Posts Tagged ‘Fancy Anders’

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.


William Friedkin, Collector Burn-Out, Bargains & Batman

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023

First, I want to share two very good deals with you.

Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction cover

Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me is 50% off (!) at Barnes & Noble. Going for a mere $13.47 for this hardcover thing of beauty. If you’ve been waiting to spring for a copy, now’s the time.

The Long Wait cover

The Long Wait, one of the best Spillane movie adaptations (it stars Anthony Quinn!) is on sale, a combo 4k and Blu-ray package. Even if you don’t have 4K, the Blu-ray alone is well worth the price. I did the commentary and provided an extensive gallery of stills. From Classic Flix, $21.98 (regularly $39.99).

* * *

I’ve fallen a little behind writing Quarry’s Return because of what I’d been told would be a simple out-patient procedure. First of all, that may have been simple for the surgeon but for me it was a long day of assorted inconvenience and unpleasantness.

Then I was sent home with a complication waiting to kick in — bleeding that wouldn’t stop — but an ER trip the next day to get some stitching up (in a good way) has me doing much better. But I have had to recuperate all (and some of next) week.

For the first time since 1965 (!) I had to cancel a band job (actually, we were able to swap places on the roster of Second Sunday concerts here in Muscatine, allowing me to trade August for September (not a bad trade generally). Crusin’ will appear at 5 pm on Sunday September 10.

* * *

Robert Meyer Burnett, one of my two favorite pop culture podcasters, discusses Friedkin below. He also discusses Friedkin on his weekly Midnight Musings, but that goes far afield including a discussion of the anniversary of Hip Hop.

Here’s my mini-memoir about Friedkin, which I shared with Burnett the night of my hospital procedure – hence a tad fried.

I Slept in William Friedkin’s Guest House

My wife Barb and I were guests of Friedkin by way of his then-wife Kelly Lange, the LA newscaster. Miguel was going with (they were engaged at the time) Kelly Lange’s daughter, whose name was also Kelly (her mother’s real name was, I believe, Dorothy). Kelly Jr. was funny and sweet and a babe, and I thought Miguel had done very well for himself. No idea what happened there, but Miguel and BIll Mumy and Steve Leialoha and I were at the time in the process of putting our band Seduction of the Innocent together to play at San Diego Comic Con. We’d go on to perform there around half a dozen times and at a few other comics cons and once for a comic book shop that rented out the Ferris Wheel hall for us at the Santa Monica Pier. One of our roadies was Brandon Lee.

Seduction of the Innocent, Santa Monica Pier

I am, as you know, from a small town in Iowa. I never did the con circuit, just San Diego Con. There is little reason why I should have otherwise encountered anybody famous. But my early Nate Heller novels had ridden my comic book Ms. Tree’s coattails to some geek recognition; so had the fact that I was the second guy after Chester Gould to write the Dick Tracy strip. How Bill, Miguel, Steve and I got together is for another time. (Chris Christensen came a little later.)

Where he hell is Billy Friedkin in this? Patience.

Kelly Jr. gave us a tour of Friedkin’s house. He and Kelly Sr. were away. (Honeymooning, my memory wants me to believe.) I remember a vast ornate bed with black sheets. In the living room were a few huge framed vintage movie posters from famous films…of the ’20s and ’30s.

By way of thank you, I left a copy of the first Heller, True Detective, for Friedkin with a fannish inscription. And of course I hoped he’d read it. He got in touch with me by phone, leaving a message, wanting to inform me of something. For that to mean anything, I have to describe the first section (briefly) of True Detective.

Young police detective Nate Heller is drinking rum out of a coffee cup in a speak when the cops known as the Two Harrys come in and grab him to come along on a bust, telling him nothing more. They are Mayor Anton Cermak’s two-man “Gangster Squad.” In a sports book on a high floor of a Loop building overlooking the Chicago River, the Two Harrys roust Frank Nitti himself. They shoot him several times in the neck and back, leaving him to bleed and die. They send the horrified and very pissed Heller (he will have to share the blame for this!) in to make routine arrests in the sports book, but a guy heads for a window and the fire escape. Heller tells him to stop and he doesn’t and Heller shoots him (“He wasn’t in the window anymore”). Heller decides to quit the force, not because it’s corrupt or even because for the first time he’s killed somebody (the graft is why he had a rich uncle get him on — it’s the Depression) and, in exchange for providing building security for his childhood friend, boxer Barney Ross, he gets a one-room office over Barney’s speak (aka Blind Pig) where he works as a PI (and sleeps on a Murphy bed).

Where the fuck is Friedkin?

So the two Harrys come around in the middle of the night at Heller’s flop, having heard Heller quit the force, and drag him to see Mayor Cermak at the Congress Hotel. Heller, who is young and tough and has scruples when necessary, is asked by Cermak why he (Heller) quit the PD. Heller turns down an offer to become the third man on the mayor’s Gangster Squad; but promises if his new one-man PI business is left alone, he’ll say whatever is necessary at the inquest and later trial. Having made this deal, Heller leaves but knows he’s now on Frank Nitti’s shit, er, hit list. Middle of the night, he’s hauled by Outfit gangsters to a suburban hospital to see Nitti…WHO HAS SURVIVED (historically, this happened — the whole Nitti roust is real, except for my substituting Nate Heller for the compromised young cop). Nitti gives Heller a pass, because it’ll give him an inside man with Cermak, who is soon to head to Miami (where of course history thinks the assassination target was FDR when it was actually Cermak).

That’s all 1933.

Around 1987, William Friedkin contacts this punk kid mystery writer in Iowa who somehow — it’s crazy — not only slept in his guest house, but knows about his Uncle Harry! Harry Lang, who was a Chicago cop in the ’30s! And he wants to know all about the Nitti hit. Friedkin told me his uncle was exactly that guy, the Harry Lang was who half of the two Harrys (I used photographs in the book, and Friedkin said he was flipping through and saw his uncle’s picture!).

There was talk of Friedkin making True Detective but that obviously didn’t happen. He was making TV movies at time — C.A.T. Squad…with Miguel.

Now they are both gone.

There’s a bittersweet postscript: Jason Miller was one of the stars of my little indie feature Mommy.

* * *

Heath Holland (my other favorite pop culture podcaster) at Cereal at Midnight discusses collecting burn-out, and I am given an extensive shout-out.

I wrote Heath with the following response:

I am honored to have been invoked on Cereal at Midnight. Got a real kick out of it.

And what an excellent, frank discussion of a real problem. I wrestle with the collecting bug constantly. And, despite a decent income, I spend way too much. My wife sees me watching you or Burnett or another three or four unboxing type podcasts and says, “This doesn’t mean you’re getting more ideas about what to buy, does it?” Not in the most loving voice.

@fiendformojitos: So you purchased 4 new Blu rays in the July Barnes and Noble Criterion sale, correct? Yes that's accurate. But isn't it true you haven't even opened any of the Blu Rays you purchased in the November sale?

What resonated with me most was one word you used: obligation.

This is when your collection starts to own you. This sounds ridiculous, but the main thing I am trying to do is not buy anything I don’t like or am probably not disposed to like. For example. Jess Franco — I have bought a lot of Franco stuff because of the enthusiasm of so many for his work in this hobby. There’s a line of European horror that came out some time ago that I was (wait for it) attempting to get every numbered spine, which meant every damn release. That line-up included at least half a dozen Franco titles. How could I not own them? They had numbers on the spine that I needed!

But I freed myself and got rid of them. Jean Rollin is constantly hyped and I know smart people who like those movies, but I am not one of them. Yet I bought them (and have since dumped them). I see podcasts from people, like Brandon Chowen (I think is the spelling), whose enthusiasm I get a kick out of…but he’s clearly not watching much of what he’s buying. He’s collecting stuff by directors he’s heard are good and intends to watch one day…but shouldn’t we be collecting because we like something already? Or contains cast/director/writer/genre that means we’d probably be inclined to like it?

That doesn’t mean I am entirely rational. I will get a film noir I don’t particularly like, because that’s a collection I want to maintain. I will hold onto any Hitchcock title, whether I like it or not, because I generally love him and I have a completist streak. Ditto Joseph H. Lewis or Sam Fuller or Brian DePalma. But if it’s a journeyman director, who is sometimes good, sometimes okay, sometimes bad, why not keep just the good?

And as you point out — time is distressingly, frustratingly limited. I am in my seventies…who am I trying to kid about ever watching a fraction of what I’ve collected?

This is art we’re collecting, not baseball cards.

But it’s hard. So hard. I hated To Live and Die in L.A. when I saw it in the theater. Hated it so much it pissed me off. And then I hear Rob Burnett enthuse over it, rhapsodize over it…and I ordered a copy. Arggggggh!

That’s the new rule I want to follow, and it is stupidly obvious: only buy, only keep, what you like. You don’t even have to love it. But at least like it.

* * *

This is a long overdue (in my biased opinion) discussion of why I deserve some credit for the popular Batman character, Harley Quinn.

And the same site, apparently taking the unpopular stand of defending my Batman run, discusses my Robin and how he and I are misunderstood.

Finally, here’s a great review of Fancy Anders Goes to War.


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.