Posts Tagged ‘Jack and Maggie Starr’

Fifty Years and Counting

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Cinemax has posted the third episode of QUARRY on You Tube. Enjoy!

QUARRY Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”

This weekend was Muscatine High’s 50th Class Reunion. Barb and I both were dealing with the pertussis that had dragged us both down of late, but I am out in front of her a week and a half and was in shape to participate in all of the activities on Friday and Saturday night. This included a boat ride on the Mississippi and then a big get-together at the same Legion Hall where I once ate pancakes prepared by Presidential candidate Howard Dean.

In part because I had attended three grade schools locally, I made lots of friendships that extended beyond the tight little group of us who played poker and palled around and got in Leave-it-to-Beaver type “trouble.” So I had the chance to touch bases with many, many friends, and it was pretty great. Several of my best friends were there – Ron Parker and Mike Bloom in particular, names that mean nothing to you but the world to me – and so many others. For instance, Joyce Courtois was the alto in my high school quartet, fantastic singer and wonderful, warm person – together we set a record: three “number one” ratings that put us in the All-State Chorus three years running…only quartet in the state that ever accomplished that. Impressed? I didn’t think so. It certainly didn’t get me laid.


Crusin’ at Geneva Country Club, Muscatine, MHS 50th Reunion; left to right, M.A.C., Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel, Joe McClean, Brian Van Winkle (in back)

Unfortunately, Barb was still having a rough ride with the pertussis, and almost didn’t go at all…but finally she pulled herself together to go to the Saturday night event, which was the big blow-out, including Crusin’ playing for the dance. She looked beautiful despite being sicker than a dog (neither of us is contagious, if you’re wondering) and people were very pleased to see her.

I was supposed to be presenting a reunion of the original Daybreakers for the dance, but health issues worse than mine among the band members made that fall apart. So Crusin’ played, with our good friend Joe McClean of the XL’S as special guest on a dozen songs. The XL’S and the Daybreakers are the only area bands to make it into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Joe is an unparalleled showman and he was warmly received – the XL’S had played our senior prom two years running. (In 1966, the Daybreakers made their debut at an after-prom party.)

I had a rough evening because my cough-ravaged throat was in bad shape, but I got by. We played two one-hour sets that were supposed to be separated by a fifteen-minute break. But I was afraid people of my advanced age would head for home and their jammies if we didn’t keep the party going. So we played a solid two hours – for those of you who are wondering if I’m recovering well from my heart surgery last February.

In honor of the Daybreakers, we played “Psychedelic Siren,” with Joe on bass and our regular bassist, Brian Van Winkle, on siren – an instrument Brian mastered immediately, idiot savant that he is. Discussions about how much is idiot and how much savant are ongoing.

It was a lovely night, all in all. Never skip your high school reunion (and we’re available to play there, by the way).

* * *

I am thrilled and somewhat astonished that PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY has reviewed my expanded ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel and given it a rave – and a rare starred review!

The Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, continues to get terrific reviews, like this one.

Here’s a lovely LEGEND OF CALEB YORK write-up.

And CALEB is inspiring this discussion group.

Here’s a welcome if not exactly timely SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT review.

Check out this excellent interview with QUARRY TV writer, Graham Gordy, although oddly somebody seems to think the Memphis setting came from the books.

This will link you to a local interview I did on Vintage Sound 93.1, Muscatine’s first-rate classic rock station – with the great Tony Tone.

Finally, if you haven’t read BLOOD AND THUNDER, the Nate Heller “Huey Long” novel (and if so, what’s wrong with you?), you can get it on Kindle for 99 cents, as this nice write-up (scroll down) indicates.

M.A.C.

What, Me Retro?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I was watching the pilot of the Cinemax QUARRY with my wife, son and daughter-in-law (don’t tell HBO), and Barb turned to me when the character the Broker first entered and nudged me and smiled and said: “You did that.”

Well, I did, but a long, long time ago. About 43 years. At the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where the instructor didn’t like the opening chapters I’d written very much, and most of the class wasn’t wild about it either.

At 67, I suddenly find myself aware of how very long I’ve been doing this, and am gratified that suddenly a lot of what I’d thought to be ephemeral works of mine are turning back up in print, and getting on the radar of a new generation or two of readers. Some of what I’ve written has almost by definition been ephemeral – specifically the movie novelizations and TV tie-in’s – though SAVING PRIVATE RYAN remains in print and a publisher is seeking permission from DreamWorks to do a hardcover edition.

But almost everything else with my byline is available again or soon will be, much of it from Thomas & Mercer, but also such boutique publishers as Perfect Crime, Speaking Volumes and Brash Books.

For these weekly updates, I routinely do a Google search to see what reviews and such have popped up on the Net, for me to provide links here. More and more I am surprised to find write-ups about older books of mine. It’s almost jarring, because often the reviewers are more familiar with the work than I now am.

Of course, the new Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels have sparked interest, and in particular QUARRY (the first novel) has received some gratifying attention. Here’s one such write-up.

And here’s another.

And one more.

Fairly regularly, somebody comes along and praises either the entire “Disaster Series” or singles out one of the books in particular, like this piece that focuses on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

So many of these reviews of older work of mine just seem to appear out of the blue, like this look at the Eliot Ness novel BULLET PROOF.

But nothing could prepare me for this article specifically focusing on the musical side of my years on the planet, discussing both the Daybreakers and Crusin’.

Here, dealing with a somewhat more recent novel, is a nice review of the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER.

Coming full circle, the just published FATE OF THE UNION is pulling in some nice reviews, like this lovely one from Bill Crider, a writer I much admire.

Finally, my pal Ed Gorman brought in Ben Boulden of Gravetapping to review FATE OF THE UNION on Ed’s terrific blog, also a positive review.

M.A.C.

The Man Who Brought Quarry (Back) To Life

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015
Quarry
Available October 13
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

No, this week’s update isn’t about me – or not primarily about me. Nor is it entirely about Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai. Rather it’s mostly about the man who is very likely (at 89) our greatest living illustrator.

In fairness to myself – and I work hard at being fair to myself – I’d already revived Quarry somewhat by way of a short film I wrote and co-exec-produced, “A Matter of Principal” (2003), followed by a feature film, “The Last Lullaby” (2008), which I co-wrote. But the latter hadn’t happened yet when my friend Charles Ardai, called to try to talk me into writing a new Quarry novel for his emerging Hard Case Crime line.

I had created Quarry in 1971 or ‘72 at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The book, and three sequels, was published in the mid-70s, and one more in the mid-‘80s.

As it happened, I had my screenplay of what would become “The Last Lullaby” sitting on my desk. Having done any number of novelizations in my time, I figured doing one based on my own script wouldn’t be tough. On the other hand, I had a full plate and didn’t need the work.

So I gave Charles a kind of ultimatum. I would do a Quarry novel for him if he got Robert McGinnis to do the cover. McGinnis was famous for movie posters (including James Bond films) and beloved covers for such private eye series as Shell Scott and Mike Shayne, and had done a number of covers for 1960s Mickey Spillane paperbacks. In mystery fiction fandom, McGinnis was generally considered the master – and I agreed with that assessment. He brought a modern look to the pulp cover that set him way apart, and still does. (Several books, edited by the indefatigable Art Scott, collect many of those incredible images.)

The thing was, Charles – an award-winning writer his own self – had been keeping the McGinnis covers for his own novels. Would he be willing to meet my demand?

As it happens, he was, and once I knew I had a McGinnis cover on the way, I was ready to do just one more Quarry, to be titled THE LAST QUARRY. I’d always felt Quarry was second only to Nate Heller among my creations (all writers sound like God when talking about their work), and relished the idea of writing a final book for the series. Period-at- the-end-of-sentence kind of thing.

As it happened, the cover art was finished before I even started writing the novel (which would become a frequent situation with subsequent Hard Case Crime books of mine). This gave me the chance to write the cover scene, thought up by the great McGinnis, into the novel itself – something many an oldtime pulp writer would do (“Here’s the cover, Ray, flying saucers and shit – come up with a story!”).

Something surprising happened – THE LAST QUARRY did quite well. It had solid sales and garnered incredible reviews. (That didn’t stop the director of “The Last Lullaby” from bringing another writer in and changing things around – which is why I forbade the use of the name “Quarry” in the film itself…though I do quite like the end result). So I began thinking about how to do another Quarry novel. Charles thought that was a good idea, but how could I write another book when the previous series entry was labelled THE LAST QUARRY?

“Because I’m going to write a novel called THE FIRST QUARRY,” I said, detailing my hitman’s first hit, a notion Charles found pretty much delightful.

Since then, as many of you know, I’ve been filling in the blanks between the first four novels and QUARRY’S VOTE (aka PRIMARY TARGET), and the years after that, as well. You know you’re effing old when a series you began as contemporary now requires you to write period pieces.

Only one other Quarry novel has been graced with a McGinnis cover – the recent QUARRY’S CHOICE – though the other HCC covers have been stellar, too. I also had the joy and honor of seeing a McGinnis cover adorn one of my Spillane collaborations, THE CONSUMMATA (also at Hard Case, of course).

And now a QUARRY TV series has completed shooting its first (and I hope not last) season of eight episodes. Think about it: something I created in college in 1972 will be a TV series in 2016.

And without that McGinnis painting, none of it would have happened.

So when Charles and I began discussing doing Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels – and publishing them on a fast schedule, to take advantage of the Cinemax series – the need for wonderful covers, right away, came into play. HCC is known first for its fantastic covers, and not the afterthought of writers like me.

I said, “Why not go to Bob McGinnis? See if he has any paintings of beautiful women in his inventory?”

Charles thought this was a splendid idea, but unlikely. He contacted McGinnis and learned the master had five such paintings in his inventory – the exact number we needed!

I was sent the available unpublished images, which I loved, and put each cover painting with an appropriate novel. Several are spookily appropriate. There was also a need for an image of Quarry himself, and Charles chose the Quarry face from…THE LAST QUARRY cover. While the TV series tracks the adventures of a much younger Quarry, the McGinnis version seemed definitive – and also would match up with a McGinnis cover.

When I look at these covers, it’s as if I were spinning a rack of paperbacks at Cohn’s Newsland in 1966 – I see dream-come-true imagery, taking on the look of the old Dell “Mike Shayne” books. Perhaps I am in a LIFE ON MARS type coma, and inventing all of this stuff.

Because this can’t really be happening, can it?

Five vintage books by me re-published in a five-month period…all with Robert McGinnis covers?

And surely it can’t be possible that I’m looking at the original LAST QUARRY cover painting by McGinnis, hanging on my office wall? (The painting that is, not McGinnis.) And in what universe would a sweet guy named McGinnis just send me that original, because I’d been so overjoyed, having him do the cover of one of my novels?

Feel free to hate me. I would. Particularly since I’ve been married, since 1968, to a woman who looks like she stepped out of a McGinnis painting.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of the BATMAN: SECOND CHANCES collection, out now.

And here’s a lovely review of STRIP FOR MURDER, which will soon be available in a new edition from Dover.

M.A.C.

The Happy Together Tour

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Happy Together Tour

Saturday evening, Barb and I went to see this year’s edition of the Happy Together Tour, mounted as always by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles. The acts on the bill were the Buckinghams, the Cowsills, the Grass Roots, the Association, Mark Lindsay, and of course the Turtles. My band the Daybreakers opened for the Buckinghams in the late ‘60s, and my ongoing band, Crusin’, opened for the Grass Roots and Turtles twice. So I was really curious and pumped to see the concert.

The Association were the big draw for Barb and me, because they were a shared favorite band going back to the earliest days of our going together. We’ve seen them over the years in concert probably six or seven times.

The show was a good one, the format including a top-notch band that travels with the tour and backs up two or three members of the original groups. This works out better in some cases than others. The Buckinghams had two original members but not the distinctive lead singer, Dennis Tufano. Of course, what I remember vividly when we played with the Buckinghams was how skillfully the keyboard player could mimic Tufano’s voice.

The venue, at Riverside Casino (in Riverside, Iowa, eventual birthplace of James T. Kirk), was at times not helpful. The casino/resort is most impressive, and Crusin’ has played their lounge four times, and that’s a wonderful venue. But concerts are held in an “event center” (i.e., ballroom) and not a theater, so you’re in chairs close together on one level (the size of most Baby Boomers makes that a real drawback). The acoustics were, shall we say, problematic. The Buckinghams, opening the concert, first, delivered vocals barely heard.

Later, the Grass Roots – minus late lead singer, Rob Grill – suffered similar vocal problems, specifically a lead singer difficult to hear who was not really the band’s lead singer.

The Association, represented by three members (two of them Jim Yester and Jules Alexander, both founding members and incredible talents), did well, in part thanks to the vocal skills of their back-up band. But even they suffered because most of their big hits were sung by Russ Giguere, who has apparently retired from touring.

Still, the show was very entertaining and fast-moving, with scant time between “bands” (really, just bringing out the two or three original members of each group, sharing the tour band), with everybody limited to five songs. And that meant the really big hits.

Very strong was Mark Lindsay, doing mostly Paul Revere stuff (“Kicks” was outstanding), still handsome, energetic, a real rock star prowling the stage. And of course the Turtles were wonderful, if at times too hip for the room. They are extremely loose and funny and off-the-wall, and yet still touch the required bases of their hits.

I got to know Flo and Eddie – Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – a little bit when we opened for them in what must have been an early version of their Happy Together tour that included Crusin’ on the Moline, Illinois, bill. We shared a green room (a tent – it was an outdoor concert) with them, and both were friendly and down-to-earth. When they learned I was the writer of DICK TRACY – this was around 1986, I’m guessing – both were impressed. Mark called me a few times to discuss the possibility of us doing a mystery novel together, but it never went anywhere. I doubt he remembers me.

My group of poker-playing guys in high school loved the Turtles, loved their first album – they were a scruffier rock group pre-“Happy Together,” with “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Let Me Be.” But we always wondered, seeing the group lip sync on “Where the Action Is” and other such shows, what the hell Volman’s function was. He was just this curly-haired pudgy guy who played tambourine. What was that about?

Then, around 1967, I saw them in concert. Good lord, Volman was the best showman I ever saw on a rock stage, bounding around, doing crazy tricks with his tambourine, and singing perfect harmony with Kaylan in a voice that mirrored the lead singer. Like the Buckinghams, the Turtles made use of vocal similarity to great effect.

But Volman’s function appeared to be to disguise the stiffness of great singer Kaylan, who just stood there, as if frozen with stage fright. So back in ‘67, I went in wondering why they kept the apparently useless Volman around, and came out realizing he was one of the two essential members – as the continued partnership of Volman and Kaylan demonstrates.

And over the years Kaylan has turned into just as loose and wild an entertainer as Volman, the opposite of stiff. I appreciate the way they taunt and to a degree make fun of an audience, which was always the style of Crusin’, although not everyone appreciates that.

But the real surprise was the Cowsills.

I never really cared for them. I knew they sang and played well, but the whole family-as-a-rock-act-that-included-mom-and-a-seven-year-old-sister thing turned my rock and roller’s stomach, as I’m sure it did many other such stomachs. The group inspired the Partridge Family (“inspired” being a euphemism for “got screwed over by the creators and producers of”) and after four or five monster hits, dropped off the charts and eventually disbanded.

When I told Barb about this concert, the one downside was that the Cowsills were on the bill. We both made superior-human “yucchs” from the very start. Now here’s the punchline.

They killed.

Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill were the outstanding act of the night. Even the poor acoustics didn’t touch them. Their vocals were loud and strong and as beautifully harmonic as Abba at its best, only punchy. They were funny and fluid and had a wonderful time. I went in a detractor and came out a Cowsills fan.

(My Turtles and Cowsills stories demonstrate just how much you can change your mind about a rock act when you’ve seen them in concert. It can also work in the reverse, lowering you opinion drastically.)

At the merch table (isn’t “merch” a shitty slang word?) I bought a DVD of the documentary on the Cowsills, which I’d heard was good. Additionally, it was signed by the band, and I am a sucker for signed stuff. I watched it last night and it’s excellent. Spoiler alert: their Dad was an evil asshole.

Seeing what a rough ride these kids from a seemingly idyllic background suffered over the decades made it even more impressive that the two Cowsills brothers and their sister delivered such an energetic, joyful performance. It indicated the healing powers of rock ‘n’ roll. It may be temporary healing, lasting only as long as a gig lasts, but we’ll take what we can get.

* * *

Today I hope to write the final chapter of the new Mike Hammer, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.

In the meantime, check out some interesting stuff on the Net pertaining to my favorite subject (me).

I am honored and thrilled that J. Kingston Pierce, among the best and most important reviewers in contemporary mystery fiction, has singled out Nate Heller as his favorite character. Check it out here.

Here’s a swell review of THE TITANIC MURDERS.

Col’s Criminal Library continues its march through the Nolan series with this terrific write-up on HARD CASH.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know came from a comic book” pieces featuring ROAD TO PERDITION.

Finally, here’s top scribe Ron Fortier’s nice review of the Dover reprint of STRIP FOR MURDER.

M.A.C.