Posts Tagged ‘Girl Can’t Help It’

A Farewell and Several Unexpected Resonances

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022

The unsung hero of my weekly update/blogs is my son Nathan. He does all the layout and catches (most of) my goofs in the text. Regular readers of these updates may be aware that Nate is a Japanese to English translator and has been doing manga, video games, and novel translations for well over ten years.

One of his claims to fame in his specialized field is translating the novel Battle Royale (which as Quentin Tarantino recently pointed out was the, shall we say, inspiration for Hunger Games) (and Quentin should know about such things).

Nate current ongoing gig is translating the popular manga Jo Jo’s Big Adventure for Viz. By way of demonstrating just what a big deal this is, take a gander at the accompanying photo taken at FYE in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Nate is a terrific writer in his own right (and write) and if you have any interest in manga, checking out JoJo would be a good idea. [Especially from Part 3 onward (where I took over).—Nate]

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My novels Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It are still 99-cents each on Kindle till the end of this (July) month. Give ‘em a try!

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I have mentioned here several times that my frequent assistant director on my indie film productions, the late Steve Henke, would always complain that my dark noir subject matter inevitably softens at the conclusion, where I betray a streak of sentimentality, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.

That’s true, and I am about to talk about the death of our family dog, and you can skip it but you can’t stop me.

Toaster Collins, a Blue Heeler, died last week at age 13 or so. Her name came from the robots on Battlestar Galatica (the reboot). She was Nate’s dog, but when he moved back to Muscatine from Chicago two weeks after he bought Toaster, she became the family dog. The two of them lived for a year or two with us before they set out for St. Louis (and a few years ago returned here). So Barb and I bonded early with the little dog.

And she was a little dog, for a Blue Heeler anyway, the runt of her litter. Not as little as the terriers we’d had previously, but small enough to be a lap dog, and I am proud to say my lap was apparently her favorite. Overall her master, Nathan, was her favorite human; but all of us loved her, man, woman and child, though she drove us absolutely crazy with her craziness.

And she was crazy. For the first eight years of her life (approximately), all you had to say was, “Tree,” and she scrambled half way up the nearest one – climbing up the bark before tumbling back down. She was a greedy little thing, begging at our house, and playing predator floor-cleaner at Nate’s. She was gentle with our two grandkids and loved both Nate and his wife Abby with that unconditional love humans can only aspire to. She was happiest when all of us were together, both households, and would position herself in a doorway to keep a herding dog’s eye on us.

I like to think that, after Nate, I ranked pretty high. That’s clearly delusional, as Barb in this house was Toaster’s source for food – it was a dog bone of contention that at Nate and Abby’s the animal got healthy kibble, and at ours she got turkey breast and whatever she could beg off of us, which was plenty.

She was every bit the family dog. We fell, a while back, into one week at Nate’s house and the next week at ours. For many years Toaster, relentlessly frisky with toys, was playful and could run you a merry chase around the interior of the house. She was shameless in her nearly sexual pursuit of me – no leg dancing, but she would roll on her back and spread her legs…at a distance that would require me to get out of my chair…as she would wave one paw in the air as if summoning me. She would stay on her back until I climbed from my throne and scratched her belly and nuzzled her neck. All I had to do to get a dog kiss was ask for one. No woman in my lifetime, including my wife, has ever been that generous.

Toaster became incredibly neurotic in her later years. Whether separation anxiety or just wanting to go along, she would furiously bark on our every exit. She began to anticipate such exits – all I would have to do was come down the stairs near lunch hour and she would begin to go nuts. Yet when I pointed to Barb’s empty office while she (Toaster, not Barb) was furiously barking, the little animal would obediently go in there to be shut away till Barb had slipped out and I was poised to follow.

Toaster could make a pattern out of a single instance. One morning, Barb – freshening up for the day and being bugged by the creature – gave the animal a treat that became an immediate ritual, the “make-up” bone. If the animal had to go out, she would jump onto my chair (a recliner of course) and march up to my face and stare at me, her wet nose turning mine similarly moist.

Like all dogs, she loved to go for walks. She also loved to bark at bigger animals from the safety of a window. As Barb worked at her computer, Toaster curled on the floor beside her. Sometimes she got up on Barb’s chair and took up most of the space, relegating her mistress to the edge of the seat. At bedtime Toaster managed to expand herself into crocodile length on our bed and assume an angle that left no real comfortable space for any human.

Toaster was nuttier than a Baby Ruth, and why wouldn’t she be? All dogs, house dogs particularly, reflect their owners. It’s more than just Best in Show physical resemblances of pets and masters – it’s personality. She was neurotic as hell. So are we.

She declined over one terrible but mercifully swift weekend. Her presence looked like forever (as Mark Harris said through Henry Wiggins) but of course it was just those thirteen years. And of course in our memories until we, too, are gone.

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It may be because I am this old that resonances and coincidences keep popping up that seem surprising when you consider that Barb and I stayed in small-town Muscatine, Iowa, all these years.

I was watching True Romance (1993) on the Arrow Video 4K edition, as part of an ongoing attempt to reconsider the early Tarantino films I had disliked at the time, now that I’ve turned into a fan of his later films. He of course did not direct True Romance, but it was an early script.

If my memory serves me (and I admit it often does not), when I was working in 1993 on The Expert (1995) with director Bill Lustig and producer Andy Garoni, I was told that True Romance was nearly a Lustig/Garoni production. Tarantino – transitioning from video store clerk to auteur – was in their orbit, but then Reservoir Dogs (1992) got made and things began to happen for Quentin, who moved on and took True Romance with him. The script I was writing for them was apparently their next project.

Larry Cohen, who wrote and almost directed I, the Jury (1982), was a filmmaker I admired; he had written for Lustig/Garoni a screenplay for Brute Force (a remake of the Jules Dassin noir), which evolved into The Expert. Cohen had fulfilled his contract, but the director and producer did not like his screenplay (I never got through it).

So basically I was the third writer they’d been dealing with lately, the previous two being Quentin Tarantino (wooed away by bigger-time filmmakers) and Larry Cohen (who had dropped the ball on his script for them). It should be noted that previously Cohen had written Maniac Cop 1 and 2 for Lustig and later would do Uncle Sam (1996) with the director. Why Cohen’s script for Brute Force was so weak I have no idea, because he was usually an adept if quirky screenwriter.

All of that is a long preamble to something short. In watching True Romance (which I liked this time around), I was stunned as were most people revisiting that film by its incredible cast, filled with actors who would go on to famous, like James Gandolfini, Samuel Jackson, and Brad Pitt. I’d forgotten that Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn were in the film, let alone that they played a team of LAPD detectives in it.

So here’s the resonance. Sizemore played Quarry (as “Price”) in The Last Lullaby (2008) and Chris Penn was a guy Barb and I had dinner with once. Penn was a guest, as were we, at a Southern arts festival, the exact year and even place having fallen prey to my spotty memory. But we had a nice evening meal with him, though he seemed vaguely irritated by how in tune Barb and I were, which is not the usual reaction we invoke.

None of that is a big deal, but to be watching one of Quentin Tarantino’s break-out movies, with memories of following in his footsteps on my 1993 Hollywood adventure, and seeing the only actor to date who has played Quarry in a feature film and Sean Penn’s late brother, who Barb and I had a memorable but slightly odd dinner with once upon a time…well, it had me blinking.

This kind of thing happens to me more and more. Barb and I, over the weekend, watched an excellent six-part HBO documentary about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, The Last Movie Stars. Into the Newman/Woodward story, actor Ethan Hawke inserts himself – and the cast he recruited to play voiceovers of the participants based on a transcript of a destroyed documentary Newman began in the 1990s – in a manner that should come across as self-indulgent and intrusive; but isn’t. The approach provides a picture of how in post-WW 2 Hollywood movies evolved (and devolved) over time, but mostly a revelation into how gifted actors think. The Zooming participants included (but are not limited to) George Clooney (as Newman), Laura Linney (as Woodward), Sam Rockwell, Sally Field, and Vincent D’Onofrio, with Brooks Ashmanskas spot on as Gore Vidal. Not part of the recreation cast are interview subjects David Letterman, Martin Scorcese, and Mario Andretti, as well as Newman’s adult children and grandchildren.

The revelation for me was understanding that Newman had brought to his performance in Road to Perdition his warm relationship with his two male grandchildren. The two boys in Perdition are of course surrogate grandchildren of Rooney/Looney, and Newman’s tragic turbulent time with his late son Scott informs his relationship with troubled son Connor (Daniel Craig)

Both Newman and Woodward are fascinating artists. Newman, a limited one in his earlier phases, played off his natural charm and good looks and became a movie star. Woodward’s instinctive but unerring acting chops made her a movie star first, but also a major actress while Newman seemed a commanding screen presence…but no more. There’s a middle period for Newman, where he finds himself in the humor of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973), and reveals himself in the political fervor of the unfortunate WUSA (1970) and the well-realized Slapshot (1977). He does occsionally retreat into movie star mode for the good Harper (1966) follow-up, The Drowning Pool (1975), and such hollow victories as The Towering Inferno (1974) and Absence of Malice (1981), the latter with its awkward, misjudged relationship with a stridently too young Sally Field. From this came the triumph of The Verdict (1982) and the beginnings of star character roles from his Hustler (1966) sequel, The Color of Money (1986), to a little thing I like to call Road to Perdition (2022).

Woodward, interestingly, resented the loss of her movie stardom to stay-at-home mother with occasional film forays, but quietly roared back with a succession of award-winning TV movies. She and her husband made 16 films together, and he directed several films she starred in.

As might be expected, this fine documentary included a clip from Road to Perdition (2022). What we did not expect was that the clip chosen would be the scene Barb and I had witnessed being shot on our day on set.

Another resonance came from Newman’s first starring film, The Silver Chalice (1954), being the Biblical turkey that producer Victor Saville cynically used Mickey Spillane box office to fund. This is a topic much explored in the forthcoming Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction….

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Check out this lovely essay on the film version of Road to Perdition.

Here is a great write-up about my Dick Tracy novels on a Tracy film website.

Finally, back on the Road to Perdition, here’s an Entertainment Tonight piece I somehow missed; worth looking at.

M.A.C.

Two Girls For Two Dollars!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022

The Kindle editions of the two books in my Krista and Keith Larson series, Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It, are on sale this month – right now through July 31. You can buy them as a pair for $1.98, or 99-cents each.

While these two novels have done fairly well, their sales don’t compare to the bestseller status of the three previous books I did for Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer line, the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy (Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order), which sold in the hundreds of thousands.

I had hoped to do a third Krista and Keith novel, but so far the numbers haven’t justified that. Maybe this Kindle sale will change that. At any rate, if you like my work, I hope you’ll give them a try.

Full disclosure. Not all of my regular readers have loved them, including some mainstream critics who would have preferred new Nate Heller books; and of course my hitman Quarry has his own dark appeal. But one of the ways I’ve stayed fresh and enthusiastic over the years has been to try different things. That – in addition to creating income – was why I wrote so many tie-in novels in the ‘90s and early oughts: the chance to do different things.

In the two Girl books I was taking a conscious swing at writing an American take on Nordic noir. Matt Clemens and I (the Reeder and Rogers team) had already done What Doesn’t Kill Her for Thomas & Mercer (also a strong seller), which was intended as an American “answer” to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. With the Krista/Keith books I was working another shade of noir, again an American variation on the Wallander novels, and such Nordic TV mini-series as The Bridge, The Killing, and (again) Wallander.

As I prepared to write Girl Most Likely, I used my brilliant in-house sounding board, Barbara Collins, to try to come up with a setting that had some Nordic flavor while being resolutely American. We discussed Pella, Iowa, home of the Tulip Festival (and boyhood home of Wyatt Earp), in part because I liked the small town with tourist appeal aspect of the place. Meanwhile, Barb and I had taken to going to Galena, Illinois, for short post-project getaways, and it seemed an interesting, even ideal setting for what I had in mind.

Galena – as many in the Midwest know – is scenic little hamlet on a bluff with a downtown right out of Norman Rockwell, a tourist destination all year-round (winter sports a draw, though not for me). It’s a town of 3000 that is home to a million or more visitors a year, with sixty-some restaurants and various comfy hotels and bed-and-breakfasts and a quaint Americana vibe.

I got interested in how a police department in a city that size dealt with those million-a-year visitors. I’d been noodling with the idea of a very young female chief of police in a small town whose recently retired father was a former homicide detective. This concept slipped in perfectly with the Galena setting, and when I began my research I was pleased, even a little astounded, to learn that Galena’s police chief was in fact a young woman.

Chief Lori Huntington proved to be not only cooperative but generous with her time and information, and the books would have been lesser things without her.

M.A.C. with Lori Huntington

I was pleased with the first novel, which dealt with a series of killings that accompanied a ten-year high school reunion (Krista’s class). Part of my self-mandate was to get away from the larger-than-life lead characters I usually write about in my mystery/suspense fiction – Quarry, Nolan, Nate Heller, Mike Hammer, even the CSI crew – and use more “regular” people for my protagonists. Folks next door who, in this case, happened to be a tourist-town police chief and her retired homicide cop father (from nearby Dubuque, just across the river), who had recently lost his wife to cancer and was flirting with suicide (a very Nordic notion).

As is the case with many thrillers, these regular people would be thrust into a situation ruled by larger-than-life crime and jeopardy. It’s a mix that has worked for everybody from Alfred Hitchcock to Mary Higgins Clark.

To me, my third-person, one point-of-view at a time approach – which included as much or more violence than I ever serve up – was business as usual. Only the subject matter, and the more normal protagonists, differed. But some self-professed “big fans” of my work – not many, but a few vocal ones – bitched about what they perceived as a radical change of pace.

A particular complaint of reviews (and, frankly, of my editor) was my somewhat detailed descriptions of clothing. I have always (and I’ve discussed this here) used clothing, grooming and the living quarters of my players to help characterize them. And anyone who’s attended a class reunion knows that how people dress at that event is very revealing of who they are (or who they’ve become, and who they want us to think they’ve become).

Did I overstep in this regard? Maybe. But my editor was so disturbed by this recurring criticism that she asked me to cut every clothing description in the second book – including that Chief Krista Larson wore a uniform. I resisted this request, as I don’t care to have my characters running naked through a book (in certain scenes, yes; but not an entire book).

Amazon is usually terrific at marketing, but I feel they slipped up with Girl Most Likely, which they debuted in the UK. That’s where the reviews got off to a bad start – the very American high school reunion theme was wrong for that audience, and some readers resented an old guy like me writing about a young female protagonist. And it may hurt the feelings of this Anglophile, but not everybody on the other side of the pond has a love for Americans.

The second novel, Girl Can’t Help It, represents only one of two times I’ve really addressed my rock ‘n’ roll years in a book (the other time was Scratch Fever, which is half of the current Hard Case Crime Nolan omnibus, Tough Tender). Again, while Krista and her father Keith are just folks, the killer is a dangerous, deadly force leaving a horrific trail behind her.

Yes, her. That’s another aspect of the novels that sometimes throws readers. In their point-of-view chapters, I don’t identify the killer (the first book’s homicidal point of view chapters are “he” and “him,” the second book’s are “she” and “her”), which limits the number of suspects. The mystery element is minor in both novels and it’s not terribly hard to figure out who is responsible in either one.

This seems to bother some readers, who brag about figuring out whodunit and then complain that they did.

If you have even casually followed my updates, you know that I from time to time offer book giveaways to prime the pump on Amazon (and other online) reviews of new titles. The review aspect of Amazon (primarily, but Barnes & Noble and various review blogs, too) is something relatively new. It used to be the newspaper and magazine reviewers were all an author had to worry about. The professional reviewers weren’t always nice, but they tended to be fair and accurate (they still do) (there are exceptions) (pretends to cough as he says “Kirkus”). I have mixed emotions about Amazon reviews. It’s an undeniably democratic method, but it also opens the door to readers with various agendas – everything from personal animosity to being the author’s mom.

But that’s the world fiction writers live in now. Girl Most Likely has a four-star ratings (averaged over 852 reviews) and Girl Can’t Help It a four-and-a-half star rating (averaged over 196 reviews). And yet here I am warning you (rather pathetically) that there are some Amazon reviewers who don’t like the books. It doesn’t help that the “top reviews” of both books begin with some of the worst ones. Why Amazon wants to discourage readers is beyond me.

Anyway, I like these novels, but I almost always like my own work, with reservations. When I listen to an audio book of my own stuff I am alternately smiling and wincing. I surprise myself when something strikes me as really good, and disappoint myself when something strikes me as not so good. I think that’s natural.

All I can tell you is these two novels came out exactly the way I wanted them to. And if you haven’t given them a try, I hope you’ll invest $1.98 (or at least 99-cents) and see what you think.

If enough of you do that, maybe I’ll get to do a third Krista-and-Keith. I promise not to over-describe the clothing.

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Crusin' at Proof Social

On Saturday July 2, my band Crusin’ appeared in Muscatine at Proof Social on the patio in the late afternoon and early evening. It was a nice crowd, very responsive, applauding after each number.

Three-hour gigs wear me out. I admit freely to that, and the other two gigs this summer are two-hour ones, for which I’m grateful. I am very comfortable in front of an audience, generally, cases of nerves rare – the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert in 2018 gave me a brief butterfly flurry, but frankly that’s the exception not the rule.

(Girl Can’t Help It opens with an induction concert at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Also a murder.)

But in the second of three sets Saturday evening, my amplifier started acting up – distorting badly. I am told nobody but me noticed it, but brother I did. And it threw me. Suddenly I wished I were anywhere else in the world doing just about anything else. That’s one of the oddities of performing – when it goes well, or even just okay, it’s a pleasure; when it goes wrong, it’s the worst.

On the following day, Sunday, I – as usual – felt like a bus had hit me. That’s not old age (entirely), as that’s always been the case the day after a gig. Nonetheless, I set up my keyboards and amp and tried to figure out what had gone wrong, second set. It appears to have been a problem with my volume pedal. I ordered a new one for about two-hundred bucks.

I made $100 for the gig.

Why do I do this?

Because I love it.

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Author Brandon Barrows (cool name) writes about his list of the best mob novels…and my prose novel Road to Perdition is one of them!

Some people think the Batman strip by Marshal Rogers should be reprinted. Gee, I wonder who wrote it?

This piece looks at Paul Newman’s last screen appearance…in Road to Perdition.

And, finally, yet another write-up about the gangster film you didn’t know came from a graphic novel (but you did, didn’t you?).

M.A.C.

A Shameless Excursion Into Self-Promotion

Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

A reminder: today is the publication date of Stand Up and Die! (the new collection of Mickey Spillane’s novellas and short stories from Rough Edges Press, edited by me and with a Mike Hammer short story co-written by Mickey and me).

The new crime/horror novel, The Menace, by Mickey Spillane and me is $3.99 on Kindle at Amazon.

Stand Up and Die! cover
Trade Paperback:
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The Menace cover
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The Menace just came out and is, as may already know, developed by me from an unproduced Mickey Spillane screenplay. If you’re not a horror fan, don’t be put off: it’s fundamentally a crime novel. It’s rather short – though not, as some have described a novella (it’s 40,000-words), but two additional Spillane pieces are included as a bonus at the back – the previously unpublished original version of his comic tale, “The Duke Alexander,” and a rare true-crime article.

For you physical media types (like me), the handsome trade paperback edition is just $9.99 at Amazon right now.

This update exists as a place for me to share views on pop culture, talk about what’s going on with me (and my wife Barb) personally and professionally. Part of that is letting you know about sales going on at Amazon (and elsewhere). There are several worth making you aware of going on right now.

On sale is Supreme Justice, the first of the political-thriller trilogy Matt Clemens and I wrote about Joe Reeder and Patti Rogers. Sales have stayed strong since its publication in 2014 – I believe it’s sold something like 150,000 copies, and the two sequels (Fate of the Union and Executive Order have done very well, too. Something like 350,000 copies of the Reeder and Rogers trilogy have been sold. Supreme Justice on Kindle is just $1.99 (till the end of the month).

Supreme Justice – the trade paper edition is $14.95 – has generated renewed interest because the plot concerns an attempt to rearrange the Supreme Court’s political slant by killing conservative members. It’s set in the near future, after the court overturns Roe V. Wade – again, it was published in 2014.

Supreme Justice cover
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Executive Order cover
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Fate of the Union cover
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My eco-thriller, Midnight Haul, is also on sale on Kindle for $1.99.

Midnight Haul cover
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This leads me into what will undoubtedly be a self-serving discussion – a shameless one at that – hoping to convince you to try novels of mine that you may have avoided. Things that may have been out of your comfort zone. Like Supreme Justice, for example.

Kill Me if You Can cover
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E-Book: Google Play Kobo

I have talked here more than once about the reasons why I sometimes work outside of the Quarry, Nolan, Nate Heller and Mike Hammer noir-ish area. The truth is I have readers who follow one or two of those series, but avoid the others. The Quarry and Nolan novels are books in the 50,000 to 60,000-word range and are fast and (I hope) fun reads. The Mike Hammer novels, also in that word-length range, are overlooked by some of my readers because those readers are not Spillane fans or simply don’t care for books that continue a series created by someone else. Similarly, some Spillane fans don’t try these continuation novels, even though the books all have Spillane content (some a good deal of Spillane content), because Mickey himself did not write every word. The fact that Mickey engaged me to complete his unfinished material does not convince these stubborn souls. Kill Me If You Can, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer’s first appearance in 1947’s I, the Jury, is a novel developed from an unproduced Spillane teleplay, and it looks at the period between Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) and The Girl Hunters (1962), when Velda goes missing. It’s Mike at his most psychotic. Pre-order it through the links on the left.

That the Caleb York novels are westerns discourages some readers, who prefer crime/mystery, and that the first novel of the six is a novelization of an unproduced Mickey Spillane screenplay does not sway them. I think they’re missing out.

And of course the cozy Antiques mysteries written by Barb and me are not the hardboiled fare many of my readers enjoy, though the humor and murder content are high. I get that this approach isn’t for everybody, but will point out that the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries are the series of mine with the most entries. The new one will be out in October and can be pre-ordered through the links below.

Antiques Liquidation cover
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Some fans of my hardboiled books avoid the Nate Heller novels, which run in the 75,000-word to 150,000-word range, their lengths off-putting to at least a few readers. The true crime basis of the novels also discourages some Quarry/Nolan fans. The Big Bundle, coming out Dec. 6 (and available for pre-order now), will be the first Hard Case Crime publication of a Heller, and I think Quarry and Nolan fans who haven’t tried the series before will find themselves at home.

The Big Bundle cover
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E-Book: Kobo Google Play

Now I don’t expect any of you – except the hardier souls among you – to buy, read and like everything I put out. Over the last ten years or so, I have increased my already prolific output considerably. I understand that you have only so many hours available to devote to your reading pleasure, and that (however misguidedly) you have other authors you like to read who aren’t me.

So why do I write so much? My standard answer for that is, “If I don’t, they don’t send money to my house.” And that flip response is true enough. But I have also been aware of the ticking clock of mortality and realize that once I am dead, my output will slow considerably. You readers who outlive me will probably have plenty of my stuff to catch up on. That’s fine. It’s as close to living forever as I’ll come.

And I feel I stay fresh by not writing just one thing. I shudder to think if Quarry had taken off in the mid-‘70s and that what I would be doing right now is writing book #45 in the series.

What I’d like to do with the rest of this ridiculously self-serving column is ask you to read – to buy, actually, and then read – a few of my recent books that you may have skipped. I’ve already mentioned The Menace, which some might pass on because (a) it appears to be horror, and/or (b) it doesn’t feature Mike Hammer. I can only say that Mickey came up with a good story and I developed it into a good novel that I’m very proud of.

Here are a couple of others you may have overlooked.

Fancy Anders Goes to War is a novella available on Kindle but also has a handsome little trade paperback with a wonderful Fay Dalton cover (and interior illos). It’s a private eye story with a new heroine who has much in common with Ms. Tree but is also her own girl (it’s a ‘40s story so I can call her that, and anyway she’s young). The research is Heller level. It’s the first of three such novellas from Neo-Text. I just loved writing it (and its two follow-ups, the second of which will be out before long). On Kindle it’s 2.99 and the paperback is only $6.99.

The audio of Fancy Anders Goes to War from SkyBoat is outstanding, virtually a movie for the ears.

Fancy Anders Goes to War cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link

Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It are two books that have suffered a handful of bad reviews and a wealth of good ones that haven’t overcome that handful. This was my attempt to do something along the lines of an American version of Nordic noir. The detectives are a young woman police chief and her retired homicide cop father in Galena, Illinois (I had the cooperation of the town’s police chief, female). I like these books a lot but they didn’t do as well as previous Thomas & Mercer titles. Girl Can’t Help It touches heavily on my rock ‘n’ experience. If you like my work at all, give these a try. They are $4.99 each on Kindle and $10.93 and $12.83 respectively as trade paperbacks.

Girl Most Likely cover
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E-Book: Amazon
Digital Audiobook: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon
Girl Can't Help It cover
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E-Book: Amazon
Digital Audiobook: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

Finally, one of my favorites among all of my novels: The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, written with SCTV’s Dave Thomas. Two things seem to get in the way of my regular readership trying this one: the science-fiction aspect, and the assumption that it’s a comedy. Where to begin? This novel is as much a crime story as s-f, with an older male Black cop and a young female Gen Z partner struggling to find out who shot smalltime thief Jimmy Leighton, who is in the hospital in a coma. Meanwhile, Jimmy, who accidentally triggered a quantum experiment in the basement lab he broke into, is careening from one lifetime to another. The chapters alternate between the cops working on the crime and Jimmy’s journeying.

As for the book being mistaken for a yuk fest, my co-writer Dave Thomas was a writer and producer on the TV series Bones and Blacklist. So there.

Some have characterized Jimmy’s adventures in terms of the old Quantum Leap TV series. While there is some similarity, there’s a major difference. Dave and I, who wrote this book together during the Covid lockdown (lots of phone calls and Zoom get-togethers), wanted to avoid the notion that our traveler would find himself a jet pilot, or on a Broadway stage, or in the middle of doing brain surgery. Jimmy is encountering different lives of his – the different paths he might have taken – possible lives, not unlikely ones.

For me – and for Dave, too – this is a novel that has more to do with Groundhog Day or A Christmas Carol than Quantum Leap. And the science-fiction aspect – Dave takes his quantum science very seriously – is like the history in Nate Heller. It’s important, and it strives to be right; but it’s not the story. If you trust me at all, know that in my opinion The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton is one of the best books in my catalogue.

Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link

Finally, for those of you who – like me – stubbornly insist on prowling actual bookstores, you must accept the fact that most of these books almost certainly will not be found in the world of brick-and-mortar. Supreme Justice and its two sequels, and the two Girl novels with Krista Larson and her dad, are mostly available at Amazon (physical copies at Barnes & Noble and others, but Kindle is Amazon). So is The Menace. Neo-Text books – Fancy Anders Goes to War and The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton – are Amazon.

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Speaking of Supreme Justice, it has made another list of the best legal thrillers.

And here’s a great review of Tough Tender, the Hard Case Crime two-fer of Hard Cash and Scratch Fever with Nolan and Jon.

M.A.C.

M.A.C. on Noir Alley & Come Spy With Me Mania!

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

Come Spy With Me will officially be available this Wednesday, Nov. 18, as both an e-book and as a “real” book.

In a week or so, I’ll announce a ten-book giveaway (waiting for my copies, due any moment now).

The first of at least three John Sand novels by Matt Clemens and me, Come Spy With Me is available on Kindle at Amazon and as physical media (i.e., a trade paperback) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other on-line bookstores. But Amazon has it exclusively in the e-book format.

Kiss Me Deadly theatrical poster

Also, on Saturday, November 21, 9:15 PM & Sunday, November 22, 7:00 AM, I will be appearing with the great Eddie Muller as Noir Alley presents Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which TCM describes this way: “In this terrific apocalyptic film noir, a vain and corrupt Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) tries to solve the murder of a beautiful hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman) whom he had picked up one night after she escaped from a mental institution. Mobsters, a corrupt psychiatrist, women, and a mysterious package complicates things for him. Dir. Robert Aldrich.” This is the greatest of all Mike Hammer films, and I’d imagine many of you have already seen it…but I think you’ll get a kick out of watching Eddie and me jaw about it.

Getting back to Come Spy With Me, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the early ‘60s spy craze and how it relates to this new novel, which features the “real-life” espionage agent on which Ian Fleming based James Bond. Now, of course that’s just a literary conceit, but back in the day any number of non-fiction books about real spies who’d inspired Fleming in creating Bond were almost as prevalent on the newsstands as Bond imitations.

Few commentators discuss it, but the British Invasion of the Beatles and other UK pop groups was intrinsically linked to the success of James Bond (and vice versa). The success of the Sean Connery films was absolutely part of the same pop cultural phenomenon.

Come Spy With Me Cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was a fan of Fleming and Bond before they really took off, that is, before the film of Dr. No appeared. Fleming was presented as the British Mickey Spillane and Bond the British Mike Hammer by Mickey’s own publisher, NAL, as well as countless reviewers. The early Bond novels have Spillane touches all over them, particularly Casino Royale and Live and Let Die.

My thirst for Spillane extended to his imitators, of whom Fleming (at least initially) clearly was one, and a damn good one. I gobbled up the NAL Fleming reprints – I was in junior high – and when the film of Dr. No came out, I somehow how talked my parents into driving me out of town to see it – on a school night.

Just as the Beatles opened the flood gates on Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Them, the Zombies and many others, the popularity of Bond led to countless films (none of which caught the flavor of the Bonds) like the truly awful Dean Martin-starring Matt Helm series (a travesty of the Donald Hamilton-penned books), the first-rate Michael Caine-starring Harry Palmer movies, and a number of TV shows, notably the import Secret Agent and the home-grown Man from UNCLE and I Spy. (If you are an Archer fan, you should know that the great animated spy series began a direct parody of Man from UNCLE.)

My friends and I went to the Bond films on opening day and sat through them twice, at least. We also went to the re-release double features, which in those pre-home-video days were the only way to see the films again. We watched every episode of the various spy TV shows, even the bad ones, and The Man from UNCLE got pretty bad fairly quickly, with The Girl from UNCLE a sheer embarrassment.

We didn’t care.

We carried briefcases to school like the one Bond took with him on the train in From Russia With Love. For a while, we carried in those briefcases starter pistols. My friend Jon McRae (partial basis for Quarry) created an elaborate plan, filling a fat notebook, of how we would take over the school and execute teachers we didn’t like.

I’ll let you reflect on that for a moment.

But here’s the thing – times were so innocent, none of that would have raised a single alarm bell. No one, including…especially…those of us with our assignments in Operation Muscatine High School took any of it seriously; it was a big, dark, sick joke, and about as threatening as a letter to Santa Claus.

I do recall the starter pistols got us mildly in trouble. We had purchased them at a place called Mac’s Bargain Mart for maybe five dollars each. That place of business got in some hot water, as did we, but only mildly so.

One of my friends from those days, Mike Lange, passed away recently. He sang with me (and Joyce Courtois and Kathe Bender) in a quartet that went to All-State Chorus every single year of high school – the only such quartet in the state of Iowa to do so. You will not be surprised to learn that this distinction did not get me laid.

Mike was an eccentric, a science-fiction nerd before it became fashionable (much as I was a comic book nerd before it became fashionable). He introduced me to Star Trek and The Prisoner, and wore suits to high school. Got it? In a restaurant, he would say, to a befuddled waitress, “What is the ETA of a tenderloin?”

When we went to All-State in Des Moines, Mike was driving me so crazy I decided I would either have to kill him or become his friend. I opted for the latter. He wasn’t worth going to the chair over. Well, maybe he was, after we became friends. He sang at Barb and my wedding.

Tonight, a sleepless night, I sat down to write this update and learned that another friend of mine going back to high school – actually junior high – had passed away unexpectedly. Suzi Webb was the heart and soul of our class reunions; I based a character on her in Girl Most Likely.

I share this with you, particularly those of you younger than myself, as a kind of warning. This is an ephemeral world. You can turn around and Sean Connery is gone, and so are two of your high school friends.

If there’s somebody you haven’t talked to for a while, from those days? Pick up the phone.

Getting back to Come Spy With Me, I think in this nightmare of sheltering in place and hovering death, going back to the innocence – and as hard-edged as it at times is, it is a return to a kind of innocence – of a spy novel set in the James Bond ‘60s is something that a couple of Baby Boomers called Clemens and Collins got a real kick out of.

Think you will, too.

But leave your starter pistol at home.

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Come Spy With Me gets a nice mention – actually, more than that – on the great podcast, Paperback Warrior.

Ron Fortier gives Girl Can’t Help It a lovely review here.

M.A.C.