Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

A 99-Cent Sale, A Podcast, A Ness Book Review, and More

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher cover
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The Thomas & Mercer has eight of my titles as part of its Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals starting 7/1/2020 and running through 7/31/2020. These e-books are only 99 cents USD during the promotion period:

The Lusitania Murders
The Pearl Harbor Murders
The Titanic Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
The London Blitz Murders
The War of the Worlds Murder
Midnight Haul
What Doesn’t Kill Her

My pal, writer Paul Bishop – a remarkable guy and the Renaissance man some people claim me to be – has a great podcast called Six-Gun Justice. As an adjunct, he interviews writers, and he did one with me. For the few of you who may not be sick of hearing my voice yet, here’s your chance to do so. Seriously, Paul did a great job with his questions and his editing. My interview and several others can be accessed here. [Note: The M.A.C. Interview podcast is dated 6/17/2020.]

Also, here is a great review of the soon-to-be-published Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, from Library Journal:

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Collins and Schwartz (Scarface and the Untouchable) reunite to continue the story of law enforcement agent Eliot Ness, known for leading the Untouchables, the group famous for bringing down Al Capone. Ness moved on to serve as Cleveland’s public safety director during a tumultuous time in the city’s history following the Great Depression. He confronted various crime and political challenges, which are detailed within the book. The story is anchored by Ness’s efforts to identify the Mad Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized Cleveland and whose actions followed Ness until the end of his career. The book is thoroughly researched and well paced, a feat considering the breadth of Ness’s work.

VERDICT: A successful blend of history and suspense, this volume will appeal to readers interested in true crime and law enforcement.
Reviewed by Kate Bellody

Because I am wrapping up a novel that I haven’t told you about, because it is frankly under wraps until the publisher gives me the go-ahead to talk about it in public, the update this week is chiefly an article about me that ran a few days ago (as I write this).

I will be back sharing more of my thoughts than I should next week.

This is probably the most in-depth article ever written about me and my work. It was put together from various sources and interviews with me by Sean Leary, a successful (and terrific) writer of regional bestsellers in the Quad Cities. This appeared over the weekend at QuadCities.com as part of their regular Saturday in the Arts feature.

A few inaccuracies are included, due to my sloppiness being interviewed, and I am correcting those parenthetically in boldface. [From Nate: The article on QuadCities.com includes a nice selection of pictures, so I recommend checking out the article there as well.]

Scribe Award-Nominated Max Collins Still Having A Killer Time As A Best-Selling Author

Max Allan Collins’ success is no mystery.

The man in black has proven to be a maestro at making people’s lives full of stress, misery and murder — and people love him for it.

It helps that the people are fictional, characters in the canon of the Muscatine-based author, who, this month, was nominated for a Scribe Award for his 2019 novel, Murder, My Love. The awards winners will be announced July 15.

It’s only the latest honor for the longtime penman, who saw his novel Road To Perdition turned into an Oscar-nominated film, his novel series Quarry made into a series on Cinemax, his band Crusin enter the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018, and who was given the 2017 Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a fictional murderer, a maestro of mystery novels, for over four decades.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Collins certainly fits both categories.

“The Mystery Writers of America is the primary professional group of mystery and suspense writers, and getting its lifetime achievement award, the Grand Master ‘Edgar,’ is about as good as it gets,” Collins said. “The list of Grand Masters includes many of my personal favorites, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Erle Stanley Gardner, among many others. It’s a thrill to be in their presence. The award comes at a time when I’ve battled my way back from some nasty health issues, so it feels like really, really, good medicine. And, yes, it’s something I’ve dreamed of receiving, though didn’t know if I ever would.”

But how does it feel to be at that point in his career when he’s received a lifetime achievement award?

“It’s a mixed bag,” Collins said. “I’ve received several others, notably the Eye from the Private Eye Writers of America, and it’s nice to see your body of work recognized, but sobering knowing that nobody gets this kind of honor until their third act.”

His first two acts have been pretty impressive, and his debut was at a young age.

“I decided to be a writer in junior high and began submitting novels soon after,” Collins said. “I went to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and sold two novels while I was there, Bait Money and Blood Money. (Blood Money came later – No Cure for Death was the other book I sold while at the Workshop.) I never looked back. I taught briefly, part-time, at Muscatine Community College, but I’ve never had a fulltime job except freelance writing. That was made possible in part because I landed the Dick Tracy strip, which gave me a nice income for fifteen years, by which time my novel-writing career was established. I stayed afloat by not being afraid to try different kinds of storytelling. I’ve done comic books, comic strips, novels, short stories, non-fiction books, trading cards, movie scripts, TV scripts, jigsaw puzzles and video games. I took on a lot of movie and TV novels, and put my name on them when others said I should hide behind a pseudonym. I felt using my own byline kept me honest, and it built an audience because many of my media projects were high-profile, movies like Saving Private Ryan and American Gangster, and TV properties like CSI and Criminal Minds—Matt (Clemens) worked on the latter two with me. I am proud to be a professional writer.”

Getting His Start With A Four-Color Fan Favorite

To many fans, Collins’ name is synonymous with a two-fisted, four-color counterpart — which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its celluloid incarnation this year. Although his resume includes such hard-boiled characters as Mike Danger and Ms. Tree, to comics aficionados, he’s best known for his run as writer of the Dick Tracy newspaper strip from 1977 to 1993. Collins would go on to pen the novel for the film version of Tracy, and that novel would end up being the driving force for the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film starring Warren Beatty in 1990. (The incredible story of that can be found on Collins’ blog.) The job was the realization of a childhood dream.

“It sounds corny, but it really did all begin for me with Dick Tracy, because I started reading that when I was a little kid — 7, 8 years old,” he says. “Most kids read Dick Tracyand wanted to be Dick Tracy when they grew up. But I read it, and I saw this signature on the strips, Chester Gould, and I was just fascinated by it, by the idea of someone writing it. I thought there was very little chance I could grow up and be Dick Tracy, but I could be Chester Gould. And by God, I was for about 15 years.

“The whole fascination with crime fiction really does go back to my childhood. Dick Tracy, The Untouchables TV show … those were things that I loved. That was partly because my father would tell me about stories in the paper about John Dillinger when he was a kid. He would talk about how he and his family would go out and see crime scenes afterwards. So at a very early age, I got this picture that behind this noir genre, there were real events and real characters, and that very much appealed to me.”

Sharing his work with friends was also a spur to his development.

“Just to get that encouragement, to have my friends say, `Oh, you wrote this? This is really cool,’ was a big deal for me and helped me to keep going,” Collins says. “The other thing that was important was having encouraging teachers. I had several good teachers throughout growing up that nurtured and encouraged me, and I was fortunate to have them helping me along.

“Talent is a relatively small part of it. It’s really enthusiasm and having those flames fanned by people in that educational support system. A good teacher can have such an impact on a young mind.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in creative writing, Collins taught at Muscatine Community College and spent almost three years sending out manuscripts in hope of landing his first book deal. (This is a little wrong – I sent the novels out while I was at the Workshop starting in ‘68. I sold them right about the time I started teaching at MCC in 1972.)

“I was very discouraged,” he says. “I remember I had a manuscript come back around ’72, and it was really discouraging, and I thought, `Maybe this isn’t for me; maybe I’m not going to make it. And then, sometimes God decides to act like O. Henry. I got on Christmas Eve 1972 the letter saying that my first book, Bait Money, had been sold. And a year later it came out in time for Christmas the next year, and I’ve been going ever since.”

A Renaissance Man

In the ensuing four-plus decades, Collins has proven to be a Renaissance man of the genre. He’s tackled everything from comics to films to documentaries to novelizations of films and TV shows. He’s also been a regular on local music stages with his band Crusin, which was inaugurated into the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame two years back.

All told, he’s placed over 100 novels on bookshelves — many featuring his most famous character, Nate Heller. His locally produced independent films, including the cable hits Mommy and Mommy’s Day were released as a DVD set called The Black Box. (And now are on Blu-ray.) To top that off, he also has several other writing projects on his plate and is busy knocking out novels with his wife, Barbara, and his other co-writer Matthew Clemens.

Asked about the constant movement, Collins chats breezily about his diverse interests and passions. His gesticulations and the rising timbre of his voice spark the image of him as a junior-high kid, bursting to share his action-jammed tales with his friends. However, his work ethic also seems driven by the memory of his early career struggles. Talking about them, his demeanor slumps.

“Even today, I think one of the hardest things about this profession is how long publishers sit on books,” he says. “It’s so crushing to go to that mailbox and wait to see that manuscript sticking out with that rejection letter.”

Collins hasn’t gotten many of those lately. (Actually, I have.)

Looking back on his career, of what is he most proud?

“Probably just having a career — being able to make a living at fiction writing without a day job, which I’ve been doing since 1977,” he said. “Career highs include landing the writing of the Dick Tracy strip back in ’77; winning the PWA Shamus Best Novel, True Detective, in 1984; directing and writing five independent features, with Mommy airing on Lifetime; and having my graphic novel, Road to Perdition made into an Academy Award-winning film with Tom Hanks. I’m also proud of what my wife (Barbara Collins) and I have achieved with our humorous ‘Antiques’ mystery series.”

The road to Road to Perdition

Undeniably, Collins’ most well-known achievement to the general public has been Road To Perdition, the graphic novel which led to an Oscar-winning film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and various other heavy hitters.

“As I’ve gone down the suspense and mystery path, it has fascinated me to see how history feeds into the popular culture,” Collins says as he begins to talk about his most famous achievement. “The fact that there was a real Al Capone and an Eliot Ness and a John Looney, and that their traits ended up influencing these fictional characters like Dick Tracy or Vito Corleone, is very interesting to me.”

In 1998, Collins’ graphic novel Road to Perdition, based in part on Quad-Cities gangland history, smashed out of the gates to become a best seller. It almost immediately drew interest from Hollywood, and in 2002, it hit screens nationwide as a critically acclaimed — eventually Oscar-nominated — film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

The national notice also brought the Muscatine author a large dose of recognition on the local scene. One book-signing session at Borders in Davenport featured a line of fans snaking out the door and into the parking lot. “It was very rewarding,” Collins says, quietly.

Perdition generated a prequel, Road to Perdition 2, as well as two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise, the last of which was released in December 2005. (The three can be found as a trilogy for sale on Amazon Kindle now.)

Ironically, the origin of the story of hit man Michael Sullivan and his son, Michael Jr., lies in part in the bonding between Collins and his son, Nate, over their mutual love of the Japanese comics series Lone Wolf and Cub. The tale of a renegade samurai’s vengeance-stained travels with his infant boy provided the template for Perdition.

“I loved the image of this warrior with a baby carriage,” Collins says. “That combination of tender and tough has always fascinated me.”

Collins’ research for another novel, 1983’s True Detective, helped provide the characters and setting for the epic.

“I came across this guy, John Looney, who had been a gangster in the Quad-Cities in the ’30s. I couldn’t use him at the time, but I kept him on my shelf. So when it came time later that I wanted to pursue that idea of the Godfather-style executioner in the mode of Lone Wolf and Cub, I remembered that character of Looney. I thought it would be really cool to center the story around this local gangster. So I merged the two ideas, and that’s how Road to Perdition was born.”

(Looney operated in the teens and twenties – I couldn’t use the material in True Detective because it took place in the early thirties, although he is mentioned. When I did Road to Perdition as a graphic novel, I took the liberty of moving Looney up a decade or so, to take advantage of the Capone and Nitti era about which I wrote in the Heller novels – Looney had been aligned with the Chicago Outfit but under Johnny Torrio’s reign.)

Although at this point, the story has reached a satisfactory end, Collins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of revisiting the characters. “If you talk to most writers, they’re not inclined to sequels,” he says. “But I grew up reading serials, so I guess I always thought if I liked these characters and I think there’s something left to be said, I’ll want to write more about them.”

Following His Quarry, Continuing His Legacy

Speaking of series, Collins’ series Quarry, one of the first novel series to feature a hit man as its central character, was developed into a series by Cinemax that aired for one season in 2016, and continues to enjoy success as a literary endeavor. Collins has also continued his series of mystery novels with his wife, Barbara, his Nathan Heller series, the Reeder and Rogers suspense novel series he co-writes with Matthew Clemens, and more.

He’s also an active figure on the area writing festival scene, often giving classes and seminars for aspiring writers.

(I am semi-retired at this kind of thing – very rare now, once quite a major part of what I did.)

What kind of advice would he give to aspiring mystery writers?

“It’s a steady learning process,” he said. “There are writing schools, and I attended the best at the Writers Workshop in Iowa City. And there are seminars, and I’ve taught my share. But writing is chiefly self-taught. It comes from reading analytically, learning to edit your own work, and staying at it. I don’t think I’ve ever made any quantum leaps in my writing, but I’ve gotten incrementally better all along the way. I’m much better now than I was when I first published…but I wasn’t bad then.”

What has he most enjoyed about the process?

“Oddly, collaboration has been one of my biggest joys,” Collins said. “I say `oddly’ because writing is largely solitary. But I loved making films, most of them with my terrific collaborator Phil Dingeldein, and the whole collaborative experience, from movie set through editing, was the best. I also enjoy collaborating with my wife Barb on the ‘Antiques’ novels — that’s special, being able to co-author works with your spouse and stay happily married. Matt Clemens and I also have collaborated on a score of books, and I’m collaborating posthumously with Mickey Spillane, completing his unfinished manuscripts. Making new Mike Hammer novels happen is a delight to the thirteen year-old me, who travels with me everywhere.”

Collins is hardly resting on his laurels, lifetime achievement-wise or otherwise. He’s got a number of deadly projects on his bullseye for the coming years, and his latest Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, was released just a few weeks ago, on May 26.

As Collins said of the new novel on his blog, “Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.”

No matter what your literary interests, you’re sure to have a killer time reading any of Collins’ books.

The author of this piece:
Sean Leary

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.

52 Cards and a Joker

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

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

Fifty-two cards in the deck and one joker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

M.A.C.

Mommy Streams, Backlist Bubbles, We Binge

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get it at Amazon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

M.A.C.

Music Is the Best Medicine

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020


Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo iTunes

I’m going to discuss audio today, specifically (but not exclusively) music.

I have been blessed with having some incredible narrators read the audio versions of my novels, with “the voice of Nate Heller,” Dan John Miller, out right now with Do No Harm. Also current is Masquerade for Murder read by Stefan Rudnicki, whose Quarry readings have been favorites of mine and many of you. Jack Garrett, who did a fine job on Last Stage to Hell Junction, has Hot Lead, Cold Justice coming this month.

Our habit is to listen to the audio books of our stuff in the car. So we have yet to adjust to listening at home. Since we are liable to be sheltering in place (in some form or another) until a vaccine arrives, that will probably change.

I depend on habit – on routine – to keep me sane in what I cheerfully think of as the random terror of the chaos that is life. Just this weekend, I finished writing the new Caleb York, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, although I have not done the final read-through in search of typos, inconsistencies and the need for occasional tweaks. That’s a process that takes a couple of days. Barb enters the corrections and changes for me. More habit. More routine.

When I finish my draft (final but for what I mentioned above), I clean my work space. I begin projects with a pristine office and by the end of a project, my office has had a nervous breakdown. Perhaps it’s the historical nature of so much of what I write, but books and other research materials, and discarded drafts of pages and even chapters, are flung and scattered on a floor increasingly difficult to traverse.

When I clean the office, which takes a day or so, I listen to music. Right now, that’s about the only time I do listen to music, despite a CD collection as voluminous as my DVD/Blu-Ray library. As with audio books, music has been relegated to listening in the car. Which means it, like audio books, is hampered by not much driving happening.

And another habit, another part of our routine, is to take a day or two or even three off at the end of a project and do a getaway. No, not to some exotic vacation spot – just to Galena, Des Moines or suburban Chicago (trips to St. Louis were part of that, for the years when Nate and Abby and son Sam, and later daughter Lucy, were living there). Nothing elaborate – just dining and shopping and maybe a movie. Another habit is to take a day off during the writing process – working six days a week – to either Iowa City/Cedar Rapids or Davenport. More audio in the car gets listened to on those days.

Days not happening right now.

So the audios of our books are piling up. A year from now or so, if a vaccine or other credible treatment has emerged, and we can emerge too, we’ll have plenty to listen in the car. Including the new Weezer CD I just ordered.

And yet music has been an important part of how I’ve settled into the new routine here in Corona-ville. (This score just in – Corona 19, Trump zero).

You may recall – if you’re bored enough or perhaps masochistic enough to follow these update/blogs regularly – that I have resumed my ‘90s and early ‘00s obsession with collecting laserdiscs. I had dumped many of my discs, cheap, since I’d upgraded to DVD and Blu-ray on most of them, and hung onto only the things not available in those later formats.

But laserdiscs look terrible on flat screen TVs, so I invested in a 19″ CRT and bought a used laserdisc player from e-bay and set it up in my office. And, much to my wife’s dismay, I started buying laserdiscs again (through e-bay). Sometimes these are movie titles otherwise unavailable; but mostly they are music – a lot of stuff from the ‘80s and early ‘90s isn’t available elsewhere, as well as things from the ‘50s and ‘60s that got laserdisc-only releases (usually collections, like Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Greatest Years).

I won’t bore you with details, but Japan put out of lot of laserdiscs with clips from the UK’s Beat Club and the USA’s Shindig and other sources that were rarely available here, except on the gray market. These laserdiscs look and sound particularly good. And I eventually had to replace my player with a cool silver one made in Japan, which is superior to our models.

The Japanese in particular put out collections of British invasion material, including discs dedicated to single groups, sometimes with interview and documentary footage. Wonderful discs include some of my favorite bands, like the Animals, the Yardbirds, and the Dave Clark Five. Artists of the mid-‘60s through the early ‘70s are represented in collections with incredible performances, like the Vanilla Fudge doing “Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Shotgun,” and Dusty Springfield doing…well, anything.

Now what I’m about to say is no revelation, not even to me. But at my age, listening to this music, and seeing the artists performing it, hits me emotionally harder than I expected. I got these discs because I liked the music and the artists. But seeing those artists, back in the day, performing that music, swept me back; memories and feelings surged and swelled.

People talk about music – particularly the pop music you grow up with – being the soundtrack of your life. That’s a cliche, I know, but like all cliches, it has more than a kernel of truth. Nothing takes me back to the ‘70s more fully than seeing Karen Carpenter singing Paul Williams tunes, although Three Dog Night doing Paul Williams comes close.

Barb and I encountered Karen and Richard Carpenter (we didn’t exactly meet them, just exchanged a few pleasantries) in the green room at Good Morning America when I was promoting Dick Tracy in the early ‘80s. Karen was skeletal, probably a few months away from dying, and Barb and I were shocked by the alarming sight of her. Apparently she had low self-esteem (also an observation that is less than revelatory) but it’s so damn tragic to think of that incredible, rich voice living inside that frail, damaged body and soul.

I wasn’t particularly a huge Carpenters fan. I remember liking “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and I was not an imbecile, so I knew a lovely voice when I heard it. But like a lot of us at the time, I dismissed the Carpenters as corny and the production as too slick and a sign that the rougher-edged ‘60s were over. It was Paul Williams and Phantom of the Paradise (still among my favorite movies) that began my reassessment, largely thanks to Jessica Harper’s rich, Karen Carpenter-like singing, and seeing Richard Carpenter’s sister in the disturbing flesh – a victim of her own self-doubt – added a tragic patina.

Likewise seeing Eric Burden or Rick Nelson or Bobby Vee (I already had every scrap of Darin, so little of him has turned up on laserdisc, though a few great “Mack the Knife” renditions are collected here and there) stirred memories specific and general. For me, the funny thing is I’ve always been into nostalgia – but mostly second-hand nostalgia, for the ‘30s and ‘40s of my parents, thanks in part to Warner Bros cartoons and the Three Stooges, and for the ‘50s which I remembered only vaguely from early childhood – my first record was a 78 of Elvis (“Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel”).

But I never really understood – never experienced – nostalgia in a meaningful, personal way until I saw these laserdiscs. I now realize that the best years of my life are indeed over, even as lucky as I am and as happy as I am to still be on this planet, despite a pandemic and a political scene that dismays and discourages daily.

Like Karen Carpenter, Carly Simon is an artist I had taken for granted. Carole King I always valued, as did Barb; but somehow when I thought of Carly Simon, what came to mind was her first album’s jacket with that fetching bra-less photo of her. But what I, in my continuing male wretchedness, failed to appreciate at the time was how many great songs, performed in a warmly personal and open style, this woman gave us. A live laserdisc reminded me – Simon has an incredibly winning awkward grace in performance – and a three-CD boxed set of hers is what I listened to cleaning my office.

Watching Cyndi Lauper on laserdisc, performing wildly and well and with complete abandon to an audience in Paris, reminds me how much I enjoyed the early ‘80s…how fantastic those years were, when both Nate Heller and Nate Collins came into the world, when Barb and I were loving New Wave music and in so many ways coming into our own. And how, now, astonishingly, the ‘80s are suddenly a long time ago. I mean, I already knew the ‘60s and even the ‘70s were a long time ago.

But the ‘80s?

And weren’t the ‘90s last week?

The mingled joy and sadness of revisiting this music – hearing it, seeing it – has helped me adjust to sheltering in place. Hey, I know we’re lucky. I can still work – in fact, I have now hit my stride and thrown off any initial sluggishness and am working pretty much every day. But with a laundry list of underlying health issues, at a ripe old age, I am not going anywhere for a while, except the pharmacy and supermarket.

Even Warren Zevon, faced with cancer’s death sentence, got to see the latest James Bond movie before he passed. And maybe that says it all – that my biggest worry right now is not being able to see the new James Bond movie in a theater.

Music is calming and reassuring and the only method of time travel science has yet come up with. Back in the ‘80s, when I was having a lot of stress on Dick Tracy due to editorial interference, I found the only things that soothed me were Johnny Mathis and Sade records…they were mellow, and mellowed me out. You go to the shrink; I’ll listen to “Chances Are” and “Smooth Operator.”

And when I hear Eric Burden or the Vanilla Fudge or Rick Nelson or so many other artists, I feel the urge to play music again…even though I haven’t touched my organ (get your mind out of the gutter) since the pandemic began. But it does seem that, whenever I tell myself I have hung it up where rock and roll is concerned, something comes on the radio that gets the juices flowing again.

Yesterday I cancelled my band’s July 4 gig. We have only one date this year that I haven’t cancelled – it’s in September. We’ll see.

Never say die.

Also, never say never again.

* * *

Thanks to those of you who participated in the Antiques Fire Sale book giveaway. The books were sent out last week.

Check out this great review of Girl Can’t Help It from Bookgasm.

This is part two of a really nice article/interview about/with me, with an emphasis on Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

Here’s an essay I wrote about the process of writing the Mike Hammer novels – ground I covered here a while back, but a somewhat different take.

I was asked to write about my five fictional private eyes. Check it out here.

This is a look at my graphic novel (with Kia Asamiya), Batman – Child of Dreams, with a ton of scans.

Finally, here’s a link to the interview Barb and I wrote for Brandy and Vivian Borne to boost Antiques Fire Sale.

M.A.C.