Posts Tagged ‘Fancy Anders For the Boys’

Dig Mike Hammer! Plus, Kirkus Loves Me (For Now)

Tuesday, August 29th, 2023

Over a long and blood-spattered career, I have had most of my worst notices published by the Kirkus reviewing service, widely known among authors as the most merciless of its kind. It is one of the major publishing “trades,” along with Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.

Lately, on occasion, I’ve been receiving some good notices from Kirkus. It reminds me of what Noah Cross tells Jake Gittes in Chinatown: “Of course I’m respectable. I’m old! Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” Thank you, Robert Towne.

Anyway, Kirkus has published a review of the new Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and me, Dig Two Graves, and it’s a good one.


Mike Hammer goes west.

Celebrating both his secretary/partner/lover Velda Sterling’s return from a long absence in the early 1960s and his own comeback from a protracted period of drying out, Hammer is out Christmas shopping with Velda and her mother, Mildred Sterling, when Mildred is hit by a car and sent to the hospital. Unlike the driver who struck her, she’s not dead, and summoning the couple to the side of her hospital bed, she unreels a revised version of Velda’s origin story: Velda’s father wasn’t unassuming Roger Sterling but Rhinegold Massey, Mildred’s mobbed-up first husband. After evading a prison term for his part in an armored car robbery by turning on his co-conspirators and getting whisked off to Dreamland Park, an Arizona retirement community whose entire population is in the witness protection program, Rhino, now rechristened Rainer Miller, suffered a fatal heart attack after a mugging two months ago. Putting aside his initial assumption that he was the target of the driver who nearly killed Mildred, Hammer decides to head out to Dreamland Park to ask questions, and Velda decides, over his objections, to accompany him.

Longtime fans of the franchise begun by Spillane and continued by Collins, working once more from his late friend’s drafts and notes, will anticipate that asking questions will be the least interesting thing Hammer and Velda do among the surprisingly spry and unsurprisingly felonious residents of Dreamland Park. The amusing conceit of a town for snitches allows full rein for Hammer’s signature blend of violence, chastely described lust, and revenge served cold, with several surprising twists thrown in as a bonus.

Like the denizens of its imagined retirement community, you just can’t keep this franchise down.

I should note that the release date of Dig Two Graves has been revised to September 19, 2023.

The splendid audiobook of Dig Two Graves, however, read by the wonderful Stefan Rudnicki, is available now.

Here’s a sample of Stefan reading the novel in a voice entirely suited to Mike Hammer.

Dig Two Graves Cover

Purchase Links:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes Chirp
Audio MP3 CD:
Audio CD:

* * *

My 1994 movie Mommy is playing on Roku (and a couple of other streaming services). I think Mommy’s Day is available, too.

* * *

I provided a link a few weeks ago to Mike Finn’s excellent review of the first Fancy Anders novella, Fancy Anders Goes to War as recorded by Skyboat, an outstanding production. But I thought I’d share the review with you here:

Today, I wanted some light entertainment to get me through a disappointingly rainy August afternoon so I spent three and a half hours listening to an ‘enhanced audio’ performance of Max Allan Collins’ ‘Fancy Anders Goes To War: Who Killed Rosie The Riveter?’. It was exactly what I’d been looking for.

It’s a delightful confection that sets an improbable story of murder and sabotage involving a cast of characters finely balanced to respect early Twenty-First Century sensibilities, against what seemed to be a reasonably accurate portrayal of women working in a warplane factory in California in late 1942.

Almost all of the interesting characters, good or bad, are women. Almost all the women are exceptionally good-looking, with comparisons being drawn to well-known film stars of the period. They also come from ethnically and socio-economically diverse backgrounds and are comfortable climbing on gantries and riveting and bucking metal together to make warplanes.

The main character, Fancy Anders, (who is, of course, very good-looking) is a twenty-something rich, white, college-educated socialite who wants to work as an investigator in her father’s well-connected Confidential Investigations company. He recruits her as a secretary but leaves her in charge when he’s recalled to military service setting up an intelligence unit in DC.

When the CEO of Amalgamated Aircraft, a man she’s known all her life and who she calls uncle, needs someone to investigate the allegedly accidental death in his factory of the worker selected to be the real-life model for the Rosie The Riveter propaganda campaign, Fancy jumps at the chance to go undercover at his factory.

What follows is a fast, fun, uncomplicated but engaging romp as Fancy, who is not very good at being undercover, tries to find out what happened to Rosie and in the process gets herself into a great deal of trouble.

This was popcorn but the good kind of popcorn with just the right amount of melted butter and salt.

The ‘enhanced audio’ turned out to mean that appropriate background noises were added to the narration. To my surprise, the sound effects lifted the story by adding a retro Saturday Morning Matinee At The Cinema ambience that I enjoyed.

Gabrielle de Cuir’s narration was perfect.

This link will take you to the Audible page where you’ll find both Fancy Anders novellas, plus samples of the excellent Skyboat productions. The third novella (Fancy Anders Goes Hollywood) should be out this year from Neo-Text – our superb artist Fay Dalton is finishing up the illos now.

It’s my hope we will place a collection of the three novellas with a publisher – the novellas were designed to add up to one novel, a la Hammett’s Dain Curse – with Fay’s illos in full color. Counting the covers, that would add up to a stunning 33 full-page illustrations.

* * *

The new Wolfpack e-book, Dark Suspense (Volume Four in the Max Allan Collins Collection) is available now, gathering the novels Mommy, Mommy’s Day, No One Will Hear You (written with frequent collaborator Matthew V. Clemens) and the anthology Reincarnal, the title novella being the source of the movie that we are trying to launch here.

My indie film Blue Christmas is in serious pre-production now, although the disappointing lack of any support from Greenlight Iowa has us scrambling for funds. We have already raised $7000 (our goal) at Indiegogo, but will have to come up with possibly as much as $13,000 more…chicken feed in movie terms and a small fortune in real world terms.

I am considering offering some rare books of mine here, signed, to raise some of those funds. Does that hold any appeal to any of you? We will also be looking at some other grants and possible funding sources here in Iowa.

This film is going to happen. We’re going full steam ahead. Exactly who we’ll be able to cast and how many locations we’ll be able to use, however, are in question. We have confirmed Muscatine Community College’s black box theater as our “studio” for the production. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, VCI will be bringing out the expanded Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane documentary on Blu-Ray yet this year (and I hope to have the cover art for you soon) with Encore for Murder with Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer as a bonus feature (with a DVD only release of just that recorded Golden Age-radio style play).

* * *

I guess things are getting back to near normal, as Barb and I have started going out to the movies again, although not on our old once-per-week schedule. More like once-a-month.

But one thing remains a constant: we are back to walking out on movies. The idea is a combination of (a) life’s too short, and (b) we have better stuff to see waiting for us at home.

This image is not an endorsement.

What did we walk out of? The Meg 2. We had liked the first film quite a bit, but this one is fairly dire. Much of it occurs in murky underwater shots and the dialogue is cringe-worthy. The worst shark movie since Jaws 4.

I watched the new Shout Factory edition of Dragnet, the spoofy Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks movie from 1987. I remember not loving it on its release, but was grateful for Dragnet getting some attention. My reappraisal? It’s a bad movie. Aykroyd has some good moments and seems to respect (even as he kids) the original Joe Friday. This strikes me as Hank’s least effective performance, broad and trying too hard; but he’s not given anything at all smart to work with. Dabney Coleman plays a Hugh Hefner type with a lisp – horrible. Even Christopher Plummer is bad. How do you get a bad performance out of that man? Harry Morgan as the late (Uncle Joe) Friday’s partner Bill Gannon, now a captain, picks up a paycheck with surprising dignity.

Dragnet deserves a real movie, set in period, based on some major real crime. What a shame it died this way (yes, there was a brief, not terribly good revival on TV that lasted an eyeblink).

Jack Webb was the Orson Welles of TV. He deserves better.

In the meantime, Barb and I have been watching (mostly for the first time) Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it’s a very good series…a few duds, but the original had some of those, too. We’ve also worked our way through the Erle Stanley Gardner adaptations on Perry Mason. We’re still watching shows from the earlier seasons and what a wonderful series that was.

That’s how Barb gets me to walk out of things like Meg 2 – she whispers, “We have better at home.”

And she’s right.


Get Fancy, Stream at Your Own Risk & Plot, Plot, Plot

Tuesday, July 18th, 2023

Out of the blue, two nice reviews of my novella Fancy Anders For the Boys popped up on the Internet.

Here’s one from that pro’s pro, writer Ron Fortier, at his Pulp Fiction Reviews site. Ron has, in part, a very personal response that is quite fascinating.

By Max Allan Collins
Illustrated by Fay Dalton
Neo Text
118 pgs

This is Collins’ second book featuring Hollywood debutante turned detective, Fancy Anders, set in the early days of World War II. What with Pearl Harbor fresh in the minds of most Americans, the people in Los Angeles right worry about a possible Japanese invasion and the Army quickly establishes military outpost in the hills overlooking the city. Many of these set up with anti-artillery installations.

With that many boys in uniform soon flooding the streets of Hollywood, the movie community comes together under the leadership of actors John Garfield and Bette Davis to open a canteen exclusively to cater to these servicemen and staffed by cinema stars and young, beautiful ingénues.

When Army Intelligence learns of possible enemy saboteurs targeting the famous Hollywood Canteen, Fancy is recruited, along with several of her girl friends, to pose as canteen hostesses and ferret out the foreign agents. Once again, Collins uses his considerable imagination to drop the reader into the middle of one of Hollywood’s most memorable locales. Through his words, it is so easy to see the beautiful ladies, the eager young men away from home and hear the big band music. It all comes alive against a backdrop of a world turned upside in the throes of war.

“Fancy Anders – For the Boys” is a fun read. Especially for this reviewer, whose father, Pfc. George Fortier served on one of those gun crews and spend his 1942 Thanksgiving, along with two other men, at the home of crooner Bing Crosby and his family. All before he shipped out for the Philippines and three years of hell.

And here is another great review, this one from GoodReads (unfortunately, unsigned):

Fancy Anders plays hostess at the Hollywood Canteen where soldiers and sailors about to ship out mingle with movie stars in this second of three thrilling mysteries by Road to Perdition creator Max Allan Collins, with stunning illustrations by award-winning artist Fay Dalton.

October 1942. With her private detective daddy in the OSS chasing saboteurs, Fancy is stuck playing receptionist/cleaning-gal at the empty Anders Confidential Inquiries office. But then the 24-year-old Barnard grad – expert in shooting, flying and jujitsu – is recruited back into action.

Hollywood, with Bette Davis and John Garfield leading the charge, has put together a night club where servicemen are served by waiters and waitresses with famous faces, from Gable to Dietrich, from Abbott to Costello. With starlets acting as hostesses, gorgeous Fancy fits right in. But this pistol-packing mama knows her real job is solving the murder of Who Killed the Hostess – a Victory Girl who became an LA battle casualty. In the meantime, saboteurs are targeting the Canteen for maximum damage, hoping to wipe out half the stars in Tinsel Town and blast a hole in America’s morale.

Portraying the times vividly with his trademark historical accuracy, Mystery Writers of America grandmaster Max Allan Collins has created a series protagonist both of her time and far ahead of it. Lavishly illustrated by James Bond artist, Fay Dalton.

The three Fancy Anders novellas are designed as essentially a serialized novel, in the hope they will be collected (Fay Dalton’s great illos and all). My structural pattern was Hammett’s great The Glass Key. Fay is working on the third novella’s illustrations right now (Fancy Anders Goes Hollywood).

Fancy Anders Goes to War cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link
MP3 CD: Amazon Purchase Link
Fancy Anders For the Boys cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link
Audio MP3 CD: Amazon Purchase Link
Audio CD: Amazon Purchase Link

Neo Text bought them as e-books but, at my request, have also made them available in book form. This has caused some confusion from readers who can’t figure out why the books are so short, although the books at Amazon are clearly listed as novellas.

Fay’s illos (cover excepted) appear in black-and-white in the physical books and in color in the e-books. My hope is that they will be in color when the three novellas are eventually collected, and in fact I’ll probably insist they do. We have not gone out to publishers about the collected novel version as yet.

This was a Covid lockdown project, largely, and one I truly loved doing, from the research through the writing. Fancy is sort of a young Ms. Tree, though she definitely has her own personality. Within the context of my work, the novellas are reliably tough, though not as extreme in that regard as Mike Hammer, Nate Heller and Quarry.

You can get them at Amazon. Here’s Fancy Anders Goes to War.

And here’s Fancy Anders For the Boys.

As I’ve mentioned here before, Skyboat Media has done phenomenal audiobooks of the Fancy novellas, with full sound effects, music and a fine female narrator in Gabrielle De Cuir.

The Amazon links I provided will also take you to ordering info on the e-books and the audios mentioned above. But of course my preference is physical media.

Fancy Anders Goes to War is $6.99 and Fancy Anders For the Boys is $5.99 in physical book form.

* * *

My ongoing rants about my love of physical media and disdain for e-books and streaming video probably needs some clarification.

Nothing wrong with e-books. If I were younger, particularly if I were commuting by train to work or doing a lot of flying on commercial airlines for business, I would certainly have a Kindle. My son Nate has long read books on Kindle and, when he really likes them, gone on to buy those books in their proper physical media form.

A great deal of my income comes from e-books, as the links I provide here to Amazon sales on a fairly regular basis indicate. I have been very fortunate to have been one of the authors who early on was approached by Amazon, and they have kept me in print (and have sent regular checks) at a time in my career when that comes in very handy indeed. They publish physical media versions, too, but the e-books are the moneymakers.

Frankly, I was one of the handful of living authors approached by Amazon for my backlist – which included not only Nate Heller but Mallory and the “Disaster” series and a few standalones. Ian Fleming was one of the others, for example, all deceased except me. For a while they were publishing new novels of mine – including the very successful Reeder and Rogers political thriller trilogy, co-written by my pal Matt Clemens – though the current editorial staff expresses no interest in publishing new material by me.

No harm, no foul. What they already have continues to generate sales. The most recent titles are the two Krista Larson novels, Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It, which continue to sell if not at a clip at a steady pace.

But my frustration with the streaming services continues, and the writers and actors who are on strike are actively seeking help in that area, understandably. As a consumer, I am angry – but not even a little surprised – to see them (post-Covid lockdown) eliminating all sorts of stuff that I might have wanted to watch, and this includes things I bought for my library. Things like the 1950 Li’l Abner and the Sidney J. Furie The Lawyer have disappeared after I bought them, supposedly permanently.

If you drop by here regularly, you’ll know I set out to show Barb and myself every Raymond Burr-era Perry Mason episode that was based on an Erle Stanley Gardner novel or story. We have completed that mission, and I think it adds up to 90 episodes or so (remarkable that an American series did so many adaptations of the source material).

But during the relatively short time it took to do that, a whole season (season 7) disappeared from Paramount+, and a number of episodes from the other seasons disappeared without a trace much less a warning. These tended to be Gardner-derived episodes.

Fortunately, I owned the entire nine-season run on DVD and had been watching the Paramount+ episodes only because they were of the higher high-def quality. You haven’t lived till you’ve examined the wrinkles on the faces of Hamilton Burger and Lt. Arthur Tragg in high-definition.

“Incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial!” you say.

Well, I’m fussy. And some who’ve been witnessing these irrational tirades of mine frown and waggle a finger – maybe it’s all well and good for an incredibly wealthy, world-famous author (pause for my hysterical laughter) to spend some of his endless funds on one Blu-ray and actual physical book after another. And it’s true that I wallow in laserdiscs, DVDs, Blu-rays and 4K discs, and that books are stacked everywhere around here waiting in hopeless desperation to be read.

But I never meant to imply that the unreliability of the streaming services and the convenience of e-books meant that I expected you to spend your food money on physical media. Only an obsessive idiot like myself – and I am not alone, I assure you – would buy as many discs and books as I do, despite the dwindling number of years that I face ahead to actually watch or read them.

What I mean to suggest about DVDs, Blu-rays and 4Ks is that if you like a movie or TV series, if it’s one of your favorites or even if it’s just something you might think revisiting is a distinct possibility, buying those movies (and/or TV shows) on physical media is well worth considering.

And as for e-books, my son Nate’s approach makes a world of sense – read it on Kindle (or whatever), and if you really, really like it, invest in a physical copy for your book shelf.

Books by me, for example.

* * *

I intend to start writing a new novel tomorrow (Monday, July 17, as I type this) – Quarry’s Return. It is, not surprisingly, for Hard Case Crime.

I spent all of this past week (including earlier today) on plotting the novel – specifically, writing a 2500-word synopsis. In the past, I have not always plotted in this much depth. My first few novels – Bait Money, No Cure for Death, and The Broker (aka Quarry) – were not plotted at all. I just flew by the seat of my pants.

No Cure for Death – a mystery – found me having to write two chapters to explain what the eff had been going on. I swore to never put myself in that position again, and never did. Crime novels were less a problem, because they don’t always include a strong mystery element. But as the years passed, and boy have they passed, I gradually began to need to plot.

It begin with plotting just a few chapters ahead. By recent years, I’ve come to need a full chapter breakdown. On the other hand, I frequently depart from the synopsis when the characters decide to come up with things of their own to do that I hadn’t anticipated. So I almost always have to re-plot a few times during the writing of a novel.

The more detailed plotting began with True Detective in the early ‘80s – I was dealing with history and a certain amount of plotting had already occurred by way of events. Surprisingly, the historical nature of the material did prevent the need to re-plot as I went along, because the characters would again surprise me and, because I continue to research as I write, new information would present itself and demand attention.

* * *

The ESO network has published another Ron Fortier review, of the Spillane/Collins The Menace, a book you should consider picking up. It’s a horror novel, Spillane-style, plus two bonus stories. From Wolfpack.

Finally, this is a rather wonderful review (in French – you may have to rely on your browser to translate) of the graphic novel, Road to Perdition. One of the smartest, most in-depth reviews of that work I’ve seen.


Half-Price Books, The Other Muscatine Mystery Man & More

Tuesday, July 4th, 2023

Barb and I, stepping our toes in the waters of life after Covid and heart surgery (me not her), took a brief getaway to Des Moines, where we’ve often gone to relax at a favorite hotel (the Wildwood), indulge in some favorite restaurants (Noah’s Arc, Ohana Steakhouse), and shop at some of our favorite brick-and-mortar stores.

Master Chef Cy Gushiken at our favorite Des Moines restaurant.
Master Chef Cy Gushiken at our favorite Des Moines restaurant.

Unfortunately, Barb’s favorite of that latter category (Von Maur at Valley West) has moved to upscale Jordan Creek mall. West Des Moines/Clive (they are adjacent) has a very nice Barnes & Noble that is still open and apparently flourishing, despite a second B & N opening a while back at Jordan Creek.

The dog in my hunt, chiefly, is the West Des Moines Half-Price Books. I go to the Cedar Rapids Half-Price frequently, but I always considered the somewhat larger Des Moines outlet an outstanding one. This time I was less enthusiastic.

Now, let’s take a brief side trip into the competing worlds of streaming and physical media. Physical media has taken a bad hit – Best Buy has all but phased out the home video that was for decades their chief loss leader/draw. They dropped CDs several years ago. The younger world (the same one inexplicably drawn to vinyl) has done its best to convince everyone over thirty that physical media has gone the way of the dodo and dinosaur. That we will be able to get every, movie and TV-wise, that we could ever want from the streaming services.


What we really have in streaming is a combination of charging for everything (even the oldest content) or foisting commercials on us, and gradually…well, not so gradually…dropping the movies and particularly TV shows you were paying to get.

Thank God for physical media.

And thank God for Half-Price Books, right?

Sure, they rape you when you sell stuff to them, and pretend to care about the environment by eliminating plastic bags (and selling you five-buck cloth ones, if you insist upon transporting your purchases to the parking lot without encountering bodily harm). But at least they are the home of physical media.

Right? Right?

My visit to the Des Moines Half-Price Books began by the book/video buyer informing me they were now paying less (!) because so much was so easily available from the streaming services (!). Muttering, I trundled off to the wall of movies and TV shows on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K to drown my sorrows in cinema.

What greeted me was indeed a wall of video. But it was also an ungodly video mosaic – DVDs were now interspersed with Blu-rays and 4K’s. No separation of titles – like Criterions, or classic cinema, or foreign, or any classification. Everything and anything that could be considered a “feature film” was lumped together – Bambi and Night of the Living Dead sharing only horrific death scenes. A secondary wall of TV series also consisted of interspersed DVDs and Blu-rays.

A few classifications remained, outside of the feature film area. In the Entertainment book section, you could find a row of interspersed opera DVDs and Blu-rays. And in the sports area was a row of wrestling DVDs. No opera-singing wrestler videos appeared to be on offer.

Here’s the thing: Blu-ray/4K collectors generally do not also collect DVDs. Nor do most people still buying DVDs want to be bothered with them uppity Blu-rays and 4K’s. And few of us in either group want to go through hundreds upon hundreds of unsorted (if alphabetized) mixed formats. I do not care to go through the entire inventory of a Half-Price Books looking for the five or six titles I might pick up. Nor do they benefit from people who come in looking for a title, check its alphabetical position, and find it, or not, make a paltry purchase and exit. Impulse buying? We don’t need no stinking impulse buying….

This unsorted morass is courtesy of (a) a generation or two who have contempt for physical media, with (again) the inexplicable hipster obsession with the delights of snap, crackle and pop common to Rice Krispies and vinyl records; and (b) corporate decision makers who don’t know what the fuck they are doing.

Imagine if the books within Half-Price were similarly rearranged – mass market paperbacks intermingled with hardcovers, cats and dogs living together, no separate sections for fiction or nonfiction, no categories like mystery or science fiction or true crime or humor. Madness. Lazy madness at that, with a complete disregard for customers.

I must add that the staff at the buying counter agreed with me whole-heartedly and hated the new corporate policy of shuffling the DVD and Blu-ray decks. In fact, they beamed when I complained, eager to hear (and pass along) the criticism. It was like sending your food back at a restaurant and having the wait staff say, “Damn right! This is shit!”

Some stores – Cedar Rapids included, so far – have ignored this idiotic policy.

* * *

There are three major mystery writers who were born in Muscatine, Iowa. My wife Barb is one of them. I am another. But arguably the most famous is Ellis Parker Butler, who wrote the very funny comic essay (published as a short book) Pigs is Pigs. Read about Butler at Wikipedia.

While Pigs Is Pigs is Butler’s most famous work, the second most famous is his detective character, Philo Gubb. (Butler’s Philo pre-dates Philo Vance, incidentally.) You can read about Gubb at Wikipedia, too, right here.

Philo Gubb Book Cover

Philo Gubb, Correspondence School Detective is one of Ellery Queen’s chosen best and most important mystery novels (though the book is a short story collection, really); it’s number 61 on their Queen’s Quorum. Here’s what Queen says about Philo Gubb:

“The year 1918 witnessed the arrival between covers of the first correspondence-school detective, a small-town paperhanger who commits a slight case of murder on the King’s English every time he talks. Philo Gubb performs his rustic ratiocination in a yellow-lemon book, its front-cover illustration showing a tall, gaunt Holmesian figure wearing a cap and dressing gown, a long pipe sticking out of his Sherlockian face, an enormous microscope on the table behind him, a beautiful damsel sitting in the client’s chair, a bookcase jammed with ponderous tomes in the background, and a framed diploma from the Rising Sun Detective Agency’s Correspondence School on the wall.”

It would seem Philo Gubb is more an ancestor of the Barbara Allan detectives, Brandy and Vivian Borne, than Nate Heller or Quarry. Like Barbara Allan (the Barbara and Max Allan Collins writing team), Ellis Butler Parker was noted for his stories being funny, even laugh out-loud funny. Not bad footsteps to walk in.

I was aware of Ellis Parker Butler, but only recently did I start collecting him. At an estate sale here in Muscatine, held at the Art Center where my band Crusin’ was playing (I was on a break), I picked up nine books by him, and have since ordered several more from e-bay and ABE Books.

Have to check out the competition, you know.

* * *

We have yet another Amazon deal for those of you who are e-book readers.

Thomas & Mercer team has announced that Fate of the Union will be promoted via Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals in the US, starting 7/1/2023 and running through 7/31/2023 at 2.99 USD.

Also, the Amazon Encore team has informed me that True Detective will be promoted via a $3 towards this selection of Kindle books in the marketplace, starting 7/1/2023 and running through 7/31/2023. This promotion offers customers the opportunity to purchase books at a discount within a curated selection using a promo code offered to them in an e-mail. Customers who have purchase history within this genre will be presented this offer. Not all customers will be offered the coupon. But if it turns up in your e-mail, have at it.

Ordering info plus sample chapters and examples of Fay Dalton’s magnificent art for Fancy Anders For The Boys is right here. It’s a novella, remember, not a novel. Available in both e-book and physical (yay!) media.

* * *

I should note that I usually post a link to these updates on half a dozen Facebook sites where these missives might seem to have relevance. But last week I wrote almost exclusively about my weekend of playing two gigs with my band Crusin’, and ran a bunch of photos thereof, so I thought perhaps I shouldn’t bother people whose interests are old paperbacks, and noir mysteries and films and so on.

But if you’re reading this but missed last week, and think you might have been interested, just keep reading.


Book Giveaway & The Writing Life 2023

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

We have ten copies to give away of the lovely new Hardcase Crime release, Mad Money, a combo of two Nolan novels, Spree and Mourn the Living. Spree is considered by many the best of the Nolan books, and Mourn the Living – his first appearance, written when I was but a lad of 19 or so – has never appeared as a mainstream paperback before.

We also have ten copies of Fancy Anders For the Boys. This is the second of the three Fancy Anders novellas. Fancy is a private eye working in Hollywood during World War Two; in this novella, she has gone undercover at the Hollywood Canteen on a murder investigation.

[All copies have been claimed! Thank you for your support, and see you next time! –Nate]

Mad Money cover
Trade Paperback: Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Kindle Purchase Link Google Play Books Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link Apple Books Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link
Audiobook (MP3 on CD): Amazon Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link
Audiobook (CD): Amazon Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link
Fancy Anders For the Boys cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link

This is the last of the Hardcase Crime series of Nolan reprints (plus the new Skim Deep) and they have done an incredible job. Thank you, editor Charles Ardai.

Fancy Anders For the Boys is not available in stores. It was published as an e-book by Neo-Text and this is a (quite nice) Print-on-Demand. The Fay Dalton illos are in color on the e-book, and in black-and-white in the trade paperback.

For those of you within driving distance, here’ a reminder that Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder – the filmed version of our live Golden Age Radio production – will be presented this Friday (March 31) at the Muscatine Community College Black Box Theater. See the end of this update for details.

The night before is the Legends event in Muscatine, with Muscatine Community College honoring me. For those desperate for something to do this coming Thursday evening, here’s the details one last time.

* * *

If you’re not a superstar, even if you’ve had some successes and are moderately well-known, making a living as a writer of fiction has never been a picnic. Usually you have a choice between finding a day job and taking on work-for-hire that rarely includes royalties, much less artistic fulfillment.

If you’re somewhat up the literary ladder, that day job is going to be as a “creative writing” teacher at a college or university. But I recall vividly that the University of Iowa Writers Workshop – where I matriculated (and you know how painful that is) – turned down Donald E. Westlake’s application to teach there. The current well-intentioned TV series Lucky Hank, with the great Bob Odenkirk, shows what a soulless draining existence that life can be for a real writer.

But you really have only those two choices, unless you can marry a woman of wealth, and that’s the one attribute my wife did not bring along for the ride. The work-for-hire I’ve done means I’ve written several shelves of books that do not generate any income for me in my dotage.

For me the price has been to work hard – to be prolific – and the return has been both positive (I have indeed made a living) and negative (I am not taken seriously – I “crank books out,” you see). As I’ve reported here before, my first agent – of only two in a career that began in the late 1960s – took me on with the caveat that (as a writer of hardboiled fiction) I was “a blacksmith in an automotive age.” What the fuck am I now?

My markets have shrunk as a generation or two find me repellently politically incorrect and later ones are thoughtlessly dying out. I lost a major market apparently because a sarcastic throwaway joke in public was misinterpreted – perhaps humorlessly or worse willfully – as being my actual opinion. My dream job – a being able to complete Mickey Spillane’s unfinished novels – has largely been realized in a world where the Best-Selling Mystery Writer of the Twentieth Century elicits, “Never heard of him,” from a couple of generations.

It’s an uphill battle but (to mix metaphors) I am in the second half of my last act, so it’ll be over soon. All I have to do is hang on and, hopefully, feather my nest and add to my legacy.

Here’s an example of why I characterize the battle as uphill: a recent visit to the Barnes & Noble in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I have probably done a dozen book signings there (often in tandem with Barb, for our Antiques books) over the years. None during or after the Covid lockdown, but we’re not talking ancient history here. We also shop there probably once a month. This visit, like any writer, I checked my presence on the shelves…specifically, to see if my two recently published books were in stock – Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (the biography written with James L. Traylor) and The Big Bundle (the new Nathan Heller novel).

Both books have been glowingly and widely reviewed, including starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, the top trade magazine in the book field.

Neither was in stock. Spillane was in the system, but hadn’t been ordered. The Big Bundle did not seem to exist. Not in the computer, anyway. In fairness, I have seen copies of both books in other Barnes & Noble stores, including Davenport and Iowa City. But the book buyer at Cedar Rapids did not choose to even enter us in their computer base.

This is disheartening but it is the life of a writer if your name isn’t Stephen King or Harlan Coben. Now plenty of writers who aren’t named King or Coben have books in that Cedar Rapids bookstore. But few of them will be able to maintain that presence and are doomed to day jobs, possibly teaching others on college campuses how to join a profession that will never enable them eat regularly.

This is a problem that has been there throughout my entire career, but it is worse now. It is in part created by publishers and editors who do not nurture their authors, fail to promote them, fail to allow them to build a name and an audience. It is in part created by a lack of bookstores whose staffs are “book people,” who love and hand-sell books. This problem is acerbated by Amazon and other on-line booksellers who offer books cheaper, but who also tend to push a bestseller list that is preordained.

Nothing much can be done about this, but those of you who love books and prize authors can help by spreading the word about what you’ve read and liked (loved) on your blogs and by posting reviews (however brief) on Amazon and other sites.

I am able to keep going because of you. Yes, Don Westlake said, “A cult writer is seven readers short of the writer making a living,” but your support is what has kept me in the game all these years. And when I say, “Thank you,” I mean it from the bottom of my heart…even if I use a cliche to express it.

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Not to put too fine a point on it, I hated John Wick 4.

Looking at Rotten Tomatoes, it would appear I’m in the minority. Most reviewers like it, most viewers like it. Even love it. So, once again, I’m out of step and probably just plain wrong.

Certainly the movie is well-made. Visually it is often – even consistently – stunning. The art direction is staggeringly beautiful. The action scenes are mind-bogglingly well-staged. The movie begins with a rousing action scene right out of the gate, capped off by a shock; and the movie has a very satisfying ending, both that of the climax and then another of the movie itself. It owes much to Mickey Spillane but I doubt many of those involved even know who Mickey was. But, like a Spillane novel, the film embraces revenge and harsh violence, begins and ends well…and of course Mickey once said, “Nobody reads a novel to get to the middle.”

And yet I hated it. Was almost glazed-over bored.

Start with Keanu Reeves, whose performance has me scratching my head. Is he a brilliant minimalist screen actor? Or just a charismatic lummox? His dialogue mostly consists of one word – “Yeah” – which he somehow turns into three syllables. He performs his martial arts stunts well, even if co-star Donnie Yen outshines him, and performs the John Woo-style shoot ‘em up stuff admirably. And he is the only actor in the piece (including Yen, who is essentially playing Zatoichi) who doesn’t ham it up.

But the dialogue is terrible – Dick and Jane rewriting the Marquis De Sade. The supporting actors caress the words they speak as if it’s Shakespeare, or maybe it’s that they are being paid ten grand a word, and are savoring that. Certainly Ian McShane and Laurence Fishbourne are almost giddy in their over-the-top performances, as if they can see the coins stacking up with every lousy line. The Asian actors alone seem to find the right tone. Bewilderingly bad is putty-faced Bill Skarsgård, so good as the evil clown in the It movies, coming across here like the young Matthew Broderick playing a James Bond villain.

That may be the best way to watch John Wick 4 – imagine Keanu is playing Ted from the Bill and Ted movies and Skarsgård is Ferris Bueller.

I liked the first John Wick (did they steal the “they shouldn’t have killed my dog?” bit from Hard Cash?). I have no memory of John Wick 2, but I think I liked it well enough. I remember thinking they had at least edged up on going too far with the action scenes in John Wick 3. Now in John Wick 4, the action scenes – well-staged but going on forever – become mind-numbing and uninvolving. This is the fantasy of a school shooter the night before the big day.

John Woo’s heroic bloodshed was wrapped up in a Douglas Sirk-style melodrama. What Mickey had was an avenger with a point to his crusade. John Wick just kills a whole lot of people and then…well, you’re going to see it anyway, aren’t you?

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The Max Allan Collins Film Festival (in which throughout my birthday month I subject my wife to my favorite movies) continues with only two entries this time.

10. Phantom of the Paradise. Brian DePalma’s greatest film and a movie that wrestles with Vertigo, Chinatown and Kiss Me Deadly for the top spot in my Favorite Films list. Terry Beatty and I used to go to great lengths to see Phantom in theaters in those pre-VCR days. Hard for me to talk about this one because I love it so much – every actor, not just William Finley and Paul Williams and Jessica Harper, but also Gerrit Graham and George Memmoli and Archie Hahn (and the rest of the Juicy Fruits). I’ve sometimes had difficulty convincing people who dismiss Williams as an easy listening artist (which at times he was, but a brilliant one) that his score is the definitive rock opera. A unique blend of horror and satire, Phantom is a movie unlike any other even as it invokes everything from Psycho to The Cabinet of Caligari, from The Picture of Dorian Gray to Faust…and, well, The Phantom of the Opera.

11. Vertigo. Why am I as messed up as I am? Is it that I began reading reprints of the most violent era of Dick Tracy when I was six? That my mother read me Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs around the same time? Possibly. But also I was ten years old when I first saw Vertigo. You can only see Vertigo for the first time once. But the glory of it is you get to watch it for second time once, as well, and for me anyway that began a series of viewings that always reveal new depths and nuances. Look, it’s an outrageous plot. Like the best of Spillane, it’s a fever dream, but one that poses as a romantic one, when at its tragic heart it’s the story of a detective who can’t stop himself from detecting and a woman who can’t stop pretending to be the woman she (SPOILER ALERT) conspired to help kill. This – like Phantom of the Paradise – works on me every time. Every damn time I get caught up in it. Don’t tell me the story is preposterous because I don’t care. It’s melodrama, which is pretty much the only kind of story I am interested in and that moves me. It’s easy to get caught up in Stewart’s performance, which begins with him as his genial screen self and gradually, then dramatically, devolves into a dangerous obsessive. Instead, next time you watch it, take your eyes off Stewart and pay attention to how layered Novak’s performance is.

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Here’s an article on Irish comic book characters, and Michael O’Sullivan of Road to Perdition is in first place!

Here is a positive and even erudite review of Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction.

Another positive Spillane bio review is here (after the Harper Lee one!).

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Film Premiere Press Release

Encore for Murder premiere poster
Max Allan Collins, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, has returned to independent filmmaking in his native Muscatine, Iowa, turning the stage production of his radio play Encore for Murder into a new film.

Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder was professionally shot during its one-time-only stage performance in Sept 2022. Premiere of the film is Friday, March 31, 2023 at 7:00 pm at Muscatine Community College Black Box Theatre in Muscatine, Iowa. Admittance is free. Collins wrote the graphic novel Road to Perdition on which the Academy Award-winning film was based, as well as the New York Times best-selling novel version of Saving Private Ryan. His Quarry mystery novels became a recent HBO Cinemax series and he has continued the famous Mike Hammer PI series working from the late author’s unfinished materials. Encore for Murder will be included on an upcoming Blu-ray release from VCI Home Entertainment as a bonus film with Collins’ documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Spillane is widely considered the “king of pulp fiction” and became America’s best-selling post-WW II writer. The audience at the March 31 screening will be the first to see and hear about the newest venture Blue Christmas, written and directed by Collins and shot entirely in Muscatine, working with editor Chad Bishop and director of photography Phillip W. Dingeldein of dphilms in the Quad Cities. Collins and Dingeldein worked together on the Muscatine-lensed film Mommy (seen on Lifetime TV).

Encore for Murder was originally produced as a Fundraiser for the Muscatine Art Center. Actor Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame, who appeared as Mike Hammer in productions of Encore for Murder in Kentucky and Florida, reprised his acclaimed performance in the Iowa production. Dingeldein and Chad Bishop filmed the event, staged as a Golden Age of Radio production with scripts in hand but in costume, with an on-stage sound effects table, music and a big screen presentation of scene-setting slides.

Audience Q & A will be available after the film and news about Blue Christmas.