Posts Tagged ‘Do No Harm’

Everything Old Is “New” Again

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher
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Audio Sample:

The Dark City
The Dark City, 1987 Bantam Paperback

Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life Blu-Ray
Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life
2007 Blu-Ray, VCI

A new book is out about Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. I’m not going to share the name or much information about that book with you, because the book you should be buying and reading is the 600-page Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, available now in a handsome and inexpensive ($15.49) trade paperback.

This other Ness/Butcher book (350 pages) is about as redundant and unnecessary a volume as I can imagine. But history is fair game, true crime included, and it’s not like this hasn’t happened to me before.

My theories developed about various unsolved or controversially solved crimes in my Nathan Heller novels have paved the way for non-fiction writers who didn’t have to (and didn’t) credit me, since I had merely written a novel. That those novels are crammed with research, often aided by George Hagenauer and done on site and in libraries and raiding old bookstores at much time and expense, didn’t matter a whit.

My novel Butcher’s Dozen, published in 1988, was the first book-length look at Ness and the Mad Butcher case, and George and I did much on site research about the case, and at Case Western Reserve Library found the massive Ness scrapbooks that hadn’t been seen since 1961 when Oscar Fraley wrote Four Against the Mob about Ness in Cleveland, the only book about Ness in Cleveland prior to my The Dark City in 1987. Since then have come any number of books about the case, including a graphic novel by a guy who used to write fannishly to the letter column of Ms. Tree (where Butcher’s Dozen was announced, advertised and discussed); there have also been scads of movies announced but never made.

Fair game, all of it. Dirty pool, at times, but within the rules.

And I am not here to cry plagiarism against the author of this new Ness/Butcher book. Maybe to cry “foul” a little. Here’s why. As part of the promotion of the book, the Smithsonian announced the author’s appearance for an event called “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life,” featuring an actor playing Ness (as well as the author).

Some of you may know that I wrote a play that I adapted into a 2005 film for Iowa PBS of that very name – a one-man show with the late Michael Cornelison as Ness. I wrote the Smithsonian and complained. The author wrote me an e-mail saying the title hadn’t been his idea, and that he really admired my work very much. But he assured me that his September 2022 book had not been influenced by the Collins/Schwartz August 2020 book because, after all, he had concluded his research in 2019.

Uh, right.

The author claimed to have great respect for me, but the only book about Ness of mine that is (minorly) referenced in his new book is the Collins/Schwartz Scarface and the Untouchable (2018). There is a vague reference by this self-professed longtime Ness buff in the new book’s prologue (without mention of my name) to my Ness/Batman graphic novel, Scar of the Bat. No mention of Ness being a character in True Detective and subsequent Nate Heller novels. No mention of the four Eliot Ness in Cleveland novels, which have often been prominently mentioned in lectures and in print by Cleveland’s predominant Ness expert, Rebecca McFarland. And of course no mention of either An Untouchable Life or Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher.

It’s a tad hard to imagine that an Eliot Ness buff would never have heard of me or my pioneering research efforts (initially with George Hagenauer and later with Brad Schwartz, the latter the major Ness expert on the planet).

And it’s been frustrating to see friends and friendly acquaintances of mine extolling the virtues of this competitive book with no mention (or possibly awareness) of our book. The MWA Edgar committees did not acknowledge either of our massive, and frankly ground-breaking books, but the author of this new Ness/Butcher book seems a shoo-in, as he’s won before. That howl of anguish you will hear, should this author be nominated or win, will (I assure) you have emanated from Iowa (and Princeton).

When we queried the publisher (also the publisher of four Nate Heller novels, the most recent, Do No Harm, featuring Ness prominently…in Cleveland!) with questions about research material from our book that seemed to have made its way into this new one, we were assured that the author simply used the same sources we had. We were unable to confirm that, but we have been assured that future editions of this rival book will have some mention of ours, perhaps in a “recommended further reading” manner.

We appreciate that.

We don’t intend to take this any further. But if you are thinking about reading – or recommending – a book on this subject, please consider doing what the author of this new Ness/Butcher book doesn’t do: mention Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz.

[UPDATE to this week’s UPDATE written 9/25/’22:] In the Smithsonian event last night (9/26/’22), the author of the Ness/Butcher book did, if belatedly, acknowledge the two Collins/Shwartz Ness non-fiction books, giving them a full screen to themselves. He also listed me as one of “many” who have written Ness novels. That I was the first was not mentioned, nor was my role in rediscovering the Ness scrapbooks. Nor was the one-man show/feature presentation, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life. But it’s a start.

* * *

On a happier note, I’d like to share a wonderful (starred!) review from Publisher’s Weekly of the forthcoming new Nate Heller novel, The Big Bundle due out Dec. 6.

The Big Bundle: A Nathan Heller Novel

Max Allan Collins. Hard Case Crime, $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-78909-852-5

In MWA Grand Master Collins’s superb 18th Nathan Heller novel, (after 2020’s Do No Harm), the PI crosses paths with Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa. It’s 1953 in Kansas City, Mo., when millionaire Robert Greenlease retains Heller’s services after his six-year-old son, Bobby, is kidnapped and ransomed for $600,000. Greenlease makes the payment, but the kidnappers delay returning the child. Heller uses his underworld contacts to try to get a lead on Bobby’s whereabouts by attempting to trace the marked bills used for the payoff, though he fears that the boy is already dead. Flash forward to 1958. Heller is working both for Hoffa, the corrupt Teamsters leader, and Kennedy, then chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee, who’s looking to nail Hoffa. With half of the ransom never accounted for, Kennedy hopes Heller can help him prove it ended up in the Teamsters Pension Fund. Heller’s search for the money and the truth behind Bobby’s abduction proves perilous. Collins again artfully uses a real-life crime, one now obscure but headline-making in the 1950s, as the springboard for a crackerjack plot. This is another standout in a consistently good series.

And I have to share this nifty Big Bundle review from the great Ron Fortier, whose “Pulp Fiction Reviews” column is always a fun, informative read.

THE BIG BUNDLE
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crimes
Arriving Dec 6th 2022
295 pgs

This is the 20th in the Nate Heller historical crime series by Collins. If you are unfamiliar with them, the conceit is simple enough. Collins, either working alone, or with other collaborators, researches an actual American crime and then drops his fictional private eye into the tale as either an investigator or actual participant in the events. In this case, he becomes both. The story revolves around the 1953 kidnapping of young Bobby Greenlease of Kansas City. The six year old was the son of Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Sr, a multi-millionaire auto dealer. His kidnappers were paid a ransom of $60,000, the largest ever paid out in American history at that time.

Collins splits the book in two parts. The first has Heller hired by Greenlease Sr. to help find the kidnappers and rescue his son. We’ve always admired Collin’s ability to empathize with his characters and that is never more evidenced than here. Believing the boy is already dead, after finding Hall, Heller’s emotional restraint is nothing short of painful as his desire to blow away the scumbag killer is kept in check with having to learn the truth. His portrayal of Carl Hall is both deft and creepy at the same time.

At the time of the couples’ eventual arrest, only half the money was recovered. Five years later the mystery remains as to where it went and who ended up with it. Reporters and police investigators suggested the funds had been laundered through organized crime and ended up in Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union Fund. Thus Greenlease Sr. once again hires Heller; this time to find out where it went. Not because he needs the money, but is sickened by the thought that unknown lowlifes profited from his son’s abduction. Like his previous Heller books, Collins skillfully weaves his protagonist through the documented historical facts having him cross paths with such players Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy.

“The Big Bundle” is classic Max Collins, that alone should have you pre-ordering it. Of all his Heller novels to date, this one will leave you feeling as if you’d been sucker punched. Since the Garden of Eden, evil has existed in our world. In 1953, it reared its head tragically.

A final note. We rarely mention of the covers of books we review. Hard Case Crime is one of the few publishers out there that always delivers stunning paintings reminiscent of the early 50s paperbacks. Paul Mann does the honors on this title offering up a Nate Heller who looks a whole lot like the late actor Robert Lansing. What we’d call brilliant casting, Mr. Mann.

And the love fest continues with this great Library Journal review of the about-to-be-published (Oct. 4) new Barbara Allan novel, Antiques Liquidation.

Antiques Liquidation Cover
Antiques Liquidation
by Barbara Allan
Severn House.
(A Trash ’n’ Treasures Mystery, Bk. 16).
Oct. 2022. 208p. ISBN 9780727850911. $29.99.

Brandy once again finds herself an unwilling partner to her septuagenarian mother’s antiques subterfuge in Allan’s 16th “Trash ’N’ Treasures” mystery (following Antiques Carry On). Awoken early in the morning by Vivian for a shady antiques shopping trip, Brandy is prepared for something to go wrong. With a little blackmail, Vivian has secured access to the auction goods before the auction happens. She has her choice of deadstock, and after an encounter with the police, is able to take it safely home. However, murder is never far behind where Brandy and Vivian are involved, and the auctioneer soon turns up dead. Vivian adds her own interpretation of events throughout the book, often to humorous effect. Readers will also find several recipes and Vivian’s tips for buying and selling antiques. Brandy’s asides about events in the previous novels will help new readers to enjoy this installment without having read the rest of the series. Fans who are returning to the series will continue to find humor in Brandy and Vivian’s relationship and will enjoy seeing favorite characters return.
VERDICT: Best for readers of cozy mysteries who enjoy small-town living, humor with a side of murder, and cute canine companions.
Reviewed by Tristan Draper, Aug 26, 2022

Our old pard Caleb York is getting a boost from Kensington, who will run price discount promotions on the York novels during October at major eBook retailers. For example, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek will be promoted with a BookBub blast on 10/8/2022 – a rootin’ tootin’ 99-cents!

* * *

The aftermath of the presentation here in Muscatine, Iowa, on September 17 of Gary Sandy in my play, Encore for Murder (developed from a Mickey Spillane synopsis), has been gratifying. The people who saw it have approached me with praise, and others with regret that they didn’t see it.

We have just started to scratch the surface of the voluminous footage we gathered on HD of the performance. Excerpts (and interview footage of Gary Sandy and the Velda and Pat Chambers actors) will be included in the new version of my 1999 Spillane documentary, in progress. And I am hopeful we will have a complete feature version of the recorded play as well. I haven’t spent much time in editing suites in recent years and can’t wait to get back in there with Phil Dingeldein and our new buddy Chad Bishop.

* * *

Finally, Craig Zablo gives The Big Bundle a big boost here!

M.A.C.

Short Cuts

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

I came to short stories late in my career. I had written a good number as a teenager and, in the Writers Workshop format at the University of Iowa, writing short stories was expected. But I didn’t submit anything professionally until the mid-1980s, and then almost always when I was invited. I believe the first professionally published short story was “The Strawberry Teardrop” (a Heller story) for a PWA anthology. I did allow several early things to be published in Hardboiled, back when my pal Wayne Dundee was the editor, but I don’t recall the exact time frame.

The limited number of markets discouraged me, and they still do. I tried Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine with “A Wreath for Marley,” but the editor turned it down as too long (and it’s a novella, so that’s valid) although claimed to like it. I sold a Heller story to them later – don’t recall which one – and since then, on the rare occasions I submit to EQMM, they haven’t turned anything down. This to me is a real honor. I’ve never submitted anything to Alfred Hitchcock, their sister magazine, simply because I have a good relationship with the editor at EQMM.

The response there to my submissions of Spillane/Collins short stories has been favorable – I did both “A Killer is on the Loose!” (from an unproduced Spillane radio play) and “The Big Run” (from an unproduced TV script by Mickey, done for Suspense). And now, for the first time, a Mike Hammer story appears in EQMM (the March/April 2021 issue) and the Spillane & Collins team has made the cover. [Amazon Link]

This, frankly, delights me.

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine March/April 2021

We are the issue’s Black Mask Department story, and are the lead story, which is a thrill. And here is what editor Janet Hutchings says by way of introducing “Killer’s Alley,” adapted by me from a short Hammer film script:

“Although Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stepped onto the crime-fiction scene in 1947, just six years after EQMM was founded, he’s never appeared in our pages. As we celebrated the magazine’s 80th year, it’s high time he joined EQMM’s panoply of iconic characters.”

One of the joys of being the keeper of the Spillane literary keys is to see how warmly he is now regarded. This is, frankly, a big deal, getting the EQMM seal of approval. Folks my age (and a few of us are still kicking) know how less than warm the reception was to Mickey and his success in the early ‘50s from a lot of critics and writers who should have known better, but were seized by a fit of jealousy.

Short stories have been on my mind of late, because I’ve been dealing with going over the galley proofs of two new collections of my short fiction, Reincarnal & Other Dark Tales and the forthcoming Suspense – His and Hers: Tales of Love and Murder. The latter, due out in September, is a follow-up to Murder – His and Hers, and again collects stories written individually by Barb and me, and together.

Assembling these has not been without speed bumps. Wolfpack has been incredibly supportive, bringing out much of my remaining back list – the four Eliot Ness novels, the two Mommy novels, and Shoot the Moon, though I haven’t seen a physical copy of that yet. They will be bringing out Regeneration and Bombshell by Barb and me, stand-alone novels.

Already they have Murderlized (by Matt Clemens and me, a new collection I’ve very proud of) and the existing collections, Blue Christmas and Murder – His and Hers. Barb’s Too Many Tomcats is out, too, with an intro and a co-written story by me.

Again, there have been problems. I think Wolfpack’s covers are great, but I’ve had copy-editing problems; but editor Paul Bishop has been patient with my fussiness with both Reincarnal and Suspense – His and Hers. Not every problem can be blamed on copy editors, though. These stories span something like 37 years, and each tale is a file, sometimes going back to (ready for this?) WordStar days. So what we delivered sometimes had glitches I hadn’t caught. A typical problem was that, for a long time, editors wanted italics indicated by underlining; maybe a decade ago, they switched to wanting italics indicated by, yes, italics.

And Wolfpack had to get a bunch of my books out all at once. Reincarnal has a problem that a number of you have pointed out – the table of contents page is messed up. One story is not included and the numbering is wrong. I missed this. I frankly never thought to check the table of contents.

The nice thing about the e-book age is that we can correct things like that. So anyone ordering Reincarnal now, whether e-book or physical book, will have a corrected table of contents. The rest of you – well, what do you know? You own a collector’s item!

Seriously, though, folks – if you catch a typo in anything of mine, whichever of my publishers has put it out, let me know at macphilms@hotmail.com. We will at the very least be able to correct the e-book version.

Barb, by the way, has been a natural from the start where short stories are concerned. She grew up on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone and developed a real feel for a compact form with a twist ending. From the start she got great reviews and reactions for her stories, including getting slots in “best of the year” anthologies. For her, novel-writing was a stretch, but she has adapted beautifully. Nonetheless, her touch with the short form remains a strength – we have a story together (conceived by her) in – yes! – an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

* * *
Deadly Anniversaries Ebook Cover

I am pleased to share with you something from another of my favorite newsstand publications, Mystery Scene. The great Jon Breen included Do No Harm in an article about recent legal thrillers; a lovely color reproduction of the cover of this latest Heller novel accompanied it.

“Max Allan Collins’s excellent series about Zelig-like private eye Nate Heller fictionalizes major crimes of the past century. Occasionally, Heller drops in on classic trials, perhaps most notably in Damned in Paradise(1996), featuring a complexly characterized Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense in a 1932 Honolulu rape case. The latest in the series, Do No Harm (Forge), considers the murder of Marilyn Sheppard for which her husband Dr. Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland osteopath, was tried and convicted in 1954 and retried in 1966, this time with famed advocate F. Lee Bailey heading the defense. Both trails are visited in a total of about a dozen pages, the first summarized to Heller by newspaper columnist Flo Kilgore (a transparent pseudonym for Dorothy Kilgallen), the second viewed by Heller and including some well-selected quotes from Bailey’s cross-examinations. All the real people in the cast – Bailey, Kilgore/Kilgallen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Eliot Ness, and especially Sam Sheppard himself – come to life as convincing fictional characters. As usual, Collins’ concluding author’s note provides a bibliographic essay on his sources to make the fact/fiction demarcation clear.”

Getting back to short fiction, a story that I consider one of my best – “Amazing Grace” – appears in the MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries. It’s on sale now in e-book form for under two bucks, right here.

Here is an absolutely stellar Come Spy With Me review at Bookgasm.

Here’s a mixed but smart review, mostly favorable, of Skim Deep. But for the last effin time, it’s Nolan, not Frank Nolan. He has never been Frank Nolan. Stop it already.

Finally, here’s a nice if belated (but appreciated) UK review of Girl Most Likely.

M.A.C.

52 Cards and a Joker

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Today, as I write this (June 1, 2020), is the 52nd wedding anniversary of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Jane Mull, aka Al and Barb Collins, aka Barbara Allan.

Fifty-two cards in the deck and one joker.

We are celebrating almost not at all, as we continue to shelter in place. Our splurge is a bottle of champagne, some wine-cheese spread, and crackers. This evening we plan to watch The Billion-Dollar Brain (a film we saw together on its initial release) as the third entry in our Michael Caine as Harry Palmer Blu-ray festival, having watched The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin on the preceding two evenings.

In recent years we’ve spent our anniversary in Galena, Illinois, at the Irish Cottage hotel, with two days of dining and shopping and doing touristy stuff. It’s something we enjoy very much and hope to do again one day. But going on such an excursion before there’s a Covid-19 vaccine is highly doubtful.

I try to stay away from politics here, though it does creep in. Forgive me, but it’s going to be unavoidable today.

You see, fifty-two years ago was 1968. Barb and I went to Chicago on our honeymoon. We ate at George Diamond’s and Augustino’s, restaurants that would eventually find their way into Nate Heller novels. We saw a bunch of movies, including (if memory serves and it often doesn’t) 2001: A Space Odyssey and a re-release of Gone With the Wind. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry. I also somehow got Barb to accompany me to countless old bookstores, all around the city, looking for the two Richard Stark “Parker” books I lacked, one of which was The Mourner. Not sure what the other one was. All I know for sure is I probably endangered our lives.

At the tail end of the honeymoon, we watched in our room at the Bismarck Hotel the coverage of the murder of Bobby Kennedy. We were both Bobby supporters and it hit us hard. The rest of the trip had been so much fun that even this tragedy wasn’t enough to taint the experience. But it was certainly a strange, haunting way to complete it.

But the year itself brings so much to mind. Barb was working fulltime at the First National Bank, where she would rise to an officer’s position. I was playing in the Daybreakers – our record “Psychedelic Siren” came out early in 1968 and we did many gigs promoting it – and starting at the University of Iowa where Richard Yates became my mentor at the Writers Workshop. I had several hard years of rejection slips ahead, but would sell both Bait Money and No Cure For Death before graduating with my MFA.

That lay ahead. In 1968 assassinations and racial turmoil and general political turbulence had the country by the throat. June 1, 2020, seems uncomfortably familiar. We seem to have made precious little progress, and it’s disheartening.

The only good thing about this familiarity is the woman I’m married to, who remains lovely in just about every way imaginable.

I never dreamed another time as troubling as the one we lived through would come around for Barb and me to experience. I am hopeful, guardedly, that things will change in November. That the cruelty and stupidity around us lessens, and that the partisan divide decreases in intensity. That the absurdity of white supremacy and racial prejudice can finally be overcome. And that Americans, politicians included, will learn the lesson that a pandemic is not red versus blue. That a virus doesn’t give a good goddamn who you voted for.

* * *

The excellent book review podcast, The Inside Flap, has nice things to say about Girl Can’t Help It and includes a long interview with me on that novel and on Nate Heller, as well as excursions into Dick Tracy, Nolan and the Antiques series. The Girl/MAC stuff starts at the 24-minute point.

Jerry’s House of Everything is a wonderful blog by Jerry House, who has been a big booster of my work. As a generous postscript to a look at the IAMTW, the organization for writers of tie-ins that Lee Goldberg and I founded, he has written a very nice piece on Girl Can’t Help It, with You Tube links to performances by the Daybreakers, Crusin’ and Seduction of the Innocent.

I’m taking the liberty of reprinting the Girl Can’t Help It review here.

MAC ‘n’ Roll: Mention of Max Allan Collins above allows me to segue ever so briefly to one of his latest novels, Girl Can’t Help It, the second in his series about Galena, Iowa, sheriff Krista Larson (a highly recommended book; pick it up now!). {I’ve made no secret that I am a Max Allan Collins fan-boy; well, fan-geezer, really.) In addition to having a number of best-selling and award-winning series, Collins has had a long career as a comic strip/book writer (Dick Tracy, Batman, Road to Perdition), tie-in writer (CSI, Bones, Saving Private Ryan), film writer/director (Mommy, Mommy’s Day, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life), and cultural historian (The History of Mystery, Men’s Adventure Magazines, For the Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II). Collins has also authored trading card sets, video games, mystery jigsaw puzzles, and Lord knows what else. If all this wasn’t enough, he has also been a professional rock and roll musician since 1966. His bands the Daybreakers and Crusin’ have both been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He also was part of a “comic con band,” Seduction of the Innocent, with actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer, comics artist Steve Leialoha, and comics fan John Christensen.

Girl Can’t Help It is the first novel by Collins that made use of his rock and roll background. Regional band Hot Rod & the Pistons is inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and murder begins striking the band members. It’s a well-crafted mystery that seamlessly blends a lot of that state’s rock and roll history — something I was not fully aware of until now.

Here’s some of Collins’ music, beginning with the Daybreakers’ regional hit “Psychedelic Siren”:

And here’s 60’s retro band Crusin’ playing “Incense and Peppermints” at the St. Louis Bouchercon:

And here’s Seduction of the Innocent doing a set at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con:

For those of you who’d like to read Jerry’s piece on the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers, it’s right here.

* * *

Yet another of these movies-you-didn’t-know-were-based-on-comic-books articles features Road to Perdition.

Finally, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog has a nice write-up by “JB” on Do No Harm. The reviewer, like several others looking at this novel, suggests I leave certain things unresolved that the novel really does clarify at least in terms of what happens in Heller’s world. I think the problem (and this is on me) is that part of what I wanted to do was examine every major theory about what happened in the Sam Sheppard case, and that seems to have muddied the waters for some readers. This is a long blog entry about a lot of things, so you may want to scroll down till you come to the Do No Harm cover image.

M.A.C.

Mommy Streams, Backlist Bubbles, We Binge

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Both Mommy and Mommy’s Day are now streaming on Amazon Prime. (Links: Mommy; Mommy’s Day) How long they will be there I can’t say (Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life has disappeared, though some other streaming services have it). If you’re a Prime member, it’s included.

[Note from Nate: Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is currently on Tubi, free (with ads?)]

So if you haven’t seen both or either of these films, now’s your chance. If you have the earlier full-screen versions, this is an opportunity to see the widescreen versions that Phil Dingeldein and I recently labored to create. I do warn everyone not to expect HD quality (despite being streamed as HD) – the picture (particularly on Mommy) is rather soft. But it’s probably the best either one is going to look.

As I’ve said, compromises were made to be able to afford the wonderful casts.

remain proud of these films, and the Blu-ray double-feature release has received mostly good to great notices. People seem to understand where these little movies were coming from – which is to say blackly humorous melodrama, and a tribute to The Bad Seed and to Patty McCormack herself.

Mommy and Mommy’s Day are streaming on Fandango, too, for a couple of bucks. It may show up elsewhere (I am not kept terribly well in the loop by the distributor). (Links: Mommy; Mommy’s Day)

The novel versions will be coming out again one of these days, part of a package I am negotiating with a major e-book publisher for the seven remaining novels on my backlist (Amazon has most of the rest, Dover has the first two Jack and Maggie Starr novels).

We are also discussing a group of collections of my short fiction (and Barb’s), reprinting Blue Christmas, Too Many Tomcats, and Murder – His and Hers, plus a follow-up to that last title, a collection of my horror stories, and two collections of the stories Matt Clemens and I have done together.

Pulling these stories together has been a big job. They go back to the nineties in many cases, and were written using the word-processing program (wait for it) WordStar, and then converted to now nearly obsolete versions of WordPerfect maybe twenty years ago, and finally to Word. So while I have most of the files in some form, the dizzying array of conversion glitches causes twitches.

For the horror collection I decided to include the radio scripts of “Mercy” and “House of Blood,” written for the Fangoria radio show, Dreadtime Stories. I had adapted a number of my short stories for producer Carl Amari, but had two indie movie ideas I wanted to get up on their feet, and that’s how the two scripts above came to be written. The scripts were in a format (basically a very narrow strip of copy, maybe four inches wide, that required hours of work transforming them into more standard pages of text that wouldn’t bewilder or annoy readers. Fortunately, I have a staff to do such scut work. No, wait – I don’t!

Ultimately, though, it will mean the vast majority of my work will be available in e-book (and real books), with only a handful of things lost to the mists of time.

* * *

What have Barb and I been watching lately? Now that we don’t go to the movies anymore?

We finally got around to Ozark, which had been recommended to me by smart people, who were right. It’s a terrific show, very well-acted and full of twists and turns. Several people had told me that somebody (or somebodies) at the series seemed to be fans of mine or were influenced by me, and I think that might be the case. If so, it’s flattering. If not, it’s not the first time I’ve been deluded.

But there’s a hillbilly family reminiscent of the Comforts from the Nolan novels, a character called Boyd (Quarry’s partner in those novels), and a major villain in the first of the three seasons so far is played by the actor (Peter Mullen) who was the Broker in the Quarry TV series. And the good man doing bad things to keep his family afloat is Road to Perdition 101. Maybe half a dozen times I turned to Barb and said, “At least somebody’s reading me.”

The series itself is obviously something that wouldn’t exist without Breaking Bad, and it challenges you (in a Quarry-like way) to root for and identify with people who are making really poor choices. I don’t mean to overstate any debt anybody owes me, because (a) I owe plenty of debts myself, and (b) I may be full of shit about this.

The Guardian describes Ozark thusly: “Ozark follows the misadventures of Marty Byrde (the perpetually clenched Jason Bateman), a financial adviser forced to relocate from Chicago to Osage Beach, Missouri, where he launders money on a scale that would give Al Capone a cluster migraine.”

Bateman uses his standard glib, slightly put-upon persona to nice comic effect initially, and you are slightly amazed at first by how well that persona works in a dark melodrama. But as that melodrama grows darker, and the consequences ever more dire, Bateman’s performance deepens. Other mesmerizing performances come from Laura Linney, as Bateman’s even more glib wife, whose sunny smile delivers manipulative self-interest in such a “helpful” way; and Julia Garner’s Ruth, the most original and unique character in Ozark, a hillbilly girl with a good heart and a crushed soul, capable of kindness and murder, when either is called for.

I like the series and I think you will, too.

We also have recently enjoyed the surprise gift of a second season of Rick Gervais’ After Life, the touching drama/comedy (you don’t think I could ever type the vile word “dramedy,” do you?) that explores the road back for a husband consumed by grief over the loss of a wonderful wife.

The very special thing about After Life is its signature combination of mean humor and genuine sentiment. It’s a show about a man so depressed that suicide is an understandable option, and it’s often frequently hilarious.

I am a Gervais fan and have been for a long, long time. This little series isn’t much talked about, but it may represent his best work.

On the film front, we have watched a lot of British comedies of the late ‘40s and 1950s – such Alastair Sim gems as our perennial favorite, The Belles of St. Trinian’s, but also Laughter in Paradise and School for Scoundrels; and Alec Guinness in All at Sea, The Captain’s Paradise and Last Holiday.

And the most current season of Midsomer Murders, a favorite comfort food of ours, seemed particularly strong after a few missteps the season before.

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Bookgasm, which is a book review site you should be regularly visiting, has posted a wonderful review of Girl Can’t Help It that’s been picked up all over the place, and I provided a link last week. But in case you haven’t seen it, I’m going to share it here, right now:

Notoriously prolific author Max Allan Collins has added a second entry to his Krista Larson series, GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. It’s also a stretch back to Collins’ past (and present) as a rock and roll musician. True! I didn’t know this either but Collins apparently wrote the song “Psychedelic Siren” recorded by The Daybreakers in 1968 (here, watch it on YouTube). In the author’s note, he states this is the first time he has mined his rock and roll experience for a book. Well dang it, more of this please. Mr. Collins.

The first book in the series, Girl Most Likely, features Krista Larson as the Chief of Police in Galena, Illinois. She is assisted by her able staff but also by her father, a retired cop from the Dubuque Police Department who does invaluable detective work. In this second work, Girl Can’t Help It, the Larson duo is back on the job.

The book title refers to a song title recorded by local Galena band Hot Rod & The Pistons. They scored a huge hit with the song in the 80s when retro rockabilly hit big (think Stray Cats). They managed two albums and then faded away. But after their election into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’re set for a reunion gig and maybe even a little tour. The town of Galena is excited and creates a special musical festival to kick off the whole thing. All well and good.

Until one of the members is found dead of a heart attack in a bathtub. Oh well, old guys do die. But then a second band member commits suicide and his apartment has been ransacked. This hits the Larsons as fishy, and they’re fairly convinced that both deaths are murders.

Of course, we the readers know these are murders because we have chapters written from the point of view of the murderer. The crimes continue to escalate and it’s a battle between the murderer and the police department to see who will come out on top and if the entire lineup of Hot Rod & The Pistons will be killed off one by one.

Everybody knows Max Allan Collins by now. He has multiple series in place, writes another successful series with his wife (the duo goes by Barbara Allan) and is one of the solid bricks in the pyramid of genre writers over the past 40+ years. A lovely, smooth and polished style coupled with a brisk pace makes for quick reading short chapters, believable characters, behaviors and dialogue. If you like any of Collins’ works, you’ll like GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. I think this series has real promise. Recommended. —Mark Rose

Get it at Amazon.

A fun podcast about books, The Inside Flap, was kind enough to give Do No Harm and Nate Heller some attention. The Do No Harm stuff happens a bit after the hour mark. You’ll hear one of the participants wish that I would have Heller solve the JFK assassination (guess what books I sent along to them).

The great blog Paperback Warrior is posting their all-time ten favorite posts, and the one focusing on The First Quarry is #4.

Here’s a great interview with my buddy Charles Ardai, touching on our projects together.

The fantastic Stiletto Gumshoe site talks about Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder, and provides some links to things you may have missed.

This nice review of Antiques Fire Sale is a little quirky – doesn’t like all the talking to the reader, and thinks referring to Vivian as “Mother” is disrespectful – but some nice insights are on hand, as well. Loving us is preferred, but liking us is just fine, too.

Finally, check out this terrific Mystery Tribute piece about Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

M.A.C.