premature death at 48, and looked much older. Reportedly a hard drinker, Janssen – in a rather wretchedly written TV movie – brought along the same tics and tricks, and yet despite the rote feel of it still conveyed a humanity and sadness little seen in TV leads of his era. Sam Sheppard died at 47.

I waited a long time before bringing my detective Nate Heller to this case, even though it had been on my true-crime short list since the ‘80s. The murder of Sam Sheppard’s wife was not an easy fit for Heller. I have always attempted to bring Nate into a case in a natural fashion – that is, to fill in for a real-life participant (a cop, reporter, insurance investigator, actual P.I.) or combination thereof, as in Blood and Thunder where in Part One Heller is a Huey Long bodyguard and in Part Two he returns to Louisiana a year later on an insurance investigation into Long’s assassination.

Figuring out how to put Heller at the crime scene in Marilyn Sheppard’s murder seemed necessary to me, dramatically, as was determining how to narratively span a case that included Sheppard’s conviction, long struggle for justice from behind bars, and ultimate re-trial. Many other wrinkles made the case a tough one for my approach, including a particularly involved number of alternate theories for what really happened. I like to develop my own theories – or I should say Heller does.

Ironically, it was the project I was working on prior to starting Do No Harm – which I had contracted to write but was still struggling with what my approach would be – that finally gave me a window onto the case. In working with A. Brad Schwartz on the non-fiction book Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, I discovered that Eliot Ness had essentially lived next door to Sam Sheppard. Nobody had noticed this before, probably because Ness lived there in the ‘30s and Sheppard in the ‘50s. But nonetheless the coincidence struck me as irresistible – two of the most famous figures in not just Cleveland crime but American jurisprudence lived next-door.

Additionally, a latterday victim indicating the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run might have struck again in 1954 was the perfect reason for Ness to (a) call Heller back to Cleveland for consultation, and (b) to check out the crime scene of a brutal murder in Ness’s old neighborhood.

The other solution to involving Heller was Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner’s interest and involvement in the Sam Sheppard case. I had already established that Heller knew Gardner (in Carnal Hours) and had done some investigating for Gardner’s Court of Last Resort. That brought Heller into the effort to find out the truth about Sam Sheppard’s guilt or innocence in 1957, when Gardner’s activity in the case came to a head. Further, newspaper columnist/TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen – basis of Flo Kilgore, a recurring character in the Heller saga – was also a key figure in the Sheppard case.

Everything was coming together. Part Two would jump to 1966 and a role for Heller working for Sheppard’s new lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.

The novel was a challenging one, because of the jumps in time – while Book One is 1957 and Book Two is 1966, there are flashbacks within each. From a creative standpoint, however, I found that interesting and even fun, because the difference in decades – in Heller’s life and in America itself – provided a contrast I could play with.

And I have come up with a theory of my own, although oddly some reviewers (positive ones, by the way) have somehow thought I was leaving the story unresolved. I think that may possibly be because I have changed more names than usual, not wanting to cause trouble for the real people and their families who various alternative theories touch upon. I had already developed this theory when new evidence came to light, in an updated version of one my source books, that seemed to confirm my take on the case. My longtime research associate, George Hagenauer, has long said I have an almost psychic ability to suss out the truth of these crimes, and sometimes I almost agree with him.

The story behind Girl Can’t Help It is even more directly personal. Regular visitors here know of my rock ‘n’ roll connection, and that my bands The Daybreakers and Crusin’ are both in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. That’s an honor that some snicker at but which I take with a genuine measure of pride. I began playing with a short-lived group in 1965 with the Daybreakers forming in ‘66 while I was still in high school. Singing lead and playing “combo organ” have been a big part of my life for a long time.

We had our brush with fame when “Psychedelic Siren” was issued by Dial, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, a single produced by Joe Tex’s producer, Buddy Killen. We had a regional hit and in subsequent years, unlikely as it might seem, that track became a part of numerous national vinyl and CD collections of ‘60s garage band rock. In more recent years the song has been covered by bands all over the place – not all of them in the USA. Several versions can found on You Tube.

Both the Daybreakers and Crusin’ opened for such acts as the the Buckinghams, the Turtles, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Grass Roots, Del Shannon, and Peter Noone, among quite a few others. In early 1968 we did a brief Midwestern tour opening for the Rascals and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap when “Psychedelic Siren” was charting at Davenport’s KSTT.

So I was on the fringes of success in that field. Also, in the ‘80s, when I briefly dropped out of playing music to focus on a particularly heavy writing load, Crusin’ became the Ones, a New Wave-oriented version of the band that mixed originals with classic rock and became a big act on the Midwestern college circuit, particularly popular in Iowa City, where their LP got lots of airplay. When we re-grouped for reunions, the band would appear as the Ones some places, and as Crusin’ others. Later versions reverted exclusively to the Crusin’ name.

What does that have to do with Girl Can’t Help It? Well, the novel begins with a New Wave act from Dubuque, Iowa, who had some national success “back in the day,” years later (when the novel opens) getting into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In a much more direct way than ever before, I am dealing with rock as a major aspect of a mystery novel. I also dig into the darker side of being in bands in those days, although I want to be clear the group in the novel is not meant to be either the Daybreakers or Crusin’ or any of its members. But as part of that world, I saw things, not all of which were pleasant, even if I didn’t experience them. And I certainly saw – and experienced – the conflicts between members in such bands.

I will be interested to see how readers react to the second Krista and Keith Larson novel. I know a few readers – let’s call them a vocal minority – don’t like finding me dealing with lead characters who are not overtly larger-than-life in the manner of Quarry, Nate Heller, Ms. Tree, Mike Hammer, or even Vivian Borne. I set out in the Krista and Keith books to do people who are more real, and to do a father-and-daughter relationship that wasn’t built on snarky sarcasm (even though I think you all know that I can do sarcasm). The larger-than-life aspect comes by way of the crimes and the killer.

I admit to being surprised that any reader would have trouble with this approach. I only know that I like this new book a lot, rather relishing the rock aspect, and intend to write at least one more Krista Larson novel.

Girl Can’t Help It has inspired a particularly good review (as well as one of Girl Most Likely) at Atomic Junkshop, including something of an overview of my work in general, a very interesting take on it. I’m gratified to see someone whose favorite series is Quarry finding Krista Larson equally compelling.

As for Do No Harm, Publisher’s Weekly has chosen it one of its books of the week (running their rave, starred review a second time).

The Tor/Forge blog honors Do No Harm with a look at the Sheppard court case and other courtroom biggies of the ‘50s.

The Stiletto Gumshoe celebrates Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday here.

And the great western writer James Reasoner has very nice things to say about the forthcoming Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

M.A.C.

Report from Killer Nashville

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Barb and I were guests at Killer Nashville, which was actually held in Franklin, Tennessee, at an Embassy Suites, which was an excellent venue for a conference.

And Killer Nashville – our first time there – is a conference, not a convention, although elements of that are present. Specifically, it’s a writer’s conference. When you do a panel, attendees are frequently taking notes, and the questions from the audience are not from fans but from aspiring writers hoping to learn.

While there are many pros presents – J.A. Jance was the big name – many are indie authors, including a good number of self-published ones. And the major award (of many) is given to the best unpublished novel manuscript submitted. The other awards, this time anyway, went almost exclusively to small press and self-published titles. This conference is designed to nurture new authors and there’s a palpable sense of community, aided and abetted by that legendary Southern hospitality.

Host and conference creator, Clay Stafford, is a gentle and welcoming presence, seemingly everywhere. As one of three guests of honor, I was interviewed for the entire conference crowd after a luncheon on Saturday. Clay won me over by bringing two brimming boxes of my books, including an edition of Saving Private Ryan that I didn’t know existed. He was well-prepared for the interview and I was very loose and, frankly, pretty damn funny.


Clay Stafford, right, interviews M.A.C., left.

The panels Barb and I did – including a collaboration one, which was a dry run of sorts for a panel we’ll be doing at the Toronto Bouchercon – were well-handled by the moderators, and mostly well-attended. The better attended panels were oriented toward writing – i.e., how to create a scene – and reflected the interests of the newcomers and aspiring writers attending.

Barb and I don’t do very many conventions – we try to do Bouchercon, as a sort of one-stop-shopping affair where readers from all over the country can get to us, and until lately we’ve regularly done San Diego Comic Con, when health issues got in the way. But this con/conference was fun and welcoming, and we’d certainly recommend it as an event that is designed less for fans and more for writers who are still learning their craft.

I was presented with a very nice award, the Killer Nashville “John Seigenthaler Legends Award.” The Killer Nashville website describes the award this way:

“The annual Killer Nashville John Seigenthaler Legends Award™ is bestowed upon an individual within the publishing industry who, like its namesake, has devoted his or her life to championing First Amendment Rights, advocating for social change, equality, and fairness, or otherwise defending issues of freedom. Recipients of this award have displayed a steadfast commitment to these ideals, and to mentoring the next generation of authors. This is not a lifetime achievement award, as we expect much more of these individuals in years to come.”

Seigenthaler was a distinguished journalist and activist with ties to Robert Kennedy. That resonates with me because my Writers Workshop mentor, Richard Yates, was a RFK speechwriter.

Thank you, Killer Nashville.

* * *

Crusin’ will appear in a charming outdoor setting at Ardon Creek Winery this coming Friday, September 1, from 6 till 9. For info go to http://www.ardoncreek.com/, and check under events (for directions look under “contact us”).

* * *

The forthcoming graphic novel from Hard Case Crime Comics, Quarry’s War – which will be serialized as four comic books before being collected – has received a lot of play on the Net…dozens of hits! Here’s a good example, which includes looks at some of the covers of the comics.

Very nice Carnal Hours review here (a reprint but worth looking at).

Jeff Pierce’s wonderful site, Killer Covers, showcases The First Quarry’s great cover.

There is a fairly nice mention of Quarry’s Climax toward the end of this column from the UK’s Crime Time. But I think the suggestion that I’m doing homage as opposed to real hardboiled or noir is b.s. I am continuing a series I began in 1971, when Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane and Ross Macdonald were still writing, and Erle Stanley Gardner was still publishing when he died the year before. If you characterize me as a modern-day imitator of a distant past, I would respectfully remind you that I am the distant effing past…although no one in the distant past would have been able to be as sexually frank and graphically violent as Quarry’s Climax, because I am also the current effing present. I’ll leave the future to the rest of you.

M.A.C.

Heart and Soul Pt. 1

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

First off, I want to say how thrilled I am that QUARRY’S CHOICE has been nominated for a Barry Award (Best Paperback Original). Toward the bottom of this update will be links to the full list as well as some reviews.

Also, note the cover art for the audio of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS – just finished listening to Stacy Keach’s reading of the book, and it’s fantastic. Speaking of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS, if you’ve read and liked it, please post an Amazon review.

I am back writing these updates (after the four canned entries that appeared during the month following my open-heart surgery). For the next several updates, I am going to talk about my experiences of late, and you are welcome not to read them and to wait until I get back to books and movies and other “funner” topics. But this is on my mind, and I need to purge some.

A month ago today (as I write this) I had my operation, which involved a valve replacement, two bypasses and a couple of other let’s-keep-this-bastard-alive-while-we’re-in-here items. Of that first day, I remember nothing apart from getting wheeled in the operating room. Barb reports that several hours after the operation, I said, “I made it…I made it….” Shortly after that, like most of us with a pulse, I began complaining.

That night, in the ICU, I hallucinated that I was on a spacecraft and being held prisoner. I could see a long windowed-off corridor where futuristic nurses strolled, ignoring my cries of “Help!”

I remember little of the next two days. I know Barb and Nate were with me as much as possible. Apparently I was not a stellar patient. At some point I learned that my right arm and hand were (to use the medical term) fucked up. Basically the arm was weak and the hand felt like a bunch of sausages sticking out of a wad of mashed potatoes. After initial alarm, I wasn’t worried because I figured it would be temporary.

Various nasty things happened during the ICU stay, including getting tubes yanked out of me and the removal of a catheter. But nothing was nastier than the food. I am considering writing a cookbook called HOW TO SCREW UP TATER TOTS. What saved me was Barb, who was spending every afternoon with me, bringing me food from the outside.

The nurses were nice, very helpful, supportive and even sweet. My heart surgeon dropped by every day, and assured me my hand would “come back.” I gradually came to understand that this would include me working very hard to make that happen.

The worst part of the stay was the long nights. Something about my sleep cycle got screwed up as a side-effect of the heart surgery, so that I would sleep for half an hour and then wake up, thinking it was morning. I spent the nights alternating between reading and sleeping and watching movies on a portable blu-ray player and sleeping some more. Of course due to the surgery I had to sleep on my back. The bed was every bit as comfortable as a hotel-room couch fold-out affair. Nurses came in about once an hour to check vitals and give me tests on my lungs and the occasional pills. I hated these long nights and began begging Barb to take me home.

That wasn’t to be – my hand/arm problem required physical therapy and that meant I was headed to the fifth floor. While still on the seventh floor, I began walking (with a walker at first) and had some preliminary work on my hand. Barb spent many hours with me.

The night of the move I hallucinated again. I thought I was sleeping in a bed in a department store showroom that a nurse and an orderly were disassembling. Then they rolled me out of the showroom onto an elevator and down a hall and into a dark room where I was abandoned. I felt afraid, in fact terrified. I began to shout for help and when a kindly older nurse came in, I said I wasn’t comfortable staying here and wanted to call my wife on the phone. The nurse settled me down and I somehow got back to sleep.

NEXT WEEK: THE BEST HALLUCINATION YET

– – –

Here is a fantastic MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Ed Gorman (glad to have him back reviewing again!).

Here, at the Rap Sheet, is the complete list of Barry Award nominees.

There are several nice mentions of Nate Heller and me in this wonderful piece by Jeff Pierce at the Kirkus blog.

Here’s a short but nice piece on Mickey.

Finally, here’s a good if patronizing review of CARNAL HOURS. The reviewer seems put off by the sexual content – this continues to baffle me, and must be generational. One of the commenters, apparently a Heller fan, finds the novel the “weakest” of the series. I certainly disagree, and have often given it to readers who wanted to sample Heller, because it’s highly self-contained and has a real-life locked-room mystery.

M.A.C.

10 Heller Kindle Titles $1.99

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

All day today (Sunday, September 23), Amazon’s Kindle Deal of the Day is featuring the Nathan Heller series, with the following ten titles available for only $1.99 each!

The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories

Shareable link: http://amzn.to/ORG0Yb

This is the first time NEON MIRAGE, BLOOD AND THUNDER, MAJIC MAN, and CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL have been showcased on the daily deal.

Of further interest to digital readers, Amazon has been rolling out a new feature called Whispersync, which syncs your place in a book between Kindle devices and the Audible audio edition, allowing you to switch back and forth between reading and listening. Now Amazon is offering many Audible editions at a significantly reduced price for owners of the Kindle editions. This only applies to the Audible download edition, not the audio CDs or MP3 CDs, but the downloadable version works on many portable devices and can be burned to CDs through iTunes. Abby and I have been listening to the Heller audio books (read by the wonderful Dan John Miller) on CD on our road trips over the past year and we’ve really been impressed by the readings. Look for the Audible edition on each Amazon book page.